Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer Diary 2024



It is a week ago we launched and landed. What a week. Rain every day since returning to England. The weather we would have encountered at the proposed time of landing looks horrendous. Even if we had made landfall, which is doubtful, it certainly wouldn’t have been a stand up landing for sure which, for me, reconfirms we made the right decision.

We have kept the blogs going for a week. I think it’s important to show that the dream is bigger than just the pilots. The international team is made of many parts, and the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts. Everyone had a different perspective of the project, before, during and after the flight. I think it’s so important that these can be shared with all those people taking an interest.

It is only a week, but already feels like a year. With news of the first hurricane bolting through the Caribbean, is this going to be a summer of more weather turmoil ?

We will stop the blogs on a daily basis now, and re-think and re-group. It’s nice to be among so many friends.


Flight Control - Jonathan 

Growing up, I have always been fascinated by ballooning adventures. Tales of extreme flights over the Atlantic, Pacific and around the world certainly captured my imagination. It will therefore come as no suprise that when Hempie called in early August 2023 and asked if I would like to be part of the team I said Yes!

Anyway.. Friday 27th June, cancelled trains and chaos on the local rail network, nothing new there. However, there was a feeling that this evening and into the early hours of Saturday morning that this would be the time for the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer to launch.Throughout the day, Kevin kept me posted with updates and soon enough the message arrived. We are on!

A quick meet up and we were soon on our way westbound along the M4 towards Bristol which surprisingly was rather quiet for rush hour on a Friday! Arriving at Jo & Clive's just before 1930, we dropped off our luggage and headed to The Anchor for a quick drink! No sooner had we sat down, messages were starting to come in from Presque Isle. The inflation process was underway with equipment being moved into place. Great!

Jo & Clive did an amazing job of transforming their office into the Flight Control Centre. Everything worked to perfection and once we were happy that all connections were established, Chef Clive had cooked us all tea! Perfect!

The evening progressed, lots of talk about the minutes, hours and days ahead. The forecasts looked good with a track across the Atlantic to perhaps NW Spain or Portugal. More pictures coming in from Presque Isle, the balloon was inflating! My next task was to keep the Diary updated with a new social media page linking the outside world to the mission.

Midnight came and went, so the decision was made to get rest with alarm set for 02:00. 01:45 and I was wide awake.. Excited for what may lay ahead but also a sense trepidation. Soon enough Clive, Kevin and myself were at the computers ready for take off. Final checks and calls/messages were made and we are ready to go! Ulie had very kindly agreed to film the launch for us so we all gathered around to watch the moment. Cheers followed and the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer gently ascended into the night sky. What a moment for everyone but in particular Bert. The dream was on!

Dawn on Saturday morning in Bristol, a lovely morning for ballooning and it had been a relatively busy few hours. Clive put on on his Chef’s hat again and decided it was time for breakfast after which we should rest. A great breakfast and we soon headed back into the Control Room for our call with the balloon. All was not going as expected..

The latest weather update talked of high level cloud and the trajectory to Europe would require the balloon to fly at a far higher altitude. Expertly, Clive & Kevin talked with Bert & Hempie about the options ahead given the new weather update. All of a sudden the atmosphere in the room changed from one of positivity to one of concern. Would the balloon have enough ballast? How long would we need to fly at high altitude? All these questions needed to be answered and fast.

After a short time the decision was made, the balloon would descend and make a landing. I nervously looked at my tracking screen.. 20knots and the map looked very blue ahead! The descent needed to be quick and decisive. Thankfully as the balloon decended the speed dropped and soon enough the tracker indicated a landing in a remote area of New Brunswick. Contact was established with the balloon and Bert reported that all was well. Phew!

The rooom once again was busy, Jo made her calls to the media and Kevin closed the flight plan. In the meantime, Clive studied the landscape of the landing site for access points and made contact with the retrieve team in Presque Isle. They would set off shortly to collect the balloon and the crew.

With our job done it was time to pack up and head east back down the M4. There was of course afeeling of disappointment but also a huge sense of relief. The crew and balloon were safe.

Upon returning to Newbury, I switched on the TV and reflected on what had been.. Throughout the previous weeks and months I have learned new skills and gained experience alongside the BEST making new friends and memories to last a life time.

As Clive said in a previous post.. “If it was easy, everyone would be having a go!”

Standing by..


Presque Isle - Ros

I watched them take off, standing speechless with Joanie who was visibly shaken, having supported Bert through the entire project, exhausted after the final effort and responsibility of inflating the balloon.

There was such a strong feeling of goodwill all evening at the launch site: a team of around thirty people on the launch team all working together to achieve the dream, no egos or factions, just a team of lovely, friendly people all working towards a common goal; and several thousand people on the field, beautifully prepared for the occasion by Paul, gathering to wish the adventurers well.

The crowd started to dissipate as we stood, unable to take our eyes off the beautiful white balloon, Joanie’s handiwork, rising above us, getting smaller quickly until we were watching a flashing star in the sky, the rest of the team already clearing up the launch site.We moved. Joanie picked up responsibility once more, making sure that everything was packed up safely. I made sure that we had signatures from witnesses on the launch documentation, and that I had the signed measurements of the balloon taken by witnesses before inflation, and went down to Paul’s office to scan and send them to Archie to properly record the launch.

The launch team chatted, had a beer, and then Jason, Joanie and I headed back to the apartment which now felt strange and empty without David and Bert. Still buzzing from the launch, we sat around and talked, until at 2am we finally we went to our beds.
Around 5am local my phone rang (I had placed it right by my head on the bed in case anything happened). Clive’s voice “Hello darling, they’re landing, the weather’s changed and they won’t have enough ballast.”I went through to wake Jason and then Joanie and we scrambled. Calling Rick, Joanie quickly arranged to meet him up at Paul’s to collect the trailer and head out to retrieve the balloon. Jason and I dropped her and we headed off in the hire car while Joanie waited. A quick pit stop to fuel up and collect sandwiches, water and chocolate for the crew and we were off through the night, around four hours’ drive from the site where they had landed.

