The summer of 1978 saw a number of newsworthy events. A Pope died and another was installed. The first baby created by in vitro fertilization was born. The Shroud of Turin went on public display for the first time in 45 years. U.S. Army Sergeant Walter Robinson "walked" across the English Channel in 11 hours 30 minutes, using homemade water shoes. And in the third week of August the world held its collective breath as it followed the route of three men who became the first to cross the Atlantic in a helium-filled balloon.
There had been many failed attempts, beginning in the late 1800s. But on August 17, 1978, Double Eagle II piloted by Albuquerque residents Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman, landed in Miserey, a farming community near Paris. This, one of the oldest goals in aviation, was achieved in a flight lasting 137 hours, 6 minutes.
Double Eagle II was 112 feet high, 65 feet in diameter and had a capacity of 160,000 cubic feet of helium gas. The team rode in a gondola they named “The Spirit of Albuquerque.” It measured 15 feet by 7 feet by 4.5 feet and was fashioned after a catamaran that would float in case of an emergency water landing.
The gondola was equipped with then “state-of-the-art” equipment, including advanced computers for navigation and radio gear for communication in addition to other equipment critical to the flight. In the end, however, age-old navigation by star sighting relays and ham radio proved more reliable. During the crossing, the altitude ranged from a frightening low of 3,500 feet to a high of 24,950 feet.
In early August the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum will commence a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of this historic flight, and of Albuquerque’s unique place in its achievement. Enjoy the full-sized walk-in replica of Double Eagle II, which is on permanent display at the Museum. Visitors can experience the close quarters of the gondola, see an ice chest with the foods the crew took along, and sit in vintage lawn chairs like those on the flight. Visitors can also look forward to special commemorative displays and a special series of activities honoring our heroes of flight. These and other celebrations of the historic flight are planned during this year’s International Balloon Fiesta®. For details visit www.cabq.gov/balloon/current-events.
The Balloon Museum is located at 9201 Balloon Museum Drive NE just south of Balloon Fiesta® Park (North of Alameda) and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. year-round. Admission is $4.00 for adults ($3.00 for NM residents with valid ID), $2.00 for seniors 65+, $1.00 for children ages 4-12, and children 3 and under FREE. Admission is free on Sundays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., and all day on the first Friday of every month. The Museum is closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hours of operation and admission prices are subject to change without notice. For more information, call 505-768-6020 visit www.cabq.gov/balloon or call 311. For accessibility, call NM Voice Relay 1-800-659-8331 or 711.