Tuesday, May 31, 2016

National Balloon Museum - Part 1

On our Winterset trip last May, we stopped at the the National Balloon Museum in Indianola, Iowa.
Admission was only $3 per person.  There are maps near the entrance with pins for visitors to mark where they are from.  If the maps are accurate, the museum has been visited by people from every state in the Union, and guests from every continent.  I'm not sure the three pins placed on Antarctica are legitimate, but who knows?
Above is the carriage for a hot air balloon airship shaped like a blimp.  The balloon envelope for this ship is 70,000 cubic feet.  It takes 45 minutes to inflate, requires a crew of 5-8 people, and travels at a maximum of 15 mph.

The museum was filled with storyboards and photos about the greatest figures in the history of ballooning and a plethora of genuine artifacts.  For anyone who enjoys ballooning, this place would be an incredible treasure trove.

Below left is a model replica of the balloon used for the first human flight November 21, 1783 in Paris, France.
The oldest balloon basket I noticed was one made around 1900.  Another interesting one was a World War 2 gas balloon training basket.  The basket labeled 409 (above) was in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2004.

Apparently balloonists have competitions like runners and chess players do, competing for "points and prizes."  The jacket in the center has badges from the U.S. Bicentennial Championship and the 1981 and 1982 U.S. National Balloon Championships, among others.

Below, you can see a photo of balloon baskets being constructed at The Balloon Works (Chicken Coop) factory.  The old painting shows a balloon observing the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia on May 31, 1962.

The egg-shaped contraption above--which somewhat appears to have been left behind by extraterrestrial visitors--is actually a special gondola made for crossing the English Channel in a hot air balloon.  It was constructed in Italy in the 1970s for Link Baum.  At the last minute, however, Link decided to use a smaller, lighter gondola.  When he made the flight at age 22, he became the youngest man ever to cross the channel in a hot-air balloon.

The first men to cross the channel in a (hydrogen) balloon were Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries in 1785.  Blanchard also made the first manned balloon flight in America in 1793.  President George Washington was one of the guests who observed the takeoff.

Iowan Ed Yost invented the modern hot air balloon in the 1950s and piloted the first modern balloon flight across the channel on April 13, 1963 with Don Piccard.  The board, burner, and tank for their balloon Channel Champ are on display at the museum.
On the lower left, the pile of fabric is smoke balloons.  Smoke balloons had no burners.  They were filled with smoky hot air on the ground and then released, carrying the pilot sometimes to about 1000 feet.  Barnstorming balloonists would then jump from the balloon and parachute down for spectators.

"Captain" Eddie Allen (1896-1984) was one of the most famous smoke balloonists.  His family had first started ballooning in the Civil War when James Allen worked in the Union balloon program and Eddie's Uncle Ira Allen helped operate the observation balloon Intrepid.  After Ira was discharged, he and his brothers built their own smoke balloon.

Eddie Allen made his first balloon flight at age 16 in 1912.  Over his life he ascended 3,253 times, often with parachute drops from a trapeze.  His children joined him to become "The Flying Allens," and they performed at fairs and air shows.
The board above features Nikki Caplan, the 2014 Inductee into the U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame.  In 1973, Nikki became the first person to legally fly a balloon through the Gateway Arch.  She logged over 1500 hours in her ballooning career.  In 1982, with her co-pilot Jane Buckles, she set a new feminine distance record for AA-6 to AA-15 class balloons when she flew from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Duncombe, Iowa.

The museum has all sorts of instruments and tools used in ballooning and the construction and maintenance of balloons.  You can see an old sewing machine, cables, burners, valves, gauges, and much more.  There are also many old newspapers and photos, and diagrams explaining how everything works.
Our tour isn't over yet.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

28 comments:

  1. You have visited such interesting places, Bethany! I enjoyed reading this and look forward to the next installment...there is so much for me to learn. xx

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    1. The museum displayed a lot of balloon history that I didn't even realize existed.

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  2. I would never have thought there would be a balloon museum. It's very interesting!

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    1. It's sometimes surprising how many great places there are to visit in Iowa.

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  3. This is very interesting. Though, I don't think I could go up in one!!

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    1. Going up in one would definitely be a fascinating experience in my book, but I can see how it could be uncomfortable for anyone who dislikes heights.

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  4. Hi Bethany, What a fascinating museum and you have given us an excellent report on it. I am going to be smiling all day thinking about one little phrase you used in describing the tour: "a plethora of genuine artifacts." As somewhat of a collector I can say that is exactly what we strive for! I guess I'm a little surprised to see this museum in Iowa ... would have thought it might be somewhere more in the Southwest where we see the balloon festivals. And another thing that surprised me ... the date of the first human balloon flight ... in 1783. Wow. Sure enjoyed all the photos and your excellent report. Looking forward to Part 2!

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    1. Hi John, There were some items on display from the festivals in the Southwest. I suppose the reason Iowa has this museum is because the inventor of the modern balloon, Ed Yost, was an Iowan. Ballooning does go way back! Thanks for stopping by! Some of the items I'll be showing in part 2 remind me of your collections.

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  5. I know I'd be too scared to ever fly in one

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    1. It's interesting how some people love heights while others hate them! I enjoy going to the highest points of buildings, so I imagine I would love the view from a balloon.

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  6. Looks like an interesting visit. :) Thanks for sharing. ~Lisa

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  7. What a unique place! That English Channel gondola looks like something from the space age. :)

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  8. Bethany, you certainly live an interesting life! A balloon museum...sounds so cool :)

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  9. Looks like a very cool place to visit.

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  10. A balloon museum of all places! This is so much fun. A lot of interesting things to see and explore. And only $3? It doesn't get any better than that!

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    1. I know! I have been to the State Historical Museum which is "free," but I'm sure it's paid for with taxpayers' dollars. $3 admission to any museum is a steal!

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  11. Wow they had a lot of stuff here to see and learn about and for a very reasonable price.

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    1. Indeed! I was shocked at how inexpensive it was.

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  12. Super cheap admission. I had no idea there were so many sorts of balloons and baskets!

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    1. Same here. I didn't know much of anything about balloons, but this museum definitely helped fill me in.

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  13. "The oldest balloon basket I noticed was one made around 1900."

    Wow, that's pretty cool. So was the old book from the other post. And old sewing machines, I love those too.

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    1. All the history is what makes me love museums! Thanks for stopping by, Happy Whisk! :)

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