Some Perilous Early Balloon Ascensions

Some Perilous Early Balloon Ascensions

          The following newspaper article appeared in the New York Tribune on February 23, 1908.

COLD TRIP IN BALLOON

Stevens and Forbes in Peril – Food and Sand Freeze.

     Springfield, Mass., Feb. 22 – Benumbed with cold, which was so severe as to freeze their food, their bags of wet sand, and render their registering instruments useless, A. Holland Forbes and Leo Stevens, of New York, who ascended in a balloon at North Adams early this afternoon, came to earth at Wales, a village three miles from the Connecticut line, southeast of this city, after a trip of about ninety miles.  When the aeronauts left North Adams that hoped that they might reach Boston, but although they found air currents which swept them in a general easterly direction the extreme cold forced them to descend.  Soon after passing Springfield it was found that the cold had so contracted the gas in the bag that the balloon was descending rapidly.  The aeronauts decided to break an unwritten law of balloonists and to throw over some hard substances  in order to lighten the balloon.  At this time they were rapidly approaching Wilbraham Mountain, and it was evident that they could not clear the top of that eminence unless the balloon were lightened.

     One of the anchors attached to the car was drawn up, and, used like a pick, served to break the frozen sandbags so that lumps of the sand could be thrown over.  Considering it inadvisable in their half frozen condition to attempt to make a longer trip, the balloonists decided to descend.  They made a landing in a road in the woods near the village of Wales two and a half hours from the starting time.

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     On the afternoon of June 19, 1908, well known aeronauts Charles J. Glidden and Leo Stevens were passing over West Brattleboro, Vermont, in a balloon when they heard two gunshots, the bullets from which struck the balloon. Both men were positive the shots had come from a large white barn on a farm below.  

     Investigation by authorities led to the arrest of two men.  One claimed the other had fired the shots from a rifle thinking the balloon was a toy, after which he took the gun away from his companion.  Both men were held for trial, and one was ultimately convicted.

     Sources:

     The Brattleboro Reformer, “For Shooting At Glidden’s Balloon”, June 26, 1908

     The Brattleboro Reformer, “Aerial Assault Case Up For Today”, July 3, 1908     

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     The following newspaper article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, VT.), September 13, 1911. 

SHEARMAN’S LONG FLIGHT

Williams College Aeronaut Suffers Severely From Exposure.

     H. P. Shearman, president of the Williams College Aeronautical Society who made a balloon ascension from Aero Park, Pittsfield, yesterday morning at 2 o’clock, landed in Auburn, Maine, 200 miles distant by air line, yesterday morning about 6 o’clock.  He was in an exhausted condition as the result of exposure, and was taken to a hospital in Auburn for treatment.  He was in an unconscious condition when found on the farm of H. B. Estes, but no bones were broken, nor was there any indication that he was otherwise injured.  The flight is the longest ever made from Pittsfield.  The nearest to this record was made by William Van Sleet and Oscar Hutchinson when they landed in Biddeford, Maine, 165 miles air line from Pittsfield.

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     The following newspaper article also relates to H. P. Shearman’s balloon flight.  It appeared in the Arizona Republican, September 13, 1911.

AERONAUT ALMOST FROZEN TO DEATH 

College Professor Has trying Experience in Long Flight Across the Old Bay State.

     Auburn, Maine, Sept. 12. – Half benumbed from his flight through the rain and cold, and unable to make the outlet valve or rip cord of his balloon work, President H. P. Shearman of the Williams College Aeronautical Society, climbed through the ropes and with a knife slashed the silken bag, then fell back into the basket unconscious.  The balloon dropped swiftly to the earth and tonight Shearman, resting comfortably in a local hospital, is able to tell of his experience.  He ascended at Pittsfield, Mass., early this morning, and flew to this city (Auburn, ME.), 200 miles, the longest flight ever made by a single aeronaut.  Soon after ascending he ran into heavy rain, which, turning to hail, caused bitter cold.  Feeling the effects of the weather, Shearman several times tried to land, but was unable to deflate the huge bag.  His strength was nearly gone when he resorted to his knife. 

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     The following newspaper article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner on November 14, 1911. 

WILLIAMS  STUDENTS’  TRIP

Balloon Landed Near Clairmont, N. H. – Rescued By Farmers

     The balloon containing three Williams College students which ascended from Pittsfield Saturday made a landing near Clairmont, N. H., ;ate Saturday afternoon.  The balloon bumped the tops of forest trees where the anchor had caught for some time before the three students were discovered by some farmers of Unity, a small town near Claremont, and rescued from a perilous position.  After some of the smaller trees had been cut away the aeronauts were able to slide down their anchor rope.  The sky voyagers were H. Percy Shearman, president of the Williams College Aeronautical Society and pilot of the balloon, the Stevens 21, H. R. Corner of Cleveland, O., and J. A. Jones of New York City.  Unity is 77 miles from Pittsfield.