Crossing the border into Canada Jason said “You talk to them, they’ll like your English accent.” “What’s the purpose of your visit?”, “ We’re going to collect pilots who have come down in a balloon “, After a slightly stunned and puzzled silence we were checked, waved on and wished good luck. I said that we would be closely followed by a truck with a trailer that would collect the balloon, hoping that this would ease Joanie and Rick’s passage through the border, and when they got there they were apparently told they were expected, wished luck, documents checked and waved through without the truck or trailer being inspected, another lovely person having been swept up and joining in the mission.
The balloon had come down in a large remote area, with only trees and scrub and logging tracks - no settlements. Even when we got to the area we struggled to find a way to our goal. It felt like we were lost in a complex maze, the centre always close but never in reach Many of the tracks that we tried petering out, blocked by water because of beaver dams, or just impassable, even though star navigator and rescue planner Jason was using the satellite image from Google maps to direct our way, and we had a precise GPS location to aim for.

When we did eventually get to them, having met up with Joanie and Rick on the trail, and with Ullie who lives in New Brunswick and had come to join the search, they had a brew on, the balloon laid out, sandbags emptied, and the kit organised and ready to be packed. They had been on the ground for around six hours.It was a lesson in grace and dignity. They had just been flying through the night. Bert in particular had no sleep and had just seen his lifelong ambition thwarted by changing weather. They were exactly the same people that we had waved off on the launch site, and treated both the excitement of launch and the disappointment of an early landing with complete equanimity. Despite the sleeplessness and disappointment they were still calm, charming, warm, solid men.
On the way back we were welcomed at the border. Is everyone OK? Do you need any assistance? Sorry it didn’t work out.

From start to finish this was a wonderful group of people. An amazing team of friends put together by Bert, David and Frederik. Everyone involved in planning and preparation, the launch site, support of the team, in the control room, with PR, even the border guards, to a person delightful competent people working together with a common goal, swept up in the vision. Excited and then disappointed alongside the pilots, and all ready to continue the journey.

It was such a lesson in leadership and in complete equanimity in success and in disappointment. Three Gentlemen in a Basket. Respect.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;  
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;  
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;....
Yours is the Earth, and everything that’s in it.


Flight Control: Clive

At 02:35 UTC the balloon rose majestically into the night sky, well over a thousand people on the ground were clapping and cheering, Ulie chucking in the odd hilarious comment took the tension out of flight control but Kevin, Jonathan and myself knew our work had just begun, we know the first 24 hours of a gas balloon flight is the most critical and even more so with the Atlantic looming.

Wim’s initial forecast to climb to about 8’000’ and looking for 085 deg and about 20kts, the balloon settled at 9,000’ 078deg and 16 kts by 03:30 UTC and by 04:30 had dropped to
8,500 feet, 072 deg and 17 kts. Bert was off loading ballast at quite a rate to keep the
balloon there.

A call with Wim just after 04:30 and we need 085 deg and should be 20kts, the balloon must past south of Gander otherwise the track will take us to Scotland and bad weather for landing, a climb is required to 10,000’.

At 05:30 the balloon was at 10,280, 078 deg and 18 kts, above was overcast clouds and little chance of any solar heating at sunrise, we reminded them of the FL125 altitude limit and asked them to pre-warn Moncton air traffic to allow FL140 later. The balloon was below an inversion layer and a huge amount of ballast was used to try and break through it, at 06:30 080 deg was hit but the balloon sank back down to 9,800, at 072 deg.

It was becoming more urgent to get 080 deg and with the overcast sky and no possibility of soaring at daybreak more ballast was used to try and break through the inversion, at 07:30 the balloon was still at 9,800 feet, 072 degrees, 20kts.

A long conversation with Wim and then a long chat with Bert and Hempie at 09:15, they
needed to get a minimum of 080 to go South of Gander and to climb to 13,000 feet at
daybreak. The overcast cloud will continue throughout Saturday so there was no chance of a solar climb. With less than 20 miles to run before the Gulf of St Lawrence, Bert did a quick ballastcount and gave the devastating news that it would be touch and go if they had enough sand (ballast) to reach Europe.

The decision to land was made and Bert needed to commence a very difficult steep descent
before the coast. The decision had to be made quickly and it demonstrates how a good pilot makes a decision and then executes it.

To say we were disappointed for Bert (and for all of the team) would be an understatement,but it was definitely the right decision, they landed safely at 09:40, no injuries and no damage to the balloon, all good to go for the next attempt. The weather gods sadly weren’t with us this time.

No one could ask for a better team and if it was easy, everyone would be having a go!


Presque Isle - Bert

Yesterday, I had a chat with our meteorologist regarding the weather and potential flight trajectories. He confirmed that the weather was indeed changing after we launched and that France was the only landfall option in Western Europe. With this change we would also need to fly high with more forced climbs. We made the right decision.

Afterwards, l had time to do weight calculations with sand bags and all equipment that could have been ballast. A conservative figure had us with 14 bags on Wednesday morning. Every forced climb would cost us 5 bags of ballast per thousand foot climb.


Flight Control - Kevin

I think it was Hempie who once told me that most adventures start in the pub. At the time, he was referring to the times when he had returned from an adventure and had gone down the pub and thought "what's next then?". This adventure was no different.

Bert, Hempie, Clive, Wim & I had a video call on Friday afternoon (UK time). Bert & Hempie decided to launch at 0200 UTC on Saturday.

I grabbed my bag and headed off to our Flight Control Centre at Clive's house near Bristol, picking up Jonathan on the way. We were greeted by Clive and his better half, Jo. "Right, first things first. Pint!". Clive & Jo live a few doors down from the local pub. It was a nice way to start the proceedings. After a swift pint, we went back to Clive's house and started to prepare for the flight.

I had filed the ATC Flight Plan before I left home. All I needed to do was to activate it 30 minutes prior to launch. I checked through the NOTAMs to make sure that there were no airspace restrictions along the planned flight trajectory. Peter in the ATC Centre at Gander had confirmed that our Airspace Reservation had been set up on the western side of the ocean. We were all set to go. I went for a quick nap as I knew that Saturday was going to be a long day.

I awoke an hour before the planned launch time. Although we were in contact with Bert & Hempie, we did not have a video feed from the launch site. Problem solved. I contacted my friend Ulie who was at the launch but not part of the launch team. He streamed the whole launch to us via WhatApp on his phone (thanks, as always Ulie!).

