January 27, 2013

Q&A with balloon adventurer Jonathan Trappe

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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TO CONTACT Jonathan Trappe, visit his website, www.clusterballons.com

WATCH A VIDEO of Trappe's test of the Portland Pudgy in Casco Bay: youtu.be/e6ZRX7pLUC0

So, launching from Caribou or Presque Isle would be following in great tradition. I would follow the rich history of trans-Atlantic flight, and perhaps be fortunate enough to float in the footsteps of the truly great pilots that have gone before me.

BELL: Do you need to raise a certain amount of money to make this happen? Are you confident you can raise the money? Would you call it off because of financial reasons?

TRAPPE: Every great expedition has to be funded. The greatest human expeditions of all time had to be funded. The total cost of this trans-Atlantic flight program is roughly $470,000, of which I have raised $173,000.  That is including the training, the equipment, the helium, the prep, and test flights – including the shakeout test flight of the boat to 20,053 feet we completed in Mexico. We need sponsorship for some key remaining components – the cold water survival suit, the helium, and the airfield, for example.

We would like to find someone in the Caribou or Presque Isle area that has a field that they might welcome us into.  We would take it over with helium bottles spread across the field for the summer!

I can fund a good portion of the remaining need, but I do need a couple of partners before launch.  There will be an hour-long television program, which helps when attracting sponsors. (UK Channel 5 + Discovery + National Geographic.)

BELL: When did you live in Maine and what town?

TRAPPE:  I arrived in Maine in July and spent the summer out on Casco Bay first learning to sail, then practicing with the Portland Pudgy that was the gondola for my flight in Mexico, and will carry me in my trans-Atlantic expedition. I wanted to be very comfortable in the water with that boat. If I am forced down, and I have to ditch at sea, I know that I’ve spent time in this rugged little boat before, and that it can sustain me on the open ocean in an emergency.

I stayed right there in Portland, on Hanover Street, though I also made some scouting trips farther north while looking for an airfield I could use. (I found a good one near Bangor, but I should really be farther north.) It was my first time in that part of our country, and it is really what this expedition is all about: exploring our world, and living an interesting life. When I crossed the Alps, I spent time in the south of France, and I landed in these deep olive green fields of Italy; when I crossed the English Channel I spent weeks in Kent and the southeast of the UK, exploring the countryside and seeing the White Cliffs of Dover. After that flight, I landed in a farmer’s field just short of Belgium; we literally had Belgian waffles on the town square in Waasmunster, Belgium. I flew to 20,053 feet in the blue skies of Mexico, and landed in a remote area of the high-mountain desert to be met by extremely curious locals who greeted us and our flying yellow boat, welcomed us, and helped us with the gear after landing. On this larger ballooning journey, I’m having the opportunity not only to see the skies, but experience our world.

Coming to Maine was as great as any of those experiences in the south of France, or Italy, England or Belgium or Mexico. The seafaring community of Portland, the blend of men and women that make their living from the ocean, the lobsters, the summer homes, the islands, the lighthouse at Spring Point, the locals who brave the winters when the lightweights run away south, and the ocean itself – all of those things made the journey to Maine an integral part of the memories formed on this expedition, and a reward and adventure in itself.

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