It all started," said the leader of the latter-day aeronauts, "as a whim. So, if you are anti-whim, you are anti-us." Weil, nobody can say that we on this magazine are anti-whim, so presumably we must be pro, very much pro, the doughty band of Britons above who plan, come early December, to float aloft in the strange craft pictured below and allow themselves to be wafted gently across the broad Atlantic on the westering winds that blow eternally from the Canary Islands to the Greater Antilles. Their soaring craft itself will be sustained by faith and a big round gas balloon.
Mark Twain once said vaguely of an airship on which he sent Tom Sawyer soaring over Africa that it was equipped with "all sorts of things." There could be no better description of the gondola in which 51-year-old British businessman Arnold Beaupr� Eiloart and his 21-year-old son Timothy plan to drift over the ocean. Designed by naval architect and yachtsman Colin Mudie, who, with his photographer-wife Rosemary, will complete the balloon-borne crew, it looks like a stubby-ended boat and is intended to serve as such if anything happens to the balloon in midocean. Some 15 feet long and made of a hard, spongelike plastic, it will carry jury sail and emergency rudder lest the expedition become suddenly water-borne, but to avoid that contingency The Small World, as the whole shebang is called, will also be fitted with a number of strictly aeronautical gadgets. There will be a hydrogen generator to manufacture gas for the balloon itself and pedal-operated propellers set horizontally at either side of the gondola to help maintain a proper altitude. Most of the airship's supplies and provisions will be dangled overside on the end of long lines so that if the balloon should drop down too suddenly they will hit the water first and provide buoyancy to send it aloft once more. There will be a radio, of course, but because of the explosive hydrogen in the balloon no motor of any kind.
"We have taken every precaution against the known risks," says Balloonist Eiloart, but there are still vast unknowns ahead of him. "We could," he says, "have a freak wind which would blow us to Africa, or some crank might take aim and puncture us with a shotgun. You just weigh up everything and then you do your damndest."
We can only hope their damndest will be blessed. The world today is too full of scientifically predictable wonders, of aircraft that fly without wings and of ships that cruise for months on end beneath the surface of the sea. Men have become spoiled by facile conquests of time and space, and today's stay-at-homes have nothing but sneers for the rocket that fails to orbit the moon. Where, then, can the flavor of true adventure charged with chance and uncertainty still be found? As adults who once soared endlessly under the auspices of one Jules Verne, we suspect it may still be in a free-floating balloon drifting crazily over the ocean.
"We are not trying to do anything that will make two blades of grass grow where one grew before," says the captain of The Small World, "but that does not happen either when you sing a song, or climb a mountain, or run a race."