A Lot of Hot Air

Ballooning is cool. No, really. My great-great grandfather Albert von Hoffmann almost drowned in a hot air balloon — and, no, he hadn’t crashed it into water. He was flying in very bad weather. You can read the story on the left side of the big History of Flight mural near the baggage claim at STL.


His son, my great-grandfather Bernard von Hoffmann, gave up the ballooning and started a heavier-than-air flying school at Lambert Field, where St. Louis International Airport is now located. He should have stuck with the family balloon tradition — he was killed in a plane crash (yes, he was piloting) in 1947.

So it’s with interest instilled in me from birth that I read today’s news about Chicago millionaire Steve Fossett. After several attempts, he finally made it around the world in a balloon.

“It is a wonderful time for me,” Fossett, sounding calm, said over satellite telephone. “Finally after six flights I have succeeded and it is a very satisfying experience.”

This time around Fossett had plenty of fuel, no rogue nations to avoid and enough spare oxygen to keep the American adventurer on track.

With weather largely on his side throughout the trip, Fossett finally completed the nonstop feat after five previous, crash-plagued attempts spread over more than six years, conquering one of aviation’s last barriers.

Despite some bad weather along the way, Fossett was never in any danger of drowning.


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