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National Geographic Society - Army Air Corps Stratosphere Balloon Flight Collectibles

With an agreement in place with the U. S. Army Air Corps and contracts with the Goodyear Zeppelin Co. to fabricate the balloon and the Dow Chemical Co. to construct the gondola, the National Geographic Society sent out a news release on January 17, 1934 announcing their sponsorship of two balloon flights to the stratosphere.  News articles with story lines of Army to Build Huge Balloon for 15-Mile Stratosphere Flight; Army Airmen Prepare to Win Stratosphere Record for U. S.; 15-Mile Stratosphere Hop Planned by Army Airmen could be found in morre than 600 newspapers that day.  However, one critical decision still had to be made; the choice of a launch site.  With the anticipation that the flight could cover several hundred miles, a western site was the logical choice.  Over the next several weeks, Major William Kepner, Balloon Pilot, accompanied by Lt. Orvil Anderson, visited over 40 sites including Salt Lake City, Denver, Cheyenne and Rapid City.  With the U. S. Army's Fort Meade just 37 miles away and with a firm commitment from the local Chamber of Commerce, it was decided that a natural bowl with 400' walls about 6 miles from Rapid City, SD was the ideal launch site.  Moonlight Valley would become the Stratobowl.


From May 1934 until November 1935 and beyond, the Stratobowl became a tourist destination.  During the Explorer Balloon launch attempts, it became necessary to limit the number of visitors.  On more than one occasion, memorandums were issued reminding those working at the launch site that only authorized people were allowed within the camp.  A railing was constructed along portions of the rim of the Stratobowl to allow visitors a bird's eye view of the pre-launch and launch activities.


As part of the crowd control, official passes were issued to approved visitors to the Stratobowl during both the 1934 and 1935 launch attempts.  In 1935, one could purchase tickets to the Strato Rim.


Examples of these passes and tickets can be seen in the attached photos.  Also find attached photos of the Stratobowl as it looked during Kepner's initial visit (a proposed lay-out of the camp and facilities can be seen on the photo) and after the camp was in operation.


Feel free to share examples of other passes or tickets issued during these flights.


Local Souvenirs from the National Geographic - U. S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Flights will be our next topic of discussion.

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Hey Charlie,

How are you doing? I thought I'd mention this: NGM's April 2001 issue, in the Behind The Scenes department (preceding articles) is about Richard H. Stewart. It's titled "Photographer's First Century", and lets us know that as of that month, he was celebrating his 100th birthday. He worked at the Society for 42 years, and NGM said his most famous photograph was of Explorer II lit up at night, prior to take-off in 1935.

If you didn't ever see this, you might like to glance at it. I just saw it last night, and realized I had forgotten about it all this time that you've been posting such interesting information about the Stratosphere flights!

- Scott
Hello Scott,

Doing just fine, but have had to put aside my discussions on the Explorer Balloon flights until things slow down at work. For the record, I am a project manager for a large construction company and my current project is on a fast track schedule. We are working 6 - 7 days a week (12 hour days) and will be for the next several weeks.

I was fortunate enough to see a copy of the Behind the Scenes article about Richard Stewart prior to the April 2001 issue. That was about the time I met Mr. Stewart. It was very thrilling, not to mention interesting, talking with him.





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