At one time a world altitude record was attained somewhere between Scott Field in Illinois and Sparta, TN. The experimental craft was state of the art, lightweight and massive. The solo pilot was considered one of our country’s top airmen. The craft took off at 2:23 in the afternoon, then crashed into trees just outside of Doyle at 5:20 PM the same day. Having traveled three-hundred miles in three hours and three minutes indicates an above-ground speed that sometimes exceeded 100 mph. The curiosity here is Hawthorne C. Gray’s cockpit was made of wicker – – yes, like lawn furniture; Captain Gray was piloting a balloon, the year was 1927.
Internet searches on Captain Gray reveal tomes of data. Both Popular Science and Popular Mechanics wrote of his demise. Some accounts say his body was discovered the following morning by a young man who climbed a tree to investigate a downed balloon. Others state that Captain Gray had thrown his oxygen container overboard to try and gain a little more altitude. But one, arcane publication credits Captain Grays death to a milestone. The conclusion was drawn, that at very high altitudes, the human body can’t process oxygen and his death led to the creation of pressurized air suits. Analog gauges on board recorded altitudes at specific times, from those records, it can be concluded that his touchdown was in fact at 5:20 PM and that the temperature in the basket dipped to seventy below during the flight. And he had flown over eight miles high, and averaged almost 100 miles per hour – – in a balloon!
Kudos to Captain Gray, a different kind of pioneer, who lost his life for his country and albeit sad, added more history to CragrockUSA.