As Clive, Jonathan and I watched the balloon leave the ground and gradually disappear into the darkness above Presque Isle, I had a lump in my throat. As Jason so eloquently wrote in yesterday's post, I knew how much work Bert had put into this boyhood dream.

I advised all the ATC and Search & Rescue units in the Atlantic region that the balloon was now airborne. I’ll leave it to Clive to take up the story tomorrow..

02-07-2024 - DREAMS..

Presque Isle: Jason 

As the world knows by now, the maiden voyage of the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer landed short of it’s intended destination in a region populated by French-speaking people, though a few thousand miles West of France itself. This flight was a successful failure – the aircraft itself performed flawlessly; teams, navigation, communication all worked as designed. The aircraft and flight crew were recovered in perfect condition, minus a few pints of English blood pilfered by Canadian mosquitoes (international scandal?). 99% of the variables went our way on this flight, but we need a perfect 100 to reach Europe. So close….

The results of the flight of June 28 can be discussed in terms of gas and ballast, weather and trajectories, communication and navigation, but the real fuel driving this undertaking is Bert’s boyhood dream. This is my motivation - I am a part of this project because like Hempie, Professor Paulson and the rest of the team I want to do what I can to make Bert’s dream become reality. Dreams are beautiful, and the excitement is contagious. As the world wobbles around us selfless dreamers deserve all of our support. It’s important, and Bert is special.

Dreams are beautiful but they are also complicated. In many ways life is simpler without setting challenging goals - without a goal there is zero chance of failure and facing possible disappointment is not a concern. As I spend more and more time with Bert and Hempie I am more and more in awe of their intestinal fortitude and balls of steel. They approach the task with calm determination, focused, but lighthearted. The number of pilots who have crossed the ocean in a balloon is about the same as the number of men who have traveled to the moon. It has indeed been done before, but this is not easy stuff….

To accept the personal and professional sacrifices that come along with committing to a goal of this magnitude is also not easy. Bert and Joanie have dedicated months (years?) of time and effort to building the aircraft and preparing the many elements to put the dream within reach. Obviously this was a labor of love, but equally obviously this took time away from their business and other aspects of their personal lives. For this they will always have my deepest respect, regardless of what comes next. Pursuing dreams does not come cheaply in any form of currency.

In the coming days and weeks as Bert, Hempie and Frederik process what has unfolded and why, I can only say personally that I am NOT disappointed. So far this has been the adventure of a lifetime, sharing time together with all of the team has been precious to me – I have made new friends, learned and grown from this experience in ways that I could never anticipate.

If/When it is time to take the next shot (without having to ask, I know I speak for the rest of the team), we are with you as far as you are willing to go.

From the deepest marrow of our bones, with great pleasure and honor we are with you to see this dream come true.

Standing by….

01-07-2024 - A TRUE LABOR OF LOVE..

Presque Isle: Bert

As you can imagine, the night of the launch was full of so many emotions.  My past experiences on the many projects I have been involved in of this magnitude did not prepare me for this.  In the past, I was the person on the field doing the inflation.  Now, I found myself lying in bed trying to get my mind to shut down so that I could get a few hours of sleep.  I was depending on a dedicated team of people that I had hand selected to inflate my balloon.  A balloon that I knew better than anyone else than perhaps Joanie who stood beside me the whole time this balloon was designed and built, was being inflated without me.  Every panel cut, every seam sewn, every seam glued, our hand touched every last yard of fabric.  A true labor of love. 

The house we were staying in was just down the road and across from Paul's property.  You could see the launch site from our bedroom window. I deliberately left the bedroom window open so that I could hopefully hear the flow of hydrogen, indicating the start of the inflation.  Sure enough, after two hours of sleep, I awoke to this wonderful sound.  I could no longer sleep. Looking out the bedroom window I could see the balloon standing.  I then got the idea of going on Facebook to watch the inflation.  It worked!  with all of the posting that was going on from the spectators, I could actually watch the sequence of the inflation taking place in the comfort of my bedroom.

I will never forget the feeling I had when we arrived.  Walking up to the field from Paul's shop, the view of the balloon was blocked from the trees.  And then after rounding the corner, there it was.  The most beautiful balloon I have ever built was standing there waiting for Federick, Hempie and I, my dedicated team had done their job!  Looking at each and every one of them I could see and feel their sense of satisfaction on their smiling faces.  They were so proud of what they had accomplished for me. Looking back at that moment, I can only hope they could see how proud I was of them as well.


Presque Isle: Hempie

As you will know, we had one delayed trip a couple of weeks ago. We wondered if we would have to wait a long time again.Wim gave us all a heads up that something good was happening this week. But not all the models agreed.He slowly got more confident and that checked out with other weather men who were seeing the same pattern.

Another early start from Wiltshire to Heathrow, and we were in Presque Isle that afternoon. Another weather brief. The GFS and ECMWF (European and American) models were unusually lining up. Frederik was on the next flight out.Luckily, we had all the systems checked on our previous trip. Bert had brought together an extraordinary group of gas and hot air balloon pilots to help get the balloon ready for launch. Paul Cyr had organised a great team of locals to help with parking, and inflation.

Thursday evening we had another briefing. Looking good for a Friday evening launch. 6 to 8,000ft to climb out and maintain that altitude for the first day. After that go up 2,000ft per day to Europe. Either France or northern Spain in 4 days. No thunderstorms. A perfect forecast, confirmed by two other weather men.

Wim was working so hard to show us the latest tracks. All good, every track getting us to Europe. Wim’s next weather report came in early Friday morning. A launch and inflation team meeting. All good to go. Take off approx 10pm. I went back to bed to try and get some extra sleep. I was excited and anxious so it didn’t work. We must have had 50 people in the team working with us. Very humbling. All the boys in the control room ready for the off and trying not to drink! Bert did so well. Everyone wanted to talk to him. In the end I took him back to the apartment so he could try and sleep before the launch. It would be a long night flying.

We looked out of the door, the winds had subsided for the inflation and the balloon looked magnificent with the flood lights on it. A beautiful envelope, lovingly hand crafted by Bertie and Joannie. Wim gave us the latest weather. Instead of a climb out to 6 to 8,000 feet he now wanted 8,000 to 10,000ft, meaning we would have to lose more ballast before launch. Before launch a gas balloon is weighed off so that on launch it rises to a specific height, reaching equilibrium between the weight of the balloon, the volume of the gas giving the lift, and the air pressure at a specific altitude.

