2002 Burning Man Balloon Project

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Although it had been a long day, Brian and I were still too hyped on adrenaline to crash, so we took two balloons each and went out on the town. We got *lots* of attention. Here we pose in front of the Man.
(Brian, Patri)
The balloons were great fun to play with, to swing around, and to dance with. You know you have a good project when a small remnant of it is still really attention-getting and entertaining.
(Brian, Patri)
Periodically Brian and I would stop (especially when there were people around), and do a mock-sumo wrestling act, rushing at each other and slamming our balloons into each other with great force. We taunted and gloated, just like real wrestlers. Needless to say, we were very sleep-deprived at this point.
(Big Bad Patri, The Unbeatable Champion, and Thunder Mountain Brian, the City Smasher)


Not many people got to see our project, as it was only up on Tuesday. It was too bad that it didn't last longer, although I do have a bias towards folks that show up at BM early in the week. Also, since we had never done this before, it was good to test it out in a less crowded environment.

Still, it was a lot of work for an afternoon of bouncing, which definitely disappointing when we had hoped to fly. We were so close: we lifted a 120 lb payload, plus ropes and biners, 50 feet up. It would have only taken another 6 balloons or so to be able to loft people weighing up to 150 lbs, which would have been a much higher proportion of people. We had the balloons and helium, but too many popped. Our high was about 22-24, and we had planned for 30.

Autopsies suggested that most snapped at the necks where the ropes were attached, which makes sense as it was the point of greatest stress. The sun may also have weakened the latex. If we decide the project is worth repeating, we will have to perform more thorough tests to determine if the necks can be made structural, or if another material (such as mylar) is needed.

The visual effect of the balloons was startling and unexpected, and the artistic success compensated for some of the engineering failure in my feelings about the project. The fact that, as one of the lightest passengers, I actually got pretty high in the air was nice too :). But I wanted to elevate other people as well, as an extrovert I get a big kick out of helping others have fun. Oh well, its not the first time I've been annoyed by the world being filled with people who are bigger than me :).

We got a lot of comments about Lawn Chair Larry, it was the joke that everyone made. A lot of people also said things about having considered the idea, and some of them had even done some research on the subject. It was great to be realizing (at least partially) something that was many people's childhood fantasy. I own arcade machines, I can buy as much candy as I want, and I've lifted myself into the air with a cluster of balloons - isn't being a grownup wonderful?

The project architects were Patri Friedman and Brian Johnson. Our crew members were Dawn Strahler, Troy Gardner, and Jason Wells. Special thanks goes to Rob Prestezog, a housemate skilled in many things who could not join us because of a prior committment, but provided useful advice during the planning phase. Thanks also to Earl Levine, who donated the screw anchors, and the Burning Man staff, who decided that we sounded competent enough to perform the project safely.