Vail Valley man nixes plan to fly his ultralight homemade capsule to an altitude record

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Bill Mounsey
After Bill Mounsey built his capsule, the only thing to do was to fly it. He had hoped to set a new altitude record for his classification and float to the edge of space. He scrapped the plan because he decided it posed a potential threat to other people.
Chris Dillmann / Summit Daily

Bill Mounsey is a practical man.

He built an ultralight balloon capsule, less than 150 pounds, and did all the necessary preparation to fly it to the edge of space.

But then he decided to abort the mission.

Mounsey planned to fill several specialized balloons with hydrogen gas, climb into his capsule, disconnect from the ground on Mother Earth and let physics take its course.

That’s one reason Mounsey grins when someone points out the “No Smoking” sticker above the capsule door.

Mounsey’s ultimate fear was not that he might get hurt but that someone else might get hurt if the worst happened and the hydrogen-filled balloons burst into flames.

And so, while his dreams will fly away, his balloons and capsule will not.

Going high with hydrogen

Mounsey originally wanted helium, not hydrogen, but there’s a global helium shortage.

“I only wanted to use 0.002% of the national helium reserve,” Mounsey said, but he still couldn’t get any.

That’s a little frustrating. Like love, helium would have lifted him to the heavens in relative safety.

Mounsey learned all kinds of wonderful stuff and considers it time well spent. He says he taught himself advanced calculus to figure out everything needed to pull off his attempt at an altitude record. Coincidentally, as soon as he finished the calculations, he found an app to do that math for him. But he learned all kinds of stuff he didn’t know before, so he’s happy about that.

Fly your plan

Bill Mounsey built a capsule with hopes to fly it to the edge of space with a cluster of balloons filled with hydrogen. He scrapped the plan after deciding hydrogen posed danger to other people.
Chris Dillmann / Summit Daily

Mounsey’s goal was to go straight up, come straight down and not catch fire. A breath of wind could send him over the Continental Divide.

That’s why he pulled the plug, he says.

“I’m not afraid for myself, but it’s not fair to put other people in danger if something happens,” Mounsey said.

Something almost did. He says he should have died skydiving, one of his many training exercises. On one of his jumps, some cords wrapped around his leg and he was hurtling headfirst toward terra firma.

Because he does lots and lots of yoga, Mounsey said he was strong and flexible enough to unwrap himself and deploy his main chute … within a couple seconds of being too late.

Lima 1: A gift to the gods

Mounsey was tossing around three names for his capsule: Lima 1, “A Gift to the Gods;” Eagle 1, a nod to the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing; or a euphemism for “Defecation Demonstration.” He settled on Lima 1, because no one, including the gods, has ever tried anything quite like this.

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