The launch site was a mix of emotions. Lots of friends there. The ballooning community is so special. John said the balloonist's prayer and we were away. Bert flew the balloon. I was on the radio to Presque Isle, then Boston ATC. Sam Canders, a professional captain on jets, had cleared the way. I called up Boston Centre. Gas balloon N56US. They said, "Hello we have been expecting you", gave us a squark number and wished us good luck!

As we climbed it got colder. Then new weather news from Clive in our control room. We needed to keep south of Gander or we would get into a new weather system. We would find the right speed and bearing to achieve this at an altitude of between 10,000 and 12,000ft. This meant ditching more of our ballast before launch. Bert was not a happy bunny, burning through our ballast. The duration of a flight depends on the amount of ballast you have remaining, and it is important to conserve ballast as much as possible, but particularly early in a flight.

Then we hit an inversion, where there is a layer of air that is at a higher temperature than the air below it, meaning that the lift of the balloon decreases once you hit the inversion layer because the air is less dense. The balloon was flying beautifully but we couldn't get through this layer. We were jettisoning ballast to give us more lift, but we kept bouncing back down.

Lots of discussion. Could we wait until first light, which would about 4.30 am. That would give a bit of solar heating to the gas, increasing the volume and lift and helping us to punch through the inversion layer. Wim said the expected clear skies has disappeared. We would have solid cloud giving little chance of solar heating. In addition, the latest run of the weather models now showed that we needed to get up to 13,000 to 14,000 ft that morning to catch air flows that would take us to southern Europe. If we couldn’t hit that altitude we would land much further north, in some terrible weather disturbances.

When we took off, Bert was so excited. Frederik was busy doing his data collection. I have often said flying solo is so much easier, you only need to look after yourself. I had a quick 2 hours' sleep. Freezing. I woke and asked Bert how it was going. Not good. We are burning through ballast and kept bouncing off the inversion layer. To get to the required heights, we would not have enough ballast to get to Europe. We talked to Clive and Wim again. We were close to the ocean. We needed to make quick decisions as there was land below but not for long. Wim said if we didn’t find the right track, there was no solution now. With cloud predicted for 12 to 18 hours instead of the expected 6, things were changing fast.

Poor Bert, I nearly started to cry, his boyhood dream was disappearing. I have been involved with several Atlantic flights, none have been so well organised. None, on take off, had such a good forecast on take-off, and on not one did the forecast become so unstable and change so quickly. The weather has been so cruel. We had limited time. Bert said he felt with this new weather profile, we wouldn’t get to Europe. Especially with the new update to find the right bearing and speed or end up on Iceland or in very cold water.

So a masterclass in getting a balloon into a tight space. Bert coaxed us down. And we landed on dry land in New Brunswick, Canada. We thought civilisation, but whilst we saw a lot of logging roads and a couple of moose, nothing. In all the contingency planning I had never expected to land and be eaten alive by mosquitoes!

There are so many people I would like to thank. Of course my fellow travellers Bert and Frederik. So many more, I will not mention anyone else, because I will forget someone which would be appalling.

A huge Thank You to you all, Hempie X


Due to weather conditions, requiring an altitude higher than planned that would necessitate increased ballast consumption, the crew have decided to land the balloon before the Gulf of St Lawrence. They had concluded they would not have had enough ballast to make it to Europe.

The balloon landed at 0940UTC 29JUN near Christies Landing, New Brunswick, Canada - 047° 20.607N, 065° 12.548W

The crew are safe and well.

29-06-2024 - LAUNCH PHOTOS

Mission Control: Jonathan

The Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer is currently making it’s way over New Brunswick. In the meantime here are somegreat pictures of the launch captured by Ros & Jim.

29-06-2024 - LIFT OFF!

Mission Control: Jonathan

We have lift off..

28-06-2024 - MESSAGE FROM BERT..

Mission Control: Jonathan 

By the time you read this we may be in the air, heading over the Atlantic and on to Europe. The balloon is inflated, and final preparations are being made.

On behalf of the entire flight crew, we thank all of those who supported our effort in so many ways. We know many of you are here in spirit. We are also very grateful to those who were able to be here to get us airborne. The dream is about to take a major step. I am excited! Bert


Mission Control: Jonathan 

As the sunsets the hydrogen continues to flow and the balloon takes shape.


Mission Control: Jonathan 

The team in Presque Isle have now started to unpack the balloon ready for inflation.


Mission Control: Jonathan 

More preparations in the sunshine this morning. Jason leads a briefing with the crew whilst Hempie, Bert & Frederik discuss the weather. More soon!


Mission Control: Jonathan 

Preparations continued today at the launchsite in Presque Isle. Thanks to Jim Rogers for the photos!

27-06-2024 - GREEN AT LAST!!

Presque Isle: Bert

It appears we have a window for a Friday evening launch with inflation now planned to start about 8:00 PM EDT and a launch about 10:00 PM EDT. While the team is confident and optimistic, the weather still dictates when gas starts flowing into the balloon. The crew and flight team is coming together in Presque Isle in anticipation of good weather, not only launch weather but the weather across the pond.

The launch address is 470 State Street, Presque Isle Maine. Coordinates for the entry driveway in decimal degrees is Lat 46.694 Long -67.975 . This is a private residence so do not go to the house but see the map below for parking.


Presque Isle: Bert

Bert captured this great photo of the launchsite at Presque Isle, Maine as he flew in today.


Ros reports:

After another few days of rapid traffic light changes, the weather is showing Friday and Saturday YELLOW for take-off in Maine and possible favourable conditions for a fast crossing to Europe, and we are off again, this time catching an 0800 flight today out of Heathrow which means we left home at 0430 - ugh!

This time it feels different but what do I know, that may just be because I was listening to Crowded House “Weather With You” when the weather came in.

We are travelling without Archie and Johnny, who both have other commitments. I’m not a balloonist: my rôle is to make sure all of the trackers are working and set correctly, and appropriately fixed and sealed in the basket, and try to be a generally useful supporter, which means getting to know the Presque Isle supermarkets pretty well and doing a lot of driving!

