Looping the Loop in a Balloon (Nov, 1929)

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Looping the Loop in a Balloon

By 1st LIEUT. W. C. FARNUM

Air Corps, U. S. Army Aviation history records only one instance of a balloon looping the loop. Lieut, Farnum tells here the story of his aerial somersaults.

WATCHING an airplane loop the loop always reminds me of a morning 12 years ago when I was a flying cadet at Fort Omaha in the balloon service, waiting for my commission and instructing student officers in balloon observation. This particular morning I was to ascend 3,000 feet and instruct a student in observation. I checked the balloon and gave the order.

“Let go!”

The type M balloon which we occupied is a sausage-shaped bag holding 35,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas. It has three lobes in the rear which fill with wind and give stability. Without them the balloon is like a kite without a tail. The basket hangs about 30 feet below the bag, suspended by a series of ropes. Another series of ropes in front of the bag connects with the cable which holds the balloon to the ground. As the windlass played out the cable and we rose at about 200 feet per minute, trouble was the thing farthest from our thoughts.

All of a sudden the balloon was jerked tremendously down wind. We heard a report like a cannon and our tail was carried away—it had entered a strata of strong wind and the interior rigging that holds the lobes in conformation had parted, allowing them to tear away. Well, away we went in a long dive, bringing up at the end of the cable with a jerk, and the basket swung out to the side and clear over the top and down again, a perfect loop. The cable snubbed us and another loop resulted. I knew this was no place for us. We had parachutes for such an emergency. We prepared to jump but found both packs tangled all up in the handling ropes.

Then I grabbed the valve cord and released enough gas to drop us down wind where the cable had a more angular pull to the ground. I knew the ground crew was helpless to pull us in against that wind. As I was swinging on the valve a final dive threw the basket through the forward suspension on the cable and this pulled our tail down so that the rest of our gyrations consisted of long dives with abrupt pull-ups, no more loops. By this time the crew had rigged a maneuvering spider and were hauling us down slowly by hand. As we approached the ground I climbed up in the rigging and grabbed the rip-cord and as we were dashing from side to side close to the ground, I ripped the bag and we dropped into the arms of our waiting comrades.

I learned on landing that our whole trip consumed fifty minutes. I got three broken ribs, a broken nose and broken finger—and the worst scare I ever want!

9 comments
  1. marie borucki says: November 30, 20105:37 pm

    I was googling on my great uncle: Col William C. Farnum, who was at Hickam base when it was bombed during Pearl Harbor, and was excited to come across this article. I do believe this was written by my great uncle: William Cushman Farnum. I believe he later became the Hickam base commander in April, 1943, but am not sure if there is any valid documentation of that. Would like to hear.

  2. Firebrand38 says: December 1, 20104:48 am

    marie borucki: Documentation may be found here 26 April 1943-18 July 1944

  3. marie borucki says: February 18, 20113:13 pm

    Firebrand38:

    It took me a while to see this. Thank you! It’s a very good link to an excellent reference book. I appreciate being able to find the complete reference.

    Thanks again

  4. John McNEEL says: March 6, 201111:33 pm

    Hi, We have been to Hickam Air base in Hawaii and the tales our families have passed on are indeed true I saw Farnum many times. We called him Grandpa. My father was William P McNeel Jr his foster son, I think he was really his nephew.

    Let me know if this helps or confuses

    John McNeel

  5. marie borucki says: April 12, 20115:04 pm

    Oh my goodness! I should have checked your message board earlier. William Cushman Farnum was married to my favorite aunt, Aunt Louise, sister to my grandfather. She was an AF Army Nurse, and was the first to bring insulin to the US, and then to San Antonio, Texas, we think before she married your grandfather. She is now buried at Arlington. I remember your grandfather from when I was a child. We called him ‘Uncle Cush’. I just talked with my mother in Houston, 93 years old. She remembers your father, his being orphaned when she was around 4 years old, that your dad ‘was a smart kid’ and had a tough time for a while after that. I think some of the McNeel forebears are still in San Antonio, but I don’t know them. Mom also remembers Aunt Louise taking care of your dad for a while, but couldn’t remember how/when the Farnum’s as a couple took over. Mom says the last she remembers of ‘Billy McNeel’ was when he was in San Francisco.

    I could talk more, but don’t want to post my email or phone. Suggestions?

  6. John says: April 12, 20115:18 pm

    If you ask him Charlie can probably pass your e-mail addresses to each other.

  7. marie borucki says: April 12, 20115:23 pm

    Are you, John McNeel, by any chance on Linkedin.com ?

  8. John McNeel says: April 12, 20119:29 pm

    Marie, Perhaps you can send me an email at this address. I would like to talk more. Perhaps we’ve even met when we lived in Arlington for a few months with Grandpa)(Cush) also know as the praying Colonel. HIs last position was with the secretary of war in the Pentagon. We found the burial site for the two of them when we visited Arlington last summer. We are always trying to find more about our relatives. My mom, dad and brother(william P McNeel III) have passed but there still is Kathy McNeel Baldwin and I. I am married to Linda Simon McNeel and have two children Will 34 and Heather 32. We live in Tracy California and my sister lives in Fort Brag California. We traveled to San Antonio las Christmas and met many McNeel’s including my dad’d cousin. We really hope to hear from you and establish communication. I am a retired teacher and currently a hypnotherapist..my phone is xxx-xxx-xxxx.
    John McNeel

  9. Charles Duggar says: January 5, 20127:27 pm

    My Uncle was in the 7th Army Air Force. He left me a Hickam Field Recreation Guide Book. It has a forward by WC Farnum with his picture.

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