Water bladders away: Cluster balloon lifts off in Maryland

May 23, 2011

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

John Ninomiya is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness—in each of the 50 states.

Seven hot air balloons gathered at the Flying H Farm in Union Bridge, Md., May 21 to accompany John Ninomiya and his cluster balloon on a short flight in calm skies.

Ninomiya, one of only a few people in the world flying cluster balloons regularly, is on a quest to fly his craft—a cluster of helium-filled balloons attached to a harness— in each of the 50 states. The flight allowed him to add Maryland to his list of states completed.

With help from the many volunteers who had arrived to witness the flight, Ninomiya inflated the various-sized balloons and attached them to sandbags until he was ready to strap into the harness and attach the balloons. Water bladders, used as ballast, hung from the front of his harness. To ascend, he releases water from the bladders. To descend, he cuts away smaller balloons.

Carefully following a written checklist, Ninomiya directed his crew on attaching the balloons. Once he was ready, he stood up, took a few steps, released some water, and lifted off over the trees. One by one, the hot air balloons followed as dozens of onlookers cheered.

The Flying H Farm sits on more than 100 acres and is used primarily by John Harrison to raise and train Belgian horses. A 2,000-foot grass strip runs behind the barns and is home to several ultralights and powered parachutes. Harrison, flying from that location for more than 30 years, even keeps a Cessna 172 on site. But on this evening, the grounds proved the perfect launch point for the lighter-than-air crowd that came to support their fellow balloonist on his journey.