There will be three separate trackers in the basket, as well as a number of other devices giving the current position to the pilots and allowing communication with the Control Centre.The trackers providing data that will be used by the FAI to verify the flight details are a YellowBrick, which samples position at a configurable frequency and writes this to a database and web page via satellite, so not dependent on mobile data coverage; and a Nano Flight Recorder which cannot be read during the flight but writes the data to its own internal disk to be interrogated after the flight.

The observers’ YellowBrick can be viewed hereThe default is showing the last seven days’ data, and those of you who have been looking will have noticed it dancing around State Street in Presque Isle a few days ago when it was being tested.There is a second YellowBrick, the data from which will be used in real time by the Control Centre.

Presque Isle is getting to feel like home, and I’m shocked at how familiar the road from Boston has become since David and I first visited to check out potential launch sites at the beginning of 2023, and went to Double Eagle II (first transatlantic balloon flight) and Joe Kittinger’s (first solo transatlantic balloon flight) launch sites. It is clearly a very special place, and the spirit of adventure in the air is deep, tangible and infectious.

25-06-2024 - AIRSPACE

Mission Control: Kevin

One of my responsibilities for this flight is to coordinate with Aviation Authorities, Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Search & Rescue centres in the area where the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer is likely to fly.

It is very important to make sure that they are fully aware of the flight and make them part of the team.

Special thanks go to Uwe Goehl at Transport Canada and Kevin McMorrow at the UK CAA for providing the clearance required to fly VFR in their respective oceanic airspace. Also to Peter White at NavCanada, Gander for setting up our Airspace Reservation (ALTRV) that effectively provides a sterile corridor around the balloon while it is in Gander & Shanwick oceanic airspace.

Peter will pass the coordinates of the ALTRV to the Mission Control Team. They will enter them into Google Earth. Once the flight is airborne, they will plot the balloon's position taken from the Yellow Brick tracker to check where it is in relation to the ALTRV. Sections of the corridor will open and close as the balloon flies through them. They can be modified if the balloon changes direction due to changes in the wind.

I am also liaising with the Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax, Nova Scotia along with the UK Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Falmouth UK and the Irish Coastguard in Dublin.

Although any rescue required would be automatically triggered by the activation of the Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) carried by the crew, it is important to give the SAR units as much information as possible before a (hopefully) unlikely event.


Mission Control: Jonathan

Our meteorologist reports that high pressure will return to Maine tomorrow with sunshine and light winds. However, as you can see below, the flight trajectories at low and high altitudes remain unsuitable (heading NW Greenland/Baffin Bay & Mid-Atlantic) with no pathway to Europe. By Wednesday, a new low pressure will dominate the weather over Maine bringing unsettled conditions.

There are however early indications that better weather will return by the end of the week with our  meteorologist monitoring this change closely. Fingers remain firmly crossed!

In summary..
Tuesday : RED
Wednesday : RED
Thursday : RED
Friday : YELLOW
Saturday : YELLOW

24-06-2024 - RED!

Update from Hempie..

As you all know, we had a lot of REDS last week. What was interesting was the forecasted ground winds at the launch site. If we had a GREEN, I think it would have been a difficult inflation.

Our time in Presque Isle with the team was fantastic on many fronts. Everyone working together for a common goal. Bert left early on Thursday with Joannie for a 12 hour drive to home. Jason left late Thursday evening for an even longer trip. We did a final pack and said our goodbyes to Paul Friday morning. We will be back!

I feel very confident with every aspect of the project. Testing the comms, oxygen, ditching drills, everything fined tuned. I have a belief that if you prepare for it, you won’t need it. If you go carefree and hope you will never need an immersion suit or a dinghy, Sod's Law, you will definitely need it!

A couple of the days in Presque Isle the mercury hit 99 F. My body thermostat only works in minus temps, so I suffered. On the morning we left, things had cooled down to the 80’s. We arrived home to the UK in warm weather!

A quick sleep, change of clothes, and now with just a day bag, we could leave home in the morning and get into Presque Isle late afternoon. Stand in the basket and take off. Everything has been superbly prepared by the fantastic project team. So many people to thank.

I even went to the supermarket on a Sunday morning - a first for me !! As I’m the flight cook, I thought a selection of cuppa soups would help on cold nights in the basket. With a good selection of luxury biscuits to go with our tea. Although Bert is a coffee man, Frederik and I will be tea drinkers. We might let him have the odd Ginger Nut!

Wim is looking at our daily weather and keeping us on our toes. NO booze for us, and long nights sleeping.

This time last week we were in Presque Isle seeing our yellow go to Red. Frederik was in Paris celebrating fathers day, so i was desperately trying to get hold of him to postpone leaving that day, so he could enjoy the day. Meanwhile, i had to postpone my fathers day, which was celebrated today. Thank you for lunch girls. X


Mission Control - Jonathan

As a 15 year old, Bert followed the flight of Double Eagle II closely..

On 11th August 1978, Double Eagle II piloted by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson & Larry Newman launched from a Potato Field in Presque Isle, Maine. After six days of flight, the balloon touched down in Misery, France some 60 miles (97km) North West of Paris. A flight of 137 hours and 6 minutes, covering a distance of 3,099 miles (4,988km) and creating history as the first balloon to cross the Atlantic Ocean. 

Click here for footage of the 1978 Flight Of Double Eagle II - YouTube

Bert at the launchsite of Double Eagle II on Spragueville Rd, Presque Isle.

A quick look at the weather.. Conditions remain changeable with low and high pressure weather systems influencing conditions in Maine. More soon!


Mission Control - Jonathan

The weather situation sadly remains unsuitable for launch.. On Sunday a low pressure will situate itself over Maine and will bring unsettled weather (wind and rain) before moving east onto the ocean. A ridge of high pressure will then temporarily build however will last only a short time before another low pressure system builds in for Wednesday.

In the meantime, Jo & Clive has been busy setting up the Mission Control Centre in Bristol. This will be the base for the Mission Control team who will provide around the clock support for the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer as it makes it’s way from West to East.

20-06-2024 - THURSDAY’S THOUGHTS..

Presque Isle - Hempie

Well another ground hog day. We are still in Presque Isle, preparing to come home and wait for the call from there.

