After finishing this important component we did, quite naturally, want to test our balloon. To do this we went to a forest clearing near Ziegenrück after midnight on 28th April 1978. We had previously cased out this clearing and then made an attempt there to inflate our balloon with hot air.
We wanted to do so without the use of a fan, a technique we had seen on television in the meantime. Our wives held the opening of the balloon up so that we could warm the air at the balloon’s opening using the flame. The rising and falling of the air (convection) was supposed to urge the air further into the balloon but this was unfortunately not the case. After several further unsuccessful attempts we abandoned this methodology.
The idea then came to us to suspend the balloon from a higher structure and simply inflate it from below with hot air.
We knew that there was a railway bridge near the forest clearing where we had made our original attempts. It was a bridge made from steel girders and we determined that it would be easy for someone to climb to the top and in doing so hoist up the balloon. We travelled, again in the dead of night, to this bridge but found out that we had to cross a stream in order to reach it. The town of Ziegenrück was also very close by so we therefore decided to abandon this attempt.
It had become clear to us in the meantime that air escaping through the balloon’s material was the problem. We therefore tried in the next attempt to airproof the balloon in order to slow the rate at which the hot air escaped through. After a great deal of effort and experimentation we found the solution to be soaking the upper portion of the balloon with proofing chemical but we weren’t altogether satisfied with this solution either. The balloon became even heavier and the material stuck together. It was clear that we would not be able to airproof the entire balloon.
With this partially airproofed balloon envelope we wanted to make another attempt. We stayed with the idea of suspending the balloon in order to inflate it and selected a stone quarry in Döritz as our launching site. I knew it well from my time as a driver. We thought the balloon envelope needed only to be dragged up the steep rock face and could then simply be inflated from below using the burner. It was a moonlit night and the conditions required for our attempt were optimal. Unfortunately this attempt was yet another one amounting to nothing. After spreading out the balloon in order to pull it up the rock face, Peter suddenly saw a shadow and we had to assume we were being watched. We very hastily packed the balloon back into the trailer and left as quick as we could. However, nothing happened in our journey with the trailer so we decided to stop and check it. Our balloon was hanging out by about five metres with its upper area torn into shreds.
At this point we had to admit to ourselves that we would not make any more progress with this balloon. Peter subsequently burnt it in his boiler in order to completely destroy all traces of it.
Our original plan was to travel into Czechoslovakia and launch our escape from there. For this purpose I had reserved a rental truck with Kraftverkehr Pößneck for the end of May. This second vehicle would be necessary to enable all of our equipment to be transported.
Compared to today it was not possible back then to simply show up and rent a vehicle. One had to book long in advance and this was no different for even for taxis. As a result of this and our balloon which had now ceased to exist, I had the pleasure for a week of driving around the neighbourhood completely aimlessly in a relatively new Moskwitsch 412!
Whilst on this subject I must mention that I had intended to start my own taxi firm. This proposal was, however, rejected since the demand for taxis was already covered by Kraftverkehr Pößneck.
How our journey continued is described in The Second Balloon.