5. Light Heart (Balloon)

gatch-light-heart-balloon-disappearance (Images: Aer Blarney Balloons; BalloonLife.com)

Another of the non-traditional aircraft on this list, the Light Heart was Thomas Leigh Gatch, Jr‘s claim to fame. Gatch was attempting to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon when he and his craft disappeared somewhere over the Canary Islands in 1974.

Not your traditional balloon, the Light Heart was a $60,000 labor of love that consisted of 10 super-pressure helium balloons that had been specially designed to travel in the jet stream across the Atlantic. Gatch’s original plan was to ascend to 40,000 feet, enter the jet stream, and coast his way to Europe.

Although one of the balloons burst not long after his takeoff on February 18, 1974, he had designed the craft to be able to still function with the loss of two balloons, and he continued with the remaining nine. Gatch himself, sealed in an insulated gondola suspended below the balloons, maintained radio contact with airlines that he was sharing air space with.

The journey was supposed to take somewhere around 52 hours from departure at Harrisburg Airport in Pennsylvania to Europe. The last radio contact anyone had with Gatch was on the afternoon of February 19, when he was determined to be about 925 miles northeast of San Juan. The Light Heart was seen several days later by a Liberian freighter, and it was already flying much, much lower than expected and was even farther off-course. This was the last sighting of the balloon, and although there was a massive search undertaken by US military ships and planes as well as civilian craft that were in the area, no other trace of the Light Heart or its pilot was ever seen again.

 

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