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by Julian Nott
spr ing
Life In The Air
hen a stranger asks my profession, say
at one of the many non-profit events we
support in Montecito, I proudly say “I am a
balloonist.” This brings an amusing range
of responses, my favorite being that of a
sweet elderly lady who asked where I studied how to twist toy balloons
into animal shapes! Most people think of colorful, romantic vacation
flights in wine regions. They imagine me floating gently through the sky
with my wife, Anne, in a delicate balloon decorated with flowers, sipping
champagne with friends. When we first met, Anne may have expected
such a life, but my actual ballooning career is extraordinarily different.
As a record-breaking experimental balloon pilot, I have chosen to endure
flights for several days without landing in tiny baskets. I have skirted deadly
thunderstorms, flown over the icy shark-infested waters between Australia
and Antarctica and maneuvered through some of the world’s highest tem-
peratures in the Sahara.
A Fine Romance
My career did begin romantically. I was in a London nightclub with a
girl celebrating her twenty-first birthday. I wanted to impress but had not
chosen the perfect gift. As we danced to “Up, Up, and Away,” on impulse
I whispered that my gift would be a balloon ride. It saved the date and we
made a balloon ride, a novelty then. She was unimpressed, but I was cap-
tivated; it changed my life forever. Within months, I had acquired the first
commercial balloon pilot’s license in Europe, actually created at my re-
quest. I organized a syndicate and we bought a balloon and barnstormed
across England to country fairs.
The most extraordinary event was the Isle of Wight Pop Festival, Eng-
land’s answer to Woodstock. Launching towards sunset I appeared over
the crowd as if from nowhere. Half a million people screamed, not for pop
stars but for my balloon. I drifted over, watching the sun setting into the
sparkling sea. With experiences like this, I never looked back.
But as a scientist I needed more than romance and so I began to experi-
ment with improving balloon designs. I made accurate practical measure-
ments and developed computer models. Setting records was the perfect
way to demonstrate new technology. Within two years I flew to 36,000
feet in a tiny basket, my first world record. Subsequently, I set 96 British
and 81 world records recognized by The World Air Sports Federation and
Guinness Book of World Records. My primary interest is always scientific,
but a record is black and white: either it is broken or the technology is