Presque Isle was chosen as it is one of the most Northern towns in Maine. Maine itself is stunningly beautiful, from rugged ocean coast line to massive forests.

We hope at this latitude, we will pick up the right winds to take us to Europe. The town and location holds precedent in it was the take off site for the very first balloon flight across the ocean. This was the famous Double Eagle II, taking off from here and landing in France on the 17th August, 1978. They were the first crew to succeed after 14 other failed attempts.

In some ways it's extraordinary how they succeeded with the nowadays basic equipment. HF radio, a gondola built in the shape of a boat for ditching. A weather update from basic meteorological information.We have some of the best weathermen in the world, using massively powerful computers, taking in satellite data from across the North Atlantic.

We still have an HF radio that everyone has forgotten how to use. We have two Yellow Bricks that will give position and altitude reports at intervals of anywhere from 10 secs to 2 hours. An Inreach that gives our position and text messages which we send to the control centre. Two independent satellite phones, for communicating with our control centre.

We have a team ready in Presque Isle that has gas ballooned all of their lives. An amazingly experienced team of American gas balloonists, helped by an amazing group of  willing supporters.

However, complacency kills you, and every aspect of this project has been thought through. This is Bert Padelt's flight. He has wanted to do this from the age of 13. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of every flight ever attempted, the failures and successes.  I believe I would not have succeeded on my previous flights without him. Not only is he recognised around the world as a great balloon builder, but also as one of the world's best gas balloon pilots. It is a privilege and an honour to work with him. And he needs a lot of patience to work with me!!  We are very different in character.  I kick the tyres and light the fires and I’m ready to go. Bert is the opposite, carefully thinking every single aspect through.

As an example, yesterday we were going through the oxygen, when we would use it etc. After 10 minutes I was very satisfied with our set up. Today, over breakfast, Bert says, I was thinking overnight in bed, and I think we can improve on what we discussed yesterday!!

Meanwhile, what I love about this adventure, is that this is an amateur team, No one is getting paid, everyone is doing this for the love of adventure. Whilst we have high tech comms, it is extremely low budget. No pressurised or floating capsules. We are flying in the footsteps and in the spirit of our heroes from Double Eagle II, 46 years ago. A small cramped basket, cooking up our dinner on a camping stove. When it gets cold at night, we put on a big coat.

The only thing that is a constant from 46 years ago, we are at the mercy of the winds. I am sure, like Double Eagle II, we need to be patient and ask our Gods to be kind and give us a weather slot sometime in the future.


Presque Isle - Johnny

The day began at 4.30am and first light, woken by Joanie to join her and Paul's early morning bear watch. Like ballooning, much patience is required, but as the sun rose higher a chance encounter appeared less and less likely. Instead we got skunks, red squirrels, a lone hare, woodpecker, mallard and a lot of crows, or rather rooks. As the old adage goes, if you see a rook on its own, it's a crow, and if you see lots of crows, they're rooks. Either way, they enabled us to sit back and enjoy the majesty of flight. They showed us how it's done, even if the bears had decided to breakfast elsewhere.

It wasn't long before we all gathered at Paul's, with Wim's latest weather report coming through. RED, RED, RED and RED. Real consistency which in essence spelled out GO HOME. However, there was still plenty to be done, with Bert and David familiarising themselves with all aspects of the kit, before a final team meeting chaired by Jason, illustrating just how meticulous this effort and all its planning is. As David said "I've never been this organised before".  One great organiser in our midst is Dolores, who arrived laden with sweetness once again, this time with peanut butter fudge to add to the scone she baked a couple of days ago, perhaps best described as an iced raspberry sponge cake, which was divine.

Then began the transportation of the kit including the sacred basket itself, to another of Paul's hangers, already housing 11 palettes of sandbags and a twelfth containing 23 gallons of drinking water. This really is an operation and a half and it's been a privilege to witness the team in action, even though it's been rather more theoretical than we would have liked.

Earlier in the day during an interview, Bert reminded us of the magnitude of this great undertaking. "This is a flight I've wanted to do since I was 13 years old, and so a little longer wait is not an issue for me." And as ever, Bert's right.

19-06-2024: RED WEDNESDAY..

Mission Control - Jonathan 

Our meteorologist reports that by Friday a high pressure system will be situated over Maine. In the ridge of high pressure the low altitude winds will be too slow. In the meantime, at high altitude, the winds will be fast but straight towards an area of instability associated with a low pressure system over the ocean.

What the trajectories say..

Low altitude: Low and slow over the ocean and probably wet feet after 4 days! Note the lowest trajectory (Red Line) would take the balloon back over Nova Scotia and into Canada! Completely the wrong way!

High altitude: (Red Line) Fast towards an area of instability associated with a low pressure system over the ocean. Meanwhile at the highest altitude (Blue & Green Line) the balloon would turn to the south due to the effects of a high pressure system situated over the Azores. In both cases there is no way to make Europe.

Therefore: Friday: RED, Saturday: RED, Sunday: RED & Monday: RED

Time to sit tight and keep fingers crossed for better weather soon!


Presque Isle - Archie

A midsummer’s day in Presque Isle, the light breeze doesn’t do much to offset the hot and humid conditions as the temperature climbs above 30C.  Having checked the forecast for flying is unchanged at RED, David, Bert, Joanie and Jason return to Paul’s Workshop to continue the fine-tuning of the stowage and to go over the emergency ditching drills.   A near pantomime worthy of the Marx brothers ensues as the suitcase sized life raft is hoisted up and down and its fastening to the basket is tested in every possible configuration, with step ladder, a hoist and a fistful of carabiners clanking away. One try leads to a tear in the life raft outer cover, and so another solution is needed.  Ros observes calmly from the sidelines then provides her expertise based on her sailing experience. Eventually Bert and David are satisfied the life raft is both accessible in emergency but safe from inadvertent launch.  

Next David declares the font size on the Emergency Ditching Drills checklist is too small to read without glasses. Jason shows us a clever way to use your hand to create a pinhole view of the text which then becomes sharp and clear. However this is not necessarily sufficient for David on imminent descent into the waves, so Jason duly creates a large font landscape format, David checks it without his glasses and then its ready for laminating and the addition of Velcro strip on the back.

