March 5, Jonathan Trappe, like some sort of aerial Willy Wonka, has again taken to the sky in a unique aircraft (this time for a National Geographic special) -- a likeness of the cartoon house from the Disney Pixar movie "Up." "It is certainly the strangest aircraft I have flown," Trappe told AVweb Friday. "But, more than that, it may be one of the strangest aircraft to have ever flown." The roughly 4,400-pound aircraft flew under 282 eight-foot-diameter (at ground level) helium-filled balloons. Trappe says he calculated gross lift for the craft at close to 5,400 pounds. The "house" took off from a private ranch east of Los Angeles, flew for one hour and ten minutes, reached an altitude of 10,500 MSL, and due to variable winds, landed about 10 miles from where it started. Of course, Trappe envisions grander possibilities. The aircraft was very well-equipped, Trappe said, adding "This had the capability to fly across the country on a multi-day flight."
When Trappe flew from AirVenture Oshkosh in 2010 -- click for video -- he and his minimalist rig (basically a paragliding harness and eight bags of ballast) were suspended under 50 balloons. This time, he carried 68 bags of ballast worth about 1,700 pounds, a co-pilot, plus batteries, a Mode-S transponder, radios, rigging and even life vests. Hence, the 282 balloons and roughly 83,000 cubic feet of helium. The National Geographic special called "How Hard Can It Be?" suggests the project was completed, start to finish, in two weeks, which is true if you ignore the planning Trappe began in June of last year. The mission was to prove it could be done and that became crystal-clear at 10,500 feet, so Trappe and his co-pilot came back down. Trappe says the flight from Brian Ranch (CL13) first encountered winds from the south, then from the east, then west. The house landed 10 miles total east of where it launched near western Mojave. The area is well-suited for experimental flight and, as Trappe said, "We're a little more experimental than most."