SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
November 23, 1981
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November 23, 1981


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The crossing of the Pacific by the balloon Double Eagle V didn't cause anywhere near the fuss that the transatlantic flight of Double Eagle II did in 1978. The earlier flight had a Lindberghian quality about it, both because it involved a conquest of the Atlantic and because the balloon was met by 5,000 cheering Frenchmen after it touched down in a sun-dappled wheat field west of Paris. By contrast, the 26-story-high Double Eagle V had a rough landing in darkness and rain on a forested ridge 170 miles north of San Francisco, a spot so forbidding that the crew chose to stay put and spend the night inside the capsule-like, climate-controlled gondola. Further, the Pacific crossing was overshadowed by the voyage of the space shuttle Columbia. Ironically, the two flights occurred at more or less the same time only because the Columbia's takeoff was postponed (and its flight plan ultimately shortened) by various glitches; because of weather considerations. Double Eagle V's departure had been moved ahead from a desired early-December date.

None of this diminishes the fact that the 5,811-mile journey of Double Eagle V was by far the longest manned balloon voyage in history, one requiring just 3� days to complete. The 1978 Atlantic crossing by Ben Abruzzo, Larry Newman and Max Anderson, all of Albuquerque, covered 3,100 miles and took 5� days. That record was broken last year by a 3,314-mile, four-day flight over North America by Anderson and his son, Kris. Both of those journeys followed many previous unsuccessful attempts. But so daunting was a transpacific flight that until last week none had ever been attempted.

Double Eagle V's four-man crew consisted of Abruzzo, the captain, and Newman, Ron Clark (yet another Albuquerquean) and millionaire restaurateur Rocky Aoki of Miami, a former ocean powerboater and the principal financial backer of the $1.25 million venture. They had hoped that after completing their Pacific crossing, they would be able to continue on across North America and the Atlantic. By positioning the balloon between two storm systems and taking advantage of a strong wind pattern over the Pacific, they were able to average 76 mph. Their altitude ranged between 4,000 and 22,700 feet. They might have gone farther and faster had icing problems and a tiny helium leak in the craft's polyethylene envelope not kept them from traveling in the even swifter streams of air found at higher altitudes. It was that leak and continued bad weather that forced Abruzzo and his three crewmates down late Thursday night. Search planes and helicopters didn't reach the grounded balloon until Friday morning, although crew members had let it be known via radio that they were all right.

Even though overshadowed by the Columbia flight, the journey of Double Eagle V proved, if anybody had doubts, that ballooning has a unique romance about it. That fact may well be demonstrated anew later this month: Abruzzo's old partner Anderson and Don Ida of Boulder, Colo. plan to take off from India on a 17,000-mile trip to Egypt. If all goes well, the two might go completely around the world. Why else would they have named their craft the Jules Verne?


The winner of a San Francisco Chronicle contest to select a nickname for 49er Quarterback Joe Montana was announced last week. Readers suggested more than 10,000 names, including Joe Cool, Frisco Kid, Gold Flinger, Cable Car Joe, Sourdough Joe and Sir Pass. No fewer than 200 fans submitted the nickname Beaut—suggesting Butte, Mont., get it? The Pennsylvania-born Montana was allowed to select the winner himself from among 12 finalists, and he picked Big Sky, another entry that evoked the state of Montana. The lucky fan who had submitted that one received a pair of tickets to a 49er game and a T shirt autographed by Montana and his teammates.

But the contest didn't sit too well with one Chronicle reader who complained that a nickname was the last thing somebody with a handle like Joe Montana required. "What he needs is a real name," the reader said. Whereupon he suggested one: David W. Gibson.

Exhibiting the kind of foresight not often in evidence among public officials, Detroit's city council has outlawed fishing in the city's 2-year-old Dodge Fountain. No matter that the fountain doesn't contain any fish. As John Conway, director of the municipal department that oversees the Detroit Civic Center, the downtown development in which both the fountain and the surrounding Phillip Hart Plaza are situated, says, "What if someone put some fish in there and then started fishing? How would you stop them?" With similar providence, the council banned animals, gambling, cooking and the use of roller skates and most wheeled vehicles from the area around the fountain. About the only thing the city fathers appear to have overlooked is the possibility somebody might try to use the fountain for surfing or scuba diving.


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