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THE ATLANTIC CONQUERED



It wasn't until 1978 that the Atlantic Challenge was finally conquered. 3 pilots, Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman, flew the distance in 137 hours, covering 3,120 miles in their balloon, Double Eagle II. This was a benchmark in balloon history, the Atlantic had finally been successfully flown!

The 3 pilots all shared a great deal of aviation experience between them, spanning hot air balloons, airplanes and hand gliders. Abruzzo and Anderson unsuccessfully attempted the Atlantic Crossing a year previous in 1977 in the suitably named Double Eagle I. The balloon lifted off from Marshfield, MA on September 9th and crashed into the sea 65 hours, 30 minutes later, just off of Iceland.

There were some major problems along the way before they crashed. The air currents drove the balloon towards Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine but they somehow managed to squeeze past without striking anything. Soon after it started to snow and they entered into a ferocious storm off of Canada. The balloon ascended and descended rapidly and they eventually lost the use of their onboard radio. Things rapidly got worse and worse with the balloon having to cope with harsh weather conditions and a large amount of snow and ice.

Eventually they had veered so far off course that they had to abort the mission. They set the envelope free from the balloon and descended towards the ocean. They were picked up by a rescue helicopter and the mission was officially over. This wasn't to be their last attempt though, they would of course come back to try again!

By spring '78 they decided to give the challenge another try. This time they decided to invest in a new pilot and Larry Newman was introduced as the 3rd crew member.

The 3 set of on August 11th from Presque Isle in Maine. The first 4-5 days of the flight went like clockwork, the crew did not experience any of the problems they had had on the previous Double Eagle flight. On August 16th Double Eagle II went through a harrowing experience. The atmospheric conditions surrounding them caused the balloon to drop a staggering 19,500 feet to their lowest point of 4,000 feet. This was, and still is, known as the Big Drop. Luckily they were saved by the sun, which heated the envelope again and the balloon was able to rise and reach its highest point at 24,900 feet.

The flight ran very smoothly from this point on and by the time they had reached the coast of Ireland all 3 knew that this was going to be a successful attempt. They began to discard some equipment, throwing propane and oxygen canisters and batteries into the sea to make the balloon lighter.

Finally they began to gradually descend, once they had reached France. Nobody had ever landed a transcontinental balloon on dry land before, the 3 pilots were about to make history! They actually touched down just outside a small town called Evereux in a large Barley field. Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman had successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon. They had broken all the previous attempts and had achieved something that no one else had ever done before!




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