Last-Minute Helium Donation … A ‘Macy's Miracle’ … Makes Civil War Replica Balloon Flight Possible
When Peter Arnold, Genesee Country Village & Museum president and CEO, set out last year to build and fly the world's first replica of a Civil War manned balloon – the Intrepid – little did he know his dream could collapse from a nationwide helium shortage. But he also didn't bargain that one of the country's most iconic retailers would step forward to deliver a miracle at the last minute, literally raising the project off the ground.
Thanks to the generous support of Macy's – a brand synonymous with the giant helium-filled balloons that grace Manhattan's skies every Thanksgiving morning – the Intrepid will begin flying this July 4. Weather permitting, the balloon will take guests 300 feet (32 stories) into the sky, simulating what some of the world’s first military pilots (a.k.a. aeronauts) experienced 150 years ago. "We were looking for a miracle. The museum was seemingly out of options to secure helium after having placed innumerable calls to dealers, government officials and even decommissioned research laboratories across the U.S.," Arnold said. "Then we heard from Macy's, which was able to donate the 50,000 cubic feet we needed. We’re simply ecstatic, as we were within days of having to suspend our opening. 'The Magic of Macy's' has never been more real."
First announced this past February, the Intrepid project has captured the imagination of families, educators, historians and aviation enthusiasts across North America. Renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and adventure balloonist and Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson have both praised the historic reconstruction. "Supporting education is an important aspect of our community giving, made even more relevant in this case since Macy’s was founded during the Civil War era,” said Russell Schutte, senior vice president / director of stores, Macy’s Midwest. “With our unique connection to helium ballooning, we had the opportunity to help Genesee Country Village & Museum fulfill its dream to open this one-of-a-kind, interactive exhibit. The result will benefit not only the people of Western New York, but visitors who will travel from across the U.S. and overseas to experience the wonder and history of flight.”
Starting July 4, the the world’s only Civil War manned balloon replica, which can carry up to four passengers, will soar as high as 300 feet above the museum’s 700-acres. “Our launch of the Intrepid brings to life one of the most unique elements of American history in a manner never before attempted,” said Arnold. “As Civil War remembrances occur across the nation during its 150th anniversary, we believed there was no better time to undertake this initiative. The balloon and the planned Civil War encampment surrounding the launch site further enhance our authentic 19th-century village—the third largest collection of historic buildings in America.”
While historically balloons were fueled by hydrogen, the modern Intrepid flies with helium. Like the original Civil War balloons, it is tethered to the ground for optimal convenience and safety. Approximately 46,000 cubic feet of helium is required to fill the 44-foot-diameter piloted balloon. With its basket, it will be 72 feet tall and will probably be visible for 25 miles around.
Visitors will have the opportunity to book 15-minute flights for a nominal cost in addition to their museum entry fee. (Civil War-era photo of Intrepid)