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Fliers Seek Bragging Rights for Largest Hot-Air Balloon

Associated Press

A hot-air balloon billed as the world’s largest strained into the air carrying up to 60 people at a time Friday in a bid for the record books, even though it was tethered to the ground.

“It was immense; it was incredible,” said Gary Lovell, who flew a regular-sized hot-air balloon alongside the Super Maine. “It was very impressive being in the air next to something that large. . . . I’ve had 747s go overhead before; this would dwarf that.”

The Super Maine, 10% to 20% larger in volume than the Virgin Atlantic Flyer hot-air balloon that crossed the Atlantic last summer, established its flying ability by rising 50 feet off frozen Sebago Lake with 25 people aboard. It remained aloft, tethered to ropes, for about five minutes while about 100 balloon enthusiasts watched.

Pilot ‘Very Happy’

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“Everything’s come together almost perfectly. . . . We’re very happy,” chief pilot Tom Handcock said after the flight, which he hopes will earn an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

After the initial flight, organizers took the balloon up several more times, adding more and more people to its 8-by-12-foot gondola. At one point, 60 people were in the basket, with one man hanging onto the side while the balloon lifted off the ground a few feet.

Designed for Volume

The designers, builders and supporters of the 210-foot-high, 168-foot-wide Super Maine said they simply wanted to build a balloon that was larger in volume than the Flyer. The Super Maine was built to hold 2.6 million cubic feet of hot air, between 300,000 and 500,000 cubic feet more than the 195-foot-high Flyer, Handcock said.

Lovell said he could fit 40 regular-sized balloons, which are the size of two or three tractor-trailers, inside the Super Maine.

The balloonists could not release the ropes holding the craft to the ground because organizers did not complete Federal Aviation Administration paper work in time to launch a free flight.


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