Local ballooning pioneer inducted into FAI Hall of Fame

Posted at 6:58 AM on Oct 12, 2017


Photos Courtesy of Sand Dollar Productions, LLC

Special to SVLfreenews.com

Albuquerque, N.M. – Tracy Barnes of Statesville was formally inducted into the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Ballooning Commission International Hall of Fame on Friday, October 6, the eve of the opening of the 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

The ceremony was held at the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum to celebrate the achievements of two ballooning pioneers: Barnes and British pilot Geoff Green, who was inducted posthumously.

The FAI Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made significant contributions to aerostation, including those who have excelled in business, history, design, and engineering, in addition to those better known for their contributions in flying balloons or airships of any category, in competition or records.

Charles Willard, long-time friend and business associate, introduced Barnes to the 100-plus ceremony attendees. Barnes spoke about the influences in his life that led to his career as a lighter-than-air aviation inventor and designer.

Barnes is the founder of The Balloon Works, now known as Firefly Balloons, a hot air balloon manufacturing company located in Statesville. A pioneer in the birth of modern hot air ballooning, Barnes is credited as an early inventor and designer of today’s sport hot air balloons. Barnes’ balloons are flown throughout the world.

On October 13, 1961, Barnes flew a hot air balloon of his own design made from surplus military parachute canopies. In a 45-minute flight, Barnes reached an altitude of 8,000 feet and landed in someone’s back yard. Old Lumpy was the first modern hot air sport balloon.

In 1962, Tracy Barnes won the Piccard Trophy at the St. Paul Minnesota Winter Carnival Balloon Race, the first such race in modern hot air ballooning. He was the first-place winner in 1963 and 1964, as well. The same year, Barnes designed, built and flew two AX7 hot air balloons, the first non-military, natural-shaped hot air balloons.

On May 10, 1964, Barnes set 11 world altitude records in a polyethelene A-3 size gas balloon of his own design and construction, ascending to an altitude of 38,650 feet. This was the first manned hydrogen-filled polyethelene balloon to fly. The balloon and its capsule are on display at the National Balloon Museum in Indianola, Iowa. Barnes’ flight records have never been broken and still stand today. Barnes also set a world altitude record for AX8 and AX9 in his Firefly 90, which he flew to 28,585 feet.

From April to September, 1966, Barnes made the first trans-continental flight by hot air balloon in a series of 34 flights, from San Diego, Calif., to Cape May, New Jersey.

Barnes is credited with critical inventions that improved hot air balloon technology. Barnes’ self-sealing parachute valve is considered to be one of the most important contributions to the safety of modern hot air ballooning. He was awarded the first Wirth Medal by the Queen of England for this innovation in 1985.

Over his career, Barnes has received eight significant awards and achievements, and was inducted into the National Balloon Museum Hall of Fame in 2008.

Barnes is now president of The Blimp Works, Inc., where he is still actively designing. The company was started for the purpose of developing blimps and airships. Initially, in order to fund manned airship projects, Barnes developed a line of tethered and remote control helium blimps for advertising, promotions, and photography. During the 1990s, Barnes designed and successfully flew two one-man airships, Skywalker and Whispership. In 2007, he was granted a patent for a new tethered blimp design for the British military. This blimp is in use in Iraq and Afghanistan as an aerial observation platform to protect troop encampments.

The induction ceremony was attended by over a dozen North Carolina and Statesville area balloonists, including Sam Parks, 2017 balloonmeister of Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, the oldest balloon rally in the United States and the largest in the world. Parks will also be Carolina BalloonFest’s balloonmeister this year.

Tracy Barnes receives a standing ovation at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

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