“All aircraft in the area, ‘Double Eagle II’ is landing!” This radio message on 17 August 1978 proclaimed to the world that man had achieved the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a free balloon. Thirteen unsuccessful crossings had been recorded since 1783, but Maxie Anderson and his crew wrote their names indelibly in the history books when they fulfilled this 200-year dream of transatlantic balloon flight. Anderson’s interest in aviation began many years before the gondola of the “Double Eagle II” set down in a farmer’s field outside Paris, France.
He piloted his first aircraft in 1948 at the age of 14. In 1977, during the first transatlantic crossing attempt in the “Double Eagle I,” Anderson and his partner, Ben Abruzzo, had a close brush with death off the northwest coast of Iceland. Severe downdrafts and ice on the balloon envelope forced the “Double Eagle I” into the icy Atlantic waters. They survived the ordeal only because of their sheer will and determination to overcome treacherous conditions. The morning after their recovery, Anderson and Abruzzo began making the plans that culminated with their successful flight in “Double Eagle II.” This record-setting Atlantic crossing is only one of Maxie Anderson’s many “firsts” in gas ballooning. He and his son, Kris, are also the first balloonists to cross the North American continent. During his career, he has been aloft in gas balloons some 500 hours and has traveled more than 15,000 miles.
Anderson has received the Explorers’ Club Lowell Thomas Award, the Lindbergh Award, the