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Ed Yost, 87; his innovations gave rise to the modern age of hot-air ballooning

June 06, 2007|Martin Weil | Washington Post

Ed Yost, who designed, built and flew innovative aeronautical contrivances that earned him recognition as the father of the modern hot-air balloon, died May 27 at his home in Taos, N.M., after a heart attack. He was 87.

Historians of lighter-than-air craft credit Yost with inventions and developments in heating technology and bag design that brought back the romance and adventure of hot-air ballooning that had been absent from the skies for decades.

When two Frenchmen sent a sheep, a goat and a chicken aloft in 1783 to become balloon pioneers, the necessary lift and buoyancy were provided by the hot air that filled the balloon's envelope.

The heat came from a blazing fire that was borne aloft with the balloon. It was soon decided that it would be more practical to inflate the balloon with a gas such as hydrogen, which offered buoyancy at normal temperatures but was highly flammable. Safer helium was later used.

Yost had entered balloon work with General Mills Inc. at a time when the company, known for its breakfast cereals, was also involved with gas-filled high-altitude balloons used for research.

Prompted by the Navy's interest in balloons, Yost set up a firm to design and build such craft. Aware that hot air would offer advantages over helium, such as lower cost, Yost began searching for ways to overcome the existing obstacles. A small government contract supported much of his early work.

According to ballooning histories, Yost lifted off from Bruning, Neb., on Oct. 22, 1960, and spent 25 minutes in the air. He flew three miles in a balloon that used a propane burner.

That, according to the historians of lighter-than-air flight, marked the birth of the modern hot-air balloon age. The history-making balloon was 40 feet in diameter and harnessed the buoyancy of 30,000 cubic feet of propane-warmed air.

The flight was not without its problems. The balloon's design did not permit it to deflate quickly enough. As it descended to Earth, it was caught by the wind and, Yost once said, it "dragged me all over the country."

Nevertheless, he said, "I was the world champ, because there was only one balloon."

In succeeding years, Yost was credited with numerous innovations in fabricating the balloon envelope, venting its contents and devising controls and mechanisms for the propane heater.

Paul Edward Yost was born on a farm near Bristow, Iowa. He graduated from high school in Bristow and continued his education at the Boeing School of Aeronautics in Oakland, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier.

Government interest in hot-air balloons waned rapidly, and Yost's creations were used instead to popularize ballooning as a sport and pastime.

In 1963, he and another man crossed the English Channel in what was said to be the first such flight in a hot-air balloon. Thirteen years later, his four-day effort at a solo hot-air crossing of the Atlantic ended 530 miles short of Portugal.

Yost was credited with making the balloons that established modern benchmarks for unpowered lighter-than-air flight. In 1999, the Aero Club of New England gave him the Godfrey L. Cabot Award, which recognizes "unique, significant and unparalleled" contributions to aviation.

His first marriage, to Charmian Kilson Yost, ended in divorce. His second wife, Suzanne Robinson Yost, died in 2001.

Yost is survived by two sons from his first marriage, Dale Yost of Singapore and Greg Yost of Houston; and a granddaughter, Nicole Yost of San Diego.

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