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Remembering Julian Nott, Ballooning Pioneer

Posted on Tue, April 2, 2019
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Julian Nott (1944 - 2019)

The world of sport aviation suffered a tragic loss on March 25, 2019, with the death of Julian R.P. Nott after an accident on the ground following a successful landing of an experimental balloon. Nott was one of the founders of the modern sport ballooning movement and an innovator in the field.

Julian Nott was born on June 22, 1944, and grew up in Bristol, England. He was educated at Epsom College and held a graduate degree in Physical Chemistry from St. Johns College, Oxford University. He made his first balloon flight in June 1969, an effort, he later explained to friends, to impress a young lady. Julian, however, was the one who was impressed. He earned his balloon pilot’s license in May 1970. Over the next forty-eight years, he would set a grand total of 96 British and 79 world ballooning records for distance, altitude, and time aloft with hot air, gas, super pressure, and combination balloons. 

Julian Nott on October 31, 1980, when he broke the world hot air altitude record. Image: National Air and Space Museum Archives.

Those records rested on a foundation of brilliant technical innovation. “Most of all I hope to use science to advance and innovate,” Julian once remarked. “But setting a world record is indisputable proof of the success of a new design.” He designed and built the first pressurized cabin for use with hot air balloons and set a series of records using an evolving series of cabins based on the original design. His achievements include the first balloon crossing of the Sahara Desert, the first crossing of Australia, piloting the world’s first solar balloon across the English Channel, and piloting the first crewed “pumpkin” superpressure balloon.  At the time of his death he was experimenting with his patented design for a balloon using cryogenic helium. He spent many years working with NASA engineers to develop balloons designed to operate in planetary atmospheres.  

In addition to his own engineering projects, Julian played an important role assisting other record-setting balloonists. His efforts in support of Alan Eustace’s record-setting balloon flight to and parachute jump from an altitude of 138,908 feet on October 24, 2014, is a case in point.

Balloon cabins and other pieces of equipment designed, built, and flown by Julian Nott have been exhibited in museums in Europe and America. Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center can see a composite plastic pressurized hot air balloon cabin that Julian flew to an altitude of some 55,130 feet (16,800 meters) over Longmont, Colorado, on October 31, 1980, setting an international record that stood for eight years.

Julian was the first balloonist to receive the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals of the Royal Aero Club. His other honors ranged from the prestigious Montgolfier diploma to the Rolex Award for Excellence. He was a Senior Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Navigation, and a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Explorers Club. 

With his broad grin and infectious laugh, Julian had an incredibly large circle of friends and admirers in the world ballooning community. Staff members of the National Air and Space Museum who were fortunate enough to know him over a period of years join his international network of friends in mourning his passing and celebrating his achievements.

The author and Julian nott in front of the Julian Nott ICI Innovation Balloon Gondola at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.