2:01 PM

Somebody Buy
This Guy a
Discovery Flight!


Some people will do just about anything to join us GA pilots in the sky. One “aviator” from my home state of Oregon recently made national news when he tied over 100 helium balloons to a lawn chair and launched for Idaho. Numerous wire services described the aerial excursion:

Kent Couch traveled nearly 200 miles and more than nine hours in such a contraption Saturday, with little more than a pair of sunglasses, a radio and a parachute at his side. He attached more than 100 helium-filled balloons to his lawn chair and took off from his gas station in Bend, Oregon. "It was serene, just like you're on top of a cloud laying there," Couch said on "Good Morning America" today. "It was just like being on ice, nice and smooth." Couch traveled as high as 13,000 feet as he floated eastward toward his intended destination of Idaho. He said he heard cattle and children as he drifted among the clouds, using water jugs to control his altitude.
Couch told the Bend Bulletin newspaper he's been dreaming of such a flight since he was kid. He said he would see the clouds and wish he could jump on them. This trip up was his second “flying lawn chair” balloon trip. His first – in September, 2006 – ended with a parachute jump, when the gas station owner couldn't land his flying chair.

Couch says he's thinking about a third try, if it's OK with his wife. Un huh. Maybe this guy ought to head over to the local patch and take his first real aircraft lesson, because he obviously has the chops to launch skyward, it's his choice of flying machine that is highly questionable.

But as weird as this all seems, there are a handful of people in our country who take the concept of Cluster Ballooning quite seriously. One such guy has made this his lifelong obsession:
My name is John Ninomiya. I have been flying hot-air balloons for almost twenty years; over the last seven years, much of my flying has been in single-person hot-air balloons called Cloudhoppers. Eight years ago, I decided to fulfill a childhood dream by learning to fly with a cluster of large helium balloons. I have made forty helium cluster balloon flights since that time. All of them have been among my most magical flying experiences. With half a dozen pilots worldwide, cluster ballooning remains something between an extreme sport and a personal eccentricity, for the moment. At present, I'm the only regularly active cluster balloonist in North America, and to my knowledge, have completed more cluster flights than anyone in the world.
While some may say Ninomaya might be whacked, he makes a point on his website that this is not all fun and games:
Cluster balloons, like all balloons, are aircraft that require skill and training to operate safely. Before I began flying cluster balloons, I was an FAA-licensed hot-air balloon pilot and had over four-hundred hours of pilot time in conventional hot-air balloons and Cloudhoppers. These skills are not rocket science, but they are NOT something you're going to figure out on your first flight while you're drifting toward the high tension lines and imminent crispy-critterhood!
If you really have some time to kill, you can go to Ninomaya's site and view more information and videos on Cluster Ballooning then you'll ever really need.

Now please excuse me while I cut this post short so I can go out to the shed and attach the Goodyear Blimp to my toilet and fly to Mars...

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