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Near Providence, RI – November 19, 1910

Near Providence, RI – November 19, 1910

     On November 19, 1910, the balloon Cleveland, took off from North Adams, Massachusetts, with five men aboard.  The craft was piloted by Leo Stevens, and carrying four Williams College students as passengers. 

     Strong winds on the ground delayed the ascension for nearly an hour, but when it finally took to the sky the balloon “shot up like a rocket” before being carried away in an easterly direction.  Three hours and thirty-five minutes later the balloon was over Rhode Island approaching Providence when it began to lose altitude.   Ballast was dropped, but the balloon continued to fall, and appeared to heading for a large lake.  The aeronauts were forced to strip off their clothing to lighten the weight in order to avoid a water landing.  The tactic worked, and the balloon sailed across the lake before crashing onto the far shore.

     Upon impact, one of the occupants, H.P. Scharman was pitched out and received serious injuries.  Thus relieved of significant weight, the balloon suddenly rose upwards leaving Scharman behind.  It then continued onward several hundred feet, propelled forward by heavy winds, before it slammed into a stone wall.  The crash sent the others tumbling out causing relatively minor injuries.    

Source: New York Times, “Balloon Up In Gale, Spills Aviators”, November 20, 1910

 

Near Middlefield, MA – May, 1907

Near Middlefield, Massachusetts – May, 1907

(Exact date is unclear.)  

     At 8 a.m. on a morning in late May of 1907, aeronauts Leo Stevens and Harry Maroke took off from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the famous balloon Le. Centaur.  (This was the same balloon that had carried Count Henri de la Vaulx in a record breaking trip across Europe from Paris, France, to Kiev, Russia in October of 1900.)     

     The balloon quickly rose to 6,000 feet as the winds carried it on an eastern course.  The craft reportedly rose so rapidly that the heat of the sun caused the gas inside to expand to the point where holes blew out in two different places creating leaks and a sudden loss of buoyancy.  As the balloon began falling the men quickly ejected all ballast and other items of weight including their lunch baskets, shoes, and outer clothing.   They did however keep the anchor and two other items, a stethoscope and a thermometer aboard.

     At the time they were reportedly “near the town of Mansfield, Massachusetts”.  As the balloon fell it was still being pushed along by strong winds, and it seemed certain to crash.  As it neared the ground, the anchor was dropped and it caught on a fence and immediately tore it apart.  The balloon continued on for another one-hundred feet before the anchor snagged in a maple tree which halted movement long enough for the occupants to quickly climb down the anchor rope and down the tree to safety. 

     It was reported that the damage to the balloon was such that it would never fly again.  The balloon had a capacity of 1,600 cubic feet.

     The Le Centaur was brought to the United States in 1906 by its owner, Count Henri de la Vaulx, and later acquired by the Aero Club of America.    

     Sources:

     The Evening World, (NY), “Frightful Fall In Burst Balloon”, May 24, 1907. 

     The Plymouth Tribune, (Plymouth, Ind.), “Two Men Fall A Mile”, May 30, 1907.  (This is not a new England newspaper and the exact date of this occurrence is not specified.)   

 

The Balloon Le Centaur – 1906

The Balloon Le Centaur – 1906 

 

     The following articles concern a famous balloon know as Le Centaur, which was sometimes referred to in the press as simply “Centaur”.  The Le Centaur was well known for having set a new world distance record for a balloon in October of 1900 when it flew non-stop from Paris, France, to Kiev, Russia, a distance, (Reportedly measured, “as the crow flies”) of 1,304 miles.      

     The Le Centaur and two other balloons, the L’Orient, and the L’Union, were owned by Count Henri de la Vaulx of France, who brought all three to the United States in March of 1906.    

     The following article about a balloon race from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Bennington, Vermont, appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner newspaper on October 22, 1906.  Only two balloons were involved with the race, the Centaur, and the Orient.

     Note:  Although the article states the balloons are named Centaur and Orient, other sources identify them as being Le. Centaur and L’Orient.  

  SMALL BALLOON WINS CONTEST

     “The contestants in the balloon race which started out of Pittsfield at 10:23 o’clock this morning arrived here about 1 o’clock this afternoon.