Jason’s mission to label everything that will go in the basket continues, with evident satisfaction when another strip is pressed into place.  My suggestion that to fly through Canadian Airspace he should provide labels in both English and French is not well received, even though he, and no doubt Frederik too, is a fluent French speaker.

I get a chance to speak to Peter Cuneo in Albuquerque.  He designed the balloon and will provide the dimensions and certify the volume for the purposes of the FAI documentation for any record claim.  For the same reasons I visit the launch site 100m south of Paul Cyr’s workshop to take photos, record the altitude and exact location using What3Words and its useful fix for latitude and longitude. I also check that the local weather station at Caribou, formerly a major USAF base, will provide the barometric pressure and temperature for the time of launch. The site is shielded on 3 sides by tall pine trees, and the white trailer full of compressed hydrogen is parked up on the southern edge.

If only the weather would oblige….a midsummer night’s dream for tonight.


Mission Control - Kevin 

Whilst the team in Presque Isle, Maine continue preparations at the launchsite, the Mission Control Team in the UK are also readying themselves for the flight.

Once our meteorologist has identified launch and en-route weather conditions have aligned, he will discuss the flight trajectory with the pilots. If they are satisfied, they will call "Code Green" (for Go) and promulgate a launch time to the launch and Mission Control teams. Kevin Stass (Mission Control Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Search & Rescue (SAR) Coordinator) will file an ATC Flight Plan (FPL) with FAA Flight Services through their website. He will then contact the various ATC and SAR units along the forecast trajectory to advise them of the forecast route and flight profile.

Kevin has been liaising with these ATC and SAR units, along with the Canadian and UK aviation authorities for the past year. Transport Canada and the UK CAA have issued the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer exemptions to fly in their oceanic airspace under Visual Flight Rules (VFR).

Once the FPL has been filed, Gander ATC will create an Airspace Reservation (ALTRV), This effectively gives the balloon a corridor of protected airspace across the Atlantic from surface to 18,000 feet. This "corridor" can be modified if the balloon nears its outer limits.The Mission Control team will be advising the ATC & SAR units of the balloon's progress throughout the flight.

We are extremely grateful to these units for their assistance in our planning to get Bert, Hempie and Frederik safely across the Atlantic.

17-06-2024: A DAY OF ALL SORTS..

Presque Isle - Johnny

1800 Weather Update: Tuesday, the track isn’t fast enough to make land fall at a low level, and at higher levels the track is faster but doesn’t head for land. Wednesday is also postponed, too marginal. Fingers crossed for better news tomorrow!

A day of all sorts. For Joanie it started with a phone call at 4.48am from Paul Cyr to say there were bears to come and watch - five in fact. Had I woken as she tip-toed past my bed in the kitchen lounge area, I'd have hitched a lift. Then, as the weather reports came in, hope resurfaced with tentative talk of a Wednesday night launch. There was muted excitement and the checking off of things still to be done followed, not least the need for our third brave pilot, Frederik, who'd already swapped France for Switzerland and we wondered how quickly we should pull him back in a more westerly direction. But as the afternoon wore on, so did did our hopes for this slot and those cursed words of unstable, marginal and even dodgy once more entered the vernacular. Our own return passage had been moved from tomorrow to Friday, and I confirmed to my loved ones, Jurate and Jonas that it looks highly unlikely I'll be joining them in Lithuania this week, certainly not on tomorrow afternoon's flight as originally planned. Desolation Street was thwarted with a fantastic spaghetti carbonara created by Archie with the help of Jason, almost as good as Ros's spaghetti bolognese from the previous night, with me as sous chef. And as I write this under torchlight from my old, decrepit iPhone, my favourite moment of the day was the walk Ros and I undertook after dinner, beneath skies of pink and blue and orange, and as these faded, the undergrowth became alive with the dance of fireflies. Still, this I would have swapped for better weather reports, an imminent launch and a safe and beautiful flight for our three pilots, but for now the wait goes on.


Presque Isle - Ros

Sue was a 19 year old reporter who worked with Double Eagle II, the first balloon to cross the Atlantic. She joined the PR team and worked round the clock in the control centre during the flight, dealing with calls for information that were coming in 24/7 from around the world.

Sue brought a patch that Double Eagle II pilots wore on their flight suits. The team gave Sue the patch and she gave the patch to Bert to take on the flight.For Bert this is very special because he followed this flight as a 15 year old. Meeting Sue, and the patch, have made a connection between Double Eagle II and the planned Torabhaig flight, which means a lot to Bert.

Sue visited today to wish Bert and David good luck for their flight, and to toast the flight with whisky!


Presque Isle - Ros

Excitement building. Weather looking like it might line up for Tuesday evening, but going through the predictions probably more likely Wednesday night. It comes with a risk of thunderstorms on Thursday - the weather in Maine is due to hit an unusual 34C on Wednesday! Flying a balloon with the risk of lightning strikes never a good idea, but a hydrogen balloon is an even worse idea.

More kit preparation today, and a rushed buy of a replacement immersion suit for David. Food shopping due after this weather call and squeezed in before the next one in a couple of hours.



Presque Isle - Johnny

By now we'd hoped to have the balloon laid out at the launch site, with Archie knee deep in recording the measurements and other vital statistics, all integral to the success of the operation, however we're not at that stage yet. What's more positive is seeing the team fully engaged in their work - and it is a team, with two of our three courageous pilots in David and Bert both present and correct, along with Ros and Joanie, Jason, Archie and myself - busy continuing the essential preparations in order to be ready to fly once a window finally does open to allow for the long-anticipated launch, bound for Europe.

It feels like the calm before...the smooth passage, which all this work is for.


Mission Control - Jonathan

Low pressure systems over the ocean continue to be a problem. One sitting to the north and another to the south both blocking the way to Europe.

Monday : RED
Tuesday : RED
Wednesday : RED
Thursday : YELLOW

In better news, England defeated Serbia 1-0 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. A 13th minute Jude Bellingham header was enough to secure the win and kick start what we England fans hope will be a successful tournament!

Here we have Johnny watching the game in Paul’s workshop at Presque Isle..

15-06-2024: BUSY TIMES..

