The Great Atlantic Challenge
The Atlantic Ocean was the greatest challenge in ballooning history for many years. A man called Thaddeus Lowe made preparations for a crossing many years ago, in the days before the American Civil War, but it wasn't until about the 1950s that anyone made a significant attempt.
A group of 4 British balloonists, Colin Mudie, his wife Rosemary, Bushy Eiloart and his son Tim, planned to take on the Atlantic crossing, using their experience as sailors. They decided to take an east to west route, leaving from Tenerife heading towards a central location on the east cost of the United States.
They had a basket specifically built for the journey. It was made from reinforced polystyrene and measured 15ft x 8ft. It had to be a strong, sturdy structure to make sure it would be able to withstand the impact if they fell to the sea at any point throughout the flight - the drop would have been a good 30,000 ft or so! The basket was attached to the envelope with quick release cables in case there was an emergency.
They named their vessel Small World. It took off on December 12, 1958 and travelled a mighty 1200 nautical miles, breaking all existing balloon duration records. Unfortunately, the 4 were caught in a ferocious storm and their attempt was brought to an early close. However, they completed their journey (another 1,450 miles) in the custom made gondola and arrived at their destination, Barbados, on January 5th 1959.
This attempt is still referred to as one of the most courageous and ahead of its time efforts at crossing the Atlantic. It was the first major crossing from east to west, rather than west to east (how all other flights had been attempted up till then) and this was at a time when ballooning was still very much a small, unheard of sport. The crew had designed, constructed and learnt to fly the balloon with little or no assistance as England at this time did not have even 1 qualified balloon examiner.
The design of Small World was to be copied by others in future attempts at the great Atlantic crossing for the next 2 decades. This story was truly an inspiration to many others.