The Crusade for Freedom national office established a 1959 campaign quota of $10,000 for South Dakota. Harvard Noble was the Crusade’s state chairman. One of state’s planned local activities in March 1959 was the “Flight for Freedom,” a piloted balloon trip that was planned to fly from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to the East Coast of the United States in conjunction with a local radio marathon to raise funds for the Crusade for Freedom.
Below, we will briefly look at the only known manned balloon flight undertaken in the United States in support of the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe—the “Flight for Freedom.” The pilot was Paul Edward (Ed) Yost, who has been called “The Father of Modern Hot Air Ballooning.”
In the late 1940s, after a few years as a bush pilot in Alaska, Ed Yost began working for General Mills, which then was doing high-altitude research for the U.S. Navy. General Mills also was one of the companies that supplied the balloons to the Free Europe Press for its balloon/leaflet operations.
In 1956 Yost and three other fellow employees left General Mills and founded Raven Industries, which continued to work on balloon research for the U.S. military. In 1959, Yost was Raven’s Industries Operations Manager in Sioux Falls and announced a flight that would begin Saturday night carry him over Dubuque, Iowa, Chicago, Pittsburgh and finally land into the New York area Sunday evening.
The organizers publicly estimated a total flight time of about 20 hours to reach the East Coast. Privately, they did not expect the balloon to travel that far. Yost was to radio his position, weather conditions, and support statements in behalf of the Crusade for Freedom from the governors of the states over which he flew. The Civilian Air Patrol and airport radar stations were to keep an eye out for Yost and his balloon.
built after working hours by more than a dozen Raven assemblymen. All controls and instruments were likewise built on time donated by the instrumentation personnel and the launching and monitoring were done after hours by the field operations crew. The spirit proved to be contagious and other business firms made substantial contributions in equipment and support
The goal of the balloon flight to-the East Coast was to bring attention locally and nationally at each municipality over which the balloon floated. Sioux Falls radio stations started a marathon at 6 p.m. to collect $5 for each minute for the flight, with proceeds going to Crusade for Freedom.
On Saturday evening, March 7, 1959, weather was less than perfect for a balloon flight. But the radio marathon had begun and Yost decided to continue with the balloon flight. At Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, searchlights played, sirens blared and a large crowd estimated to be over 1,000 onlookers cheered as Yost, wearing three suits of underwear, fur-lined boots and nylon coveralls, lifted off at 6:30 p.m. in the 50x25 foot balloon.
State and national flags were visible on the gondola underneath the “inverted tear drop” shaped balloon. Yost smiled and waved his arms to the crowd from the gondola, which was equipped with a parachute, oxygen, Raven manufactured radio equipment, hot coffee, 15 sandwiches and a red aircraft warning light. Reportedly, his last words before he took off were: “This wind should take me over Dubuque, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and then New York.”
Blue - Planned Flight, Red - Actual Flight
Yost radioed 40 minutes later that the balloon had leveled off at a height of 8,000 feet, was traveling at 30 mph, and had crossed over into the neighboring state of Minnesota. His last radio contact was at approximately 11:30 PM. The balloon had traveled only about 130 miles eastward, before freezing rain and snow forced Yost to end the trip by landing at the Herbert Larson farm near Amboy, Minnesota. Yost afterwards said,
I could see the light on at the Larson place although it was after midnight. It looked like a nice place so I decided to put down there. The Larsons were a bit surprised. But they certainly were hospitable. Mrs. Larson fried some eggs and put the coffee pot on the stove. The bed they fixed for me was a lot more comfortable than the four by five, one-foot deep gondola I was riding.
Raven Industries sent a truck to Ambroy, Minnesota, and Yost returned to Sioux Falls Sunday with the balloon equipment. There would be no second flight.
Raven replaced its normal commercial newsletter in April 1959 with one devoted to the balloon launching, including a full-page fact sheet about Radio Free Europe and Crusade:
In this issue we’d like to replace the customary description of commercial products with a plea for YOUR support of the Radio Free Europe “Crusade for Freedom” program. To assist in evaluating the worthiness of this cause, here are some facts:
Individuals and companies in America donating truth dollars are the only source of support of the program. As a civilian corporation, Radio Free Europe can ignore the niceties of diplomacy, call a spade a spade, and carry on an active, unrelenting campaign to combat the communist big lie.
Send in your contributions now.
Even though the balloon flight plan was not successful in reaching its announced final goal of landing on the East Coast, the Crusade campaign benefited from newspaper coverage around the country. For example, the Daily Herald newspaper in Utah, carried a news items and photograph:
STORM IMPRISONS FREEDOM BALLOON
Farmer Jim Larson examines the balloon of Ed Yost that landed on his farm at Amboy, Minn., Sunday. Yost, who had hoped to pilot his 50-foot balloon from Sioux Falls, S. D., to New York City to gain publicity and money for the Crusade for Freedom was forced to land here when about 150 pounds of ice gathered on his open gondola when he ran into a snow storm.
Ed Yost’s balloon days were far from over, e.g. on October 22, 1960, on a farm in Bruning, Nebraska, he strapped himself into what looked like a lawn chair, placed his feet on a dowel dangling from ropes, ignited the propane tanks to heat air that had been pumped by fan into the balloon, and lifted off. His flight, which lasted 25 minutes, reached 500 feet and covered about three miles has been recognized as the first successful hot-air balloon flight.
On April 13, 1963, he and fellow Raven employee, Don Piccard, became the first hot-air balloonists to cross the English Channel, in a flight took three hours and 17 minutes, their balloon was named the “Channel Champ.” In 1976, Yost set 13 aviation world’s records for distance traveled and amount of time aloft in his attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean —solo— by balloon. He failed to be the first solo “ocean crosser,” when his balloon came down about 500 miles off Portugal.
In 2003, Ed Yost was the first inductee into the National Balloon Museum’s U.S. Balloon Hall of Fame. By the time he died in 2007 at age 87, Ed Yost had over 20 U.S. patents dealing with ballooning equipment.
Photographs courtesy of famed hot-air balloon veteran James A. (Jim) Winkler, REKWIN Co. Archive, who was inducted into the U.S. Ballooning Hall of Fame in 2009.
Excerpt of Yost interview taken from Ed Yost History, KOB-TV.m4v