While the global supply & demand dilemma for helium continues to cause concern and the effects of which are felt in the helium ballooning adventure sports, a gas-fuelled flying frenzy took place over the weekend as Kent Couch flew across a US state by helium balloon.

Covering around 235 miles, 48-year-old gas station owner Kent Couch flew a lawn chair rigged with helium-filled balloons across the Oregon desert on Saturday, safely landing in a field in Idaho.

Couch created a sensation in a tiny local farming community, where he touched down safely in a pasture after lifting off from Bend, Oregon and was soon greeted by dozens of people.

Couch covered about 235 miles in about nine hours after lifting off at dawn from his gas station riding in a green lawn chair rigged with an array of more than 150 giant party balloons. Having offloaded his unconventional ballast, Couch got a push from the ground crew so he could clear light poles and soared over a coffee cart and across US Highway 20 into a bright blue sky.

The successful venture was Couch’s third balloon flight, after realising it would be possible when watching a TV show about the 1982 lawn chair flight over Los Angeles by truck driver Larry Walters.

In 2006, Couch had to parachute out after popping too many balloons, and last year flew 193 miles to the sagebrush of northeastern Oregon, short of his goal.

He said of the thrilling achievement, “If I had the time and money and people, I’d do this every weekend. Things just look different from up there. You’re moving so slowly. The best thing is the peace, the serenity.”
Each balloon gives four pounds of lift and Couch is believed to have estimated the cost at about $6,000, most of which was consumed by the helium costs.

Prices which could soon be even higher if the current supply & demand trends continue for the noble gas. The shortage of helium has long been a concern throughout the industrial gas community and, as a by-product of natural gas production, has also faced some supply interruptions in recent years that have created shortages and fuelled some of the price escalation.

Helium was a hot topic at the first-ever gasworld conference in the Middle East last December, as the Spiritus Group’s John Raquet delivered a presentation about the dilemma. It has also been in the public domain recently for the detrimental effect felt across the adventure sports leisure industry, as reported by gasworld last week.

Gas ballooning as an adventure sport is reportedly likely to fade away in the US, as a sharp spike in helium prices and supply constraints threaten the survival of the sport.