     The Centaur , the larger balloon of the two, piloted by Charles T. Walsh and having as passengers Captain Charles F. Chandler and Major Samuel Reber, U.S. Signal Corps, reached the village several minutes ahead of the Orient.  After passing over the village in an easterly direction the balloon began to sink.  People at the house of Frank Cromack, by means of a glass, saw the balloonists throwing out ballast, but the big bag had apparently begun to lose gas.  An anchor was thrown out and caught in the trees so that the occupants were in no danger of injury.  The balloon still had sufficient buoyancy to keep clear of the trees and the occupants were apparently not at all alarmed.

     The smaller balloon, the Orient, piloted by Leo Stevens and containing Captain Homer W. Hedge, president of the Aero Club of America, passed over town in a northerly direction almost in a straight line along North Street and went out of sight shortly before 2 o’clock.

     Soon after the small balloon passed over the village the first of the five automobiles that started out in chase of the balloons from Pittsfield arrived , coming down South Street like an express train.  The men were covered with mud and said that the trip had been a hard one.  After taking in gasoline at Phelan’s Garage the automobiles again took up the pursuit of the larger balloon.

     At 3 o’clock observers at Arlington informed the Banner by telephone that the balloon was still in sight from there but far to the northeast and working north close to the mountain range.”

     Source: The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, VT.),  “Small Balloon Wins Contest”, October 22, 1906

     The following article appeared in the Abilene Weekly Reflector on October 25, 1906.

A BALLOON RACE

     “Pittsfield, Mass. Oct 23 – Two balloons, Centaur and L’Orient, which remained here after the aero-automobile race between balloons and automobiles for the Hawley Cup had been declared off last Saturday , participated in an endurance contest Monday which carried them miles over northwestern Massachusetts and southern Vermont.  The balloon L’Orient outsailed the Centaur by about three hours and a half, finally landing in the little mountainous town of Jamaica in Windham County, Vermont, 57 miles from the start.  The Centaur came down in Bennington, Vt., 30 miles from this city.

     The balloons rose from here at 10:20 a.m.  The Centaur carried Charles T. Walsh, pilot, and Maj. Samuel Reber and Capt. Charles F. Chandler, of the signal corps U.S.A.  L’Orient was piloted by Leo Stevens, who had as his companion Capt. Homer W. Hedge, president of the Aero Club of America.  The balloons were in sight of each other for about three hours and after them sped three automobiles which had been entered in the Hawley Cup contest on Saturday.  The Centaur was slightly behind L’Orient in crossing the Vermont border, and after getting over Bennington, Pilot Walsh decided to land.  The descent was successfully accomplished on the slope of Woodford Mountain.   

     The occupants of the Centaur said on landing that they considered their object accomplished and that their trip has been highly successful from a scientific standpoint.  The Centaur reached a height of 6,200 feet.

     After seeing the Centaur descend, Pilot Stevens of L’Orient decided to keep on.  Twenty-seven more miles of southern Vermont was traveled and at 4:30 L’Orient came down in Jamaica. 

     Mr. Stevens said after landing that L’Orient went 8,000 feet into the air.  Above the clouds the heat was so intense that all outside clothing had to be discarded.  At one time the thermometer registered 106 degrees.

     Twenty-five minutes after Centaur landed in Bennington an automobile driven by Floyd Knight of this city stopped by the side of the car.  Half an hour later an automobile owned by C. F. Bishop of Lenox arrived on the scene.

     Both these machines had followed the balloons as an experiment, although both airships were out of sight much of the time.”

     Source: Abilene Weekly Reflector, (Abilene Kan.) “A Balloon Race”, October 25, 1906       

     On November 3, 1906 the Centaur, or Le. Centaur, took off from Pittsfield, Mass. and landed in a clump of trees on Short Beach in New Haven, Connecticut.  (Some sources put the location in Branford.  Each town apparently has a “Short Beach”.)

     What was remarkable about the 126 mile trip (Some sources put the distance at 156 miles.) was that it was made in only two-and-a-half hours, which was considered very fast for a balloon to travel at that time.   The aeronauts aboard, Leo Stevens, and Captain Homer Hedge, reported that at one point the balloon moved along at 65 miles per hour.    News reports stated, “…the speed attained has not been equaled in this country.”

     The trip would have lasted longer, but the aeronauts didn’t want to cross Long Island Sound, so they quickly brought the balloon down from an altitude of 3,000 feet in only 90 seconds.  Captain Hedge suffered a minor injury climbing down from the balloon.

     The Le Centaur, was later wrecked in late May of 1907 when it again rose from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and developed two tears in the balloon envelope caused by a rapid expansion of the buoyant gas inside due to the heat of the sun.  The craft came down near Middlefield, Mass., and both men aboard, Leo Stevens, and Harry Markoe, escaped unharmed.  It was reported that the damage to the balloon was such that it could never be used again.

