Whether you’ve seen “Up,” the 2009 animated comedy-adventure film or not, you will appreciate Tom Morgan and his adventurous spirit.
In the movie produced by Pixar, Carl Fredricksen, together with a young “Wilderness Explorer” named Russell, sets out to fulfill his dream to see the wilds of South America and complete a promise made to his late wife, Ellie—by tying thousands of balloons to his home. Tom Morgan is doing the same thing … kind of.
Tom had a plan to make a balloon-powered flight.
We’re not sure what promises 38-year-old Morgan has made in his life, or if he is or was ever married. But we do know that he flew 15.5 miles across South Africa this month and reached heights of up to 8,000 feet above the ground. Oh, and he was using helium-filled balloons for transport.
It was a well-planned adventure.
For Morgan, this was an adventure he’d been planning for months. He is the big cheese at an adventure travel company, appropriately named The Adventurists. Based in Bristol, England, the company offers just what its name implies—adventures—while simultaneously raising money for charity.
But Tom will tell you, although he may have a slightly different take on “normal” than many, that even he knows that these things must be tested. And he is more than happy to do the testing himself.
The team initially chose Botswana as the test site.
“There’s lots of open space. And it’s in the middle of a continent, so when the wind blows, we won’t land in the sea and die,” Morgan in a video posted on Facebook. Smart move.
The first attempts failed.
After three initial failed attempts to make the flight in Botswana—most of the balloons popped and they almost ran out of helium—Morgan and his crew made the decision to relocate to Johannesburg.
“The problem was finding a good weather window and it was difficult to protect the balloons as they kept bursting,” Morgan told BBC News.
Fortunately, there was just barely enough helium left for one last attempt. Over a period of two days, Morgan and his crew inflated 100 balloons in anticipation of the flight.
It was time for lift off.
Surrounded by safety equipment and supplies, he shook the hands of his collaborators and off he went, floating gracefully up into the air. A team-mate in a paraglider flew alongside to film the extraordinary sight.
Sitting in his chair held up only by a huge bunch of balloons made him feel both elated and terrified.
“It was completely silent and the view was amazing—the whole thing was magical,” he told the Daily Mail.
There were some nerve-wracking moments though. When he reached the higher, cooler levels of the atmosphere, he started to speed up.
“I had to keep my cool and start gradually cutting the balloons,” he told the BBC.
He was also unsure how the balloons would hold up the higher he floated.
“I didn’t know what height the balloons would burst, or what the sun would do to them,” he told the Daily Mail.
Eventually, he made it safely back down to the ground.
After 2 and a half hours, he had accomplished what he set out to do, making a perfect landing.
“We weren’t even sure Tom would come back alive. We didn’t think he was going to manage it,” Matthew Dickens, event manager for The Adventurists, told CBS News. “But yeah, he got there in the end.”
Upon landing, a friend immediately asks him what that was like. “That was so, so cool,” said Morgan. “That is literally the greatest adventure machine on the planet.”
Although floating through the South African sky suspended by a colorful array of helium-filled balloons is exhilarating, it was done for more than just for fun. Morgan, through his company, was using this as a test flight in an ultimate plan to see the first-ever competitive helium balloon race in Africa.
“It’s going to be a three-day, long distance, floating adventure under party balloons on a chair … probably the silliest air race,” Morgan said in his Facebook video.