Balloonists Launch Open-Content Build-Your-Own Project

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A pair of New England balloon pilots have developed what they hope could be a new way for homebuilders to share design ideas, modeled after "open content" and "open source" collaborative projects like Wikipedia and Linux. "Closed content gets fixed in time," says pilot Dan Nachbar, of Amherst, Mass. "Open content tends to evolve. Good ideas get incorporated, and a lot more progress can happen much more quickly." Nachbar worked with balloon builder Paul Stumpf, of Andover, Vt., to develop the online project, funded by a grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund. "We've started with a basic design that's good for first-time builders," says Stumpf. Along with the plans, new builders can find construction advice, lists of parts and materials, information about FAA issues and more. The pilots hope that each builder who uses the plans will add their ideas and improvements, to create a better product.

"Lighter-than-air has always been the leading edge of aviation," says Nachbar -- balloons were flying more than 100 years before the Wright brothers developed fixed-wing aircraft. "We're just continuing that tradition."