Presque Isle - Ros

I’m beginning to deeply understand what David meant when planning for the Atlantic Crossing started and he kept saying, when asked about the date of the flight, that you can’t call it, even right up to just before the flight you can’t tell if the air flows and weather patterns are going to line up. Whether the model predictions show the flows delivering the balloon, that can only steer by changing the altitude at which it is flying to choose the direction of the air flow that it is sitting in, across the Atlantic to dry land at a reasonable latitude.

On Wednesday, it looked as though the weather patterns were going to line up for a Sunday night/Monday morning flight. We had flights booked for 1pm Friday. Archie’s passport was in the Mongolian embassy (don’t ask!) - he could collect it by 1230 Friday. So David and I would drive to Heathrow from Wiltshire and meet Johnny at Heathrow, Archie would get a slightly later flight and we would wait for him in Boston.Thursday. It’s all off for Sunday/Monday. We cancel flights. Archie’s passport panic over. Keep watching the weather.

Friday evening 8pm. Sitting in front of the fire, the weather report comes in. Monday is a GREEN. Go go go. Archie, luckily, has a grab bag packed and jumps in the car for a 9 hour overnight drive to Heathrow from Scotland. David sorts flight kit. 9pm I’m on the phone to Richard May (TravelCounsellors) - you know those flights for Friday that we cancelled, well please could we have the same flights for tomorrow, 1pm? Richard delivers, as always, and around 10pm e-tickets land in my mailbox. A quick round of messages organising dog-sitting, cancelling meetings, and a bit of packing.
Saturday. David and I leave home 9am and arrive at Heathrow to find Archie and Johnny outside Terminal 3. Johnny has set up so that David can do a quick piece to camera before we check in with just enough time to get through to the gate as the plane is boarding.
The plane is delayed leaving - the Red Arrows are flying over Heathrow on their way to the King’s birthday fly-past. I hear a roar, look out to the left of the plane to catch them swoop over and into the distance.

We take off. David connects to WiFi and picks up the latest weather. Monday is definitely OFF. Definitely a RED. All the predictions show the flows curling to the left around a developing low in the North Atlantic, delivering the balloon up into the North Atlantic - hitting Iceland if they were really lucky but most likely dumping them in some very cold water.

Yep, I get it, you can’t tell it’s a go until the balloon actually lifts.
I’m writing this Saturday night 11pm (Maine), Johnny driving, just over an hour from Presque Isle.

Currently, Monday is RED, Tuesday RED, Wednesday YELLOW, Thursday YELLOW. But tomorrow, who knows?

15-06-2024: UPDATE FROM HEMPIE..

Presque Isle - Hempie

A very frustrating day. Last night final packing. Waited for the last update at 11 pm U.K. time. All of our weather contacts all singing from the same hymn sheet. Sunday night/Monday launch. Left the house at 0900. Poor Archie drove through the night from Scotland. We all met up at Heathrow, Ros and Jonny doing the donkey work with luggage. We were delayed by the fly past of the red arrows for the King’s birthday. So, modern technology: at 30,000ft sipping tea, an email comes in from Wim. Good to bad in one sentence. No flight on Monday. A RED. I’m sure the weather has changed over the years. On my previous flights, it would be a long yellow, then a long green. As in a couple of days. Slight nuances from the updates, but on the whole it was a stable forecast. It seems to me the weather is changing faster and the nuances more severe to stop the flight. Anyway, as the saying goes, it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground. In our case, the sea!!!

So patience is the order of the day. Don’t snatch at anything. I’m too old to swim in cold north Atlantic swells!


Mission Control - Jonathan

Training flight in Gladbeck, Germany with five times Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett champion Wilhelm Eimers.


Mission Control - Jonathan

For the timebeing, settled conditions have returned to the launchsite at Presque Isle, Maine. However, the weather and flight trajectory story over the ocean remains uncertain and complicated with low pressure nearby. More soon..

10-06-2024: SIT TIGHT

Mission Control - Jonathan

It’s time to sit tight with conditions set to remain unsuitable for the week ahead.

Our meteorological team reports that on Thursday & Friday a new low pressure system will bring unsettled and windy conditions to Presque Isle before moving east onto the ocean.

Fingers are crossed for better weather soon!


Mission Control - Jonathan

As reported in the last update, there have been signs that the weather was set to improve into next week.

Sadly, the latest weather reports from our meteorological team in Europe tell a different story with yet more unsettled weather approaching and an uncertain flight trajectory over the Atlantic Ocean.

The wait for better weather continues..


Mission Control - Jonathan

Unsettled weather conditions have arrived at the launchsite in Presque Isle. Nevertheless, there are tentative signs that the weather could be set to improve next week..



Mission Control - Jonathan

Unsettled weather conditions are set to arrive at the launchsite in Presque Isle today. Patience is now the order of the day.. 


Mission Control - Jonathan

Today the team met with Presque Isle, Police & Fire Departments to discuss launch day support and logistics. On the weather, a low pressure system will now dominate the weather over Maine for the coming days.

04-06-2024: TIME OUT

Mission Control - Jonathan

It’s been a busy time for the team in Presque Isle, Maine. With preparations well underway it’s important to take some time out and enjoy what the local area has to offer. This morning conditions were perfect for a hot air balloon flight.



Mission Control - Jonathan

Over the weekend the team have successfully filled all the sandbags ready for flight. With the flight window now officially open the meteorological team in Europe are now continually monitoring weather conditions at the launchsite, over the ocean and into Europe. Conditions currently remain unfavourable with unsettled weather set to arrive in Maine by the end of the week.


Mission Control - Jonathan

We were delighted to welcome the hydrogen tube trailer and the driver Kevin Horton to the launchsite. A massive THANK YOU to General Hydrogen!



Mission Control - Jonathan

Bert and the team have now arrived at Presque Isle, Maine to begin preparations ahead of the opening of the launch window on Saturday. Bert has also continued essential comms testing, this time from the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer basket.


21-05-2024: MOVING TO MAINE

Mission Control - Jonathan

The team wil head to Maine at the weekend and begin preparations ahead of the flight window opening on 1st June.



Mission Control - Jonathan

On May 12, team Torabhaig completed a test flight starting in Eastern Ohio, landing in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. During the flight the team tested essential hardware which will used onboard the Torabhaig Atlantic Explorer.The flight was a stunning success!

The test flight team.. Noah, Jason & Bert