Next time Mary Martin is Peter Pan she might vary her flying performance with a jump balloon, a gadget now being developed for a variety of military and space uses.
The balloon is a bag some 20 feet high filled with helium. Below it is a suspension harness, much like a parachute harness, to support the jumper. Just flex your knees and push off. The balloon lifts you into the air to carry you a distance that varies with the wind. On descending, assume the impact position and push off once more. You'll soar.
One of our correspondents, Jane Rieker, tried it the other day in Northfield, Minn., home of the G. T. Schjeldahl Company, which developed the material of which the balloons are made. After scaring birds and awing golfers with prodigious leaps from mid-fairway to green, Miss Rieker came down ecstatic.
There is a hitch. The balloons cost $400 each, and nonflammable helium gas, pretty much unavailable to civilians, comes to $l a cubic foot—or about $300 per inflation. A jump balloon can be inflated with ordinary household gas, but there is no guarantee that one static spark would not send the jumper into piecemeal orbit.
The Schjeldahl people are studying their balloons as a means of traversing rough terrain and for low aerial survey work.
"They can research all they like," said Miss Rieker. "I just want to make like Peter Pan again."