Their balloon, Double Eagle II, with its helium-borne tub that took them safely across the Atlantic, is going to its earthly reward at the Smithsonian Institution. Now it’s back to the rub-a-dub-dub of everyday living for the three intrepid adventurers who floated from Maine to a field west of Paris. But coming back to earth may not prove all that deflating. No sooner had the trio touched down in their adopted hometown of Albuquerque than some 50,000 admiring New Mexicans showered them with cheers and shredded newspapers. Nor did the future look devoid of excitement. Said Ben Abruzzo: “That night when we arrived in Paris I woke up about 3 in the morning. The thought came to me of another flight—around the world. It just popped into my mind.”
For Abruzzo, 48, such inspirations are the habit of a lifetime. Now a real estate developer, he was sneaking onto the roof of his family’s Rockford, Ill. home to play by the age of 5. As a boy, he reveled in diving 60 feet into the Rock River off a downtown bridge. More recently he has taken some 70 hang-glider flights off 4,000-foot-high Sandia Crest, once crash-landing on the balcony of a private home. “He’d do anything that was dangerous,” confides Abruzzo’s mother, Mary. “I got all my gray hairs from him.”
Abruzzo’s fellow voyagers are birds of a feather. Maxie Anderson, 43, head of a mining firm, skis, sails and pilots small planes. He started flying at 14, and at 16 managed to land his disabled Piper while peering around a windshield smeared with leaking oil. His ambition is to “lead the first mining expedition on other planets.” Ex-Californian Larry Newman, 30, was an oil company jet pilot until he gave it up for hang-gliding. Now he is president of Electra Flyer Corp., which manufactures the sail-like contraptions.
Since their triumphant landing in France, the three men have been looking forward to writing a book, and movie offers may be in the wind. But would they seriously consider a round-the-world flight? “I’m not convinced about the technology,” says Anderson. “I’m an engineer and I worry about those things.” How about an encore across the Atlantic, by a different route this time? “The first time I tried the Atlantic I was crippled with frostbite for months afterward,” says Abruzzo. “Because of that pain, it was difficult to go again. A third time would be much easier.”