Balloonists take off from Presque Isle bound for Europe

4 weeks ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Three international balloon pilots lifted off from Presque Isle Friday night attempting a transatlantic flight.

The Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer rose into the night sky from a field on the east side of State Street at approximately 10:30 p.m., on land owned by local photographer Paul Cyr. If successful, it will be the first open basket hydrogen balloon to cross the Atlantic.

For the next four to five days, Sir David Hempleman-Adams, 66, of England; Bert Padelt, 62, of Pennsylvania; and Swiss scientist Frederick Paulson, 72; will be flying over Newfoundland, Canada, Ireland and Scotland before landing at a currently unknown location in Europe. 

Along the way, the group will be collecting air samples in search of new microbes that could benefit medicine and agriculture. 

The crew, consisting of both local and international people, started inflating the open-basket balloon with hydrogen at 8 p.m. After almost 40 minutes, the balloon was full, but the crew and pilots needed to then attach 160 sandbags weighing 30 pounds each for a total of 4,800 pounds.

The three balloonists will continually drop sandbags during their flight in order to lose 10 percent more weight each time and keep afloat at night. During the day, the sun will lift the balloon farther up with the decreased weight. When all bags are gone, the flight will be over.

Though the balloon was initially expected to take off at approximately 10 p.m., the pilots took their time conducting safety tests to ensure a smooth takeoff.

As the night grew darker, hundreds of people gathered near the launch site to witness the historic moment.

The spectators included Dena Winslow of Mapleton, an avid balloonist who assisted Hempleman-Adams in 2003 when he became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a wicker basket balloon, traveling from New Brunswick, Canada to Hambleton, England.

Winslow also recalled the historic launch of the Double Eagle II, the first successful transatlantic hot air balloon flight, which took off from Presque Isle in 1978.

“It was the first time I daydreamed about flying [in a balloon],” Winslow said. “It’s why I named my balloon Possibilities.”

After unsuccessfully planning a fall 2023 launch, Padelt, Hempleman-Adams and Paulson returned to Presque Isle this year to carefully scout out weather conditions and choose the ideal time for takeoff.

With no winds and clear skies, Friday night became exactly what they were looking for, said crew member Wendy Shone.

People can follow the balloonists on their Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer website for updated information on their whereabouts and estimated arrival time and landing location.