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The early days of Michigan's flying clubs are full of adventure, mishaps and tenacity. In "The First Fifty Years," an anecdotal history written in 1964 to celebrate half a century of aeronautical and astronautical engineering at U-M, Robert P. Weeks recounts a story from Milford Vanik, who earned his U-M Aeronautical Engineering degree in 1930:

A U-M research balloon launch. Vanik's most memorable flight started as a routine balloon trip from Cleveland to Ann Arbor to attend the Michigan-Minnesota football game. He left Cleveland at 11 p. m. on the Friday before Thanksgiving, 1931...

But the 80,000 cubic foot bag got caught in a violent snow and sleet storm over Lake Erie. The rigging iced up, forcing him down toward the water; warmer air at the lower altitudes melted the ice and he rose again. This went on all night.

At daybreak all he could see was water. Chilled, hungry, and lost, Vanik drifted northeast over Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. After he had spent 18 hours driven by sleet, blizzards, and harsh November winds, Vanik sighted a shoreline.

By now, he had lost a great deal of gas by diffusion and had to land. Even though the shore was soon obscured by falling snow, Vanik pulled his rip panel and dropped quickly toward earth. He landed in a fire-charred, desolate woods through which he walked for two days in search of a house. At the end of the third day of stumbling through the brush, he came upon a farmhouse. From the farmer he learned he was in northwest Ontario, 70 miles north of Michigan.

“As far as I know, the balloon is still there, hanging in the trees. Incidentally, I have found there are better ways of going to football games,” Vanik later said of the experience.

The photo, courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library, records a U-M research balloon launch.

Aerospace Engineering at U-M is celebrating 100 years, with first courses in aeronautical sciences offered in the fall of 1914. Join us for the celebration Thursday, September 18, to Saturday, September 20.

Article topics: Aerospace Centennial


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