      Sources:

     The Plymouth Tribune, (Plymouth, Ind.) “Two Men Fall A Mile”, May 30, 1907

     The Evening World, (NY), “Frightful Fall In A Burst Balloon”, May 24, 1907

     New York Tribune, “Autos Chase Balloon”, November 4, 1906

     The Barre Daily Times, (Barre, VT), Balloon Records beaten”, November 5, 1906

     Deseret Evening News, (Utah), “Remarkable Ballooning”, October 12, 1900

     New York Tribune, “To Fly To South Pole – Count de la Vaulx Arrives With Plans Of Daring Balloon Venture”, March 25, 1906 

A Plan To Make Bobsleds Fly – 1910

A Plan To Make Bobsleds Fly – 1910

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner on November 22, 1910.  (Williams College is in Williamstown, Massachusetts.)

    Would Make Bobsleds Fly

Williams Students Will Fix Aeroplanes To Sides Of Long Crafts

     Boston, Nov. 22 – Leo Stevens the aeronaut, is enthusiastic over a plan of H. P. Shearman, president of the Williams College Aeronautical Society, to attach wings to bobsleds and so teach students to fly.  

     There are some beautiful coasts several miles in length in the Berkshire Hills.  Mr. Shearman’s idea it to attach an aeroplane with flexible wings – a typical biplane minus the engine – to a bobsled, from which the planes can be controlled by the usual levers.

     “We shall take the sled to the top of a long hill and coast down,” said Shearman.  “Any one who has ever coasted in the Berkshires knows how fast we are likely to travel.  As soon as we are traveling about a mile a minute we shall tilt up the planes and the sled will leave the ground.  Then by manipulating the planes the sled can be kept a foot or so above the snow, just skimming the ground, until the bottom of the hill is reached.”

     “In this way the fellows in our society can learn how to handle the planes, and gain practical experience without undergoing the risk of operating a real aeroplane with an engine to propel it.”

Springfield, MA – October 8, 1908

Springfield, Massachusetts – October 8, 1908

 

    Early balloon with net On October 8, 1908, well known aeronaut, Leo Stevens, was making a balloon ascension at Springfield, Massachusetts, when something went wrong with the safety valve on the gas bag.  Aboard the balloon with Mr. Stevens were Floyd B. Smith, of Yonkers, New York, and Harlan T. Pierpont, of Springfield, Mass.

     As the balloon rose to 1,000 feet Stevens realized that it was becoming over-inflated and was at risk of bursting open.  If it did, the three of them would surly fall to their deaths. 

     With no other choice, Stevens climbed out of the balloon and into the rigging where he managed to tear open the safety valve with his teeth while holding on to the rigging.  

     With disaster averted, the balloon landed safely in the town of Granby, about 12 miles from Springfield.

     For other balloon ascensions involving Mr. Stevens, see “Dalton, MA – July 29, 1908”, and “Near Providence – November 19, 1910” under Aviation Accidents on this website.

     Source:

     New York Tribune, “Teeth To Open Valve”, October 9, 1908

Dalton, MA – July 29, 1908

Dalton, Massachusetts – July 29, 1908

     On July 29, 1908, a large gas balloon, Heart of the Berkshires, ascended from the Pittsfield Aero Park with three men aboard.  There was Leo Stevens, the owner, and Allen R. Hawley, both of New York, as well as C. R. Van Sicle of Pittsfield.  

     As the balloon drifted over the nearby town of Dalton, it was suddenly caught in a powerful updraft and rapidly carried to an altitude of 7,00o feet, and was still rising.  Stevens did what he could to slow the balloon by releasing some of the gas form the envelope, all the while the drag rope, which usually hung below the gondola, was being slapped against the side of the balloon by the strong draft threatening to tear a hole in it.   

     When the balloon reached 10,000 feet the updraft died away, but now, with the envelope relieved of much of its buoyant gas, the balloon began a rapid descent.  All excess weight was jettisoned from the gondola to slow the fall, which included ropes, ballast bags, and anything else they could think of.  The rate of fall slowed, but it was clear they couldn’t remain airborne. 

     As they neared the ground they saw they would be coming down in a field where men were at work cutting hay.   One was operating a large mowing machine which it appeared the balloon was heading straight for.  Stevens and the others tried to shout warnings, but the operator evidently couldn’t hear them.  At the last moment he looked up and saw what was happening, and barely got out of the way in the nick of time.

     The balloon struck the ground, but no injuries were reported.

     Source: (Woonsocket, R.I.) Evening Call, July 30, 1908, pg. 1    

    

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