For centuries, man has explored new ways to fly.
On Sunday, Danny Boria, of Calgary, Canada, came up with a precise and domestically available answer: 120 party balloons, each 6ft in circumference, filled with helium and tied to a garden chair.
“It was the funniest aircraft we could make,” he says. He flew freely for 20 to 30 minutes. Is it really so easy to fly? Sticking with the domestic theme, could you send even a shed or summerhouse into the sky?
“If you’ve got sufficient helium, you can lift anything,” says Kevin Garry, professor of experimental aerodynamics at Cranfield University.
This sounds straightforward. A bit like the film Up. Large party balloons are easy to source. So is helium, if you can afford it (Boria spent $12,000 on a pallet and a half). But how do you know how many balloons you need? “There are buoyancy equations,” says Garry. It’s a matter of applying helium’s lifting power – roughly a gram per litre – to your own weight.
That’s what Boria did. He tested the load-bearing capacity of a single balloon with “a bunch of little weights”. Each balloon could carry 3-4lb. Next he calculated the number required for his own bodyweight (195lb), his parachute and the chair. “And then I added a couple hundred pounds”, as a precaution. He also talked to “experts on wind. We figured if we did it right, if we got enough helium and enough balloons, there’s no way it won’t work.”
Some have suggested Danny Deckchair was Boria’s inspiration, a film in which Rhys Ifans floats off to find true love. But Boria was not looking for love. He was looking to advertise his cleaning company, All Clean Natural, which makes chemical-free products.
He spent $30,000 on the stunt but the company has taken “upwards of 15,000 orders” since Sunday, he says. “We didn’t lose sight of the whole vision. We kept solving problems, and the idea just kept getting better. In business, you really need to follow your effort.”
Initially, Boria planned to jump out of an aeroplane, with an All Clean Natural logo on his parachute. “We tried everyone,” he says. But no local pilot was prepared to risk their licence. His balloon idea seems novel, but it has precursors.
In 2008, Kent Couch, from Oregon, travelled 200 miles in a balloon-and-deckchair combo. Before that, there was Roald Dahl’s The Twits, written in 1979, in which Mr Twit ties balloons to Mrs Twit’s arms. Boria said he heard popping sounds during his journey and eventually bailed out of his chair using his parachute. He had learned to skydive especially, but there was no dummy run – “It was too expensive.”
In addition to balloons bursting, there was one further flight hazard. Boria spent Sunday night in jail. He has been charged with “mischief” – other charges are pending – for leaving an unpiloted garden chair flying around. It came down 50km south, in High River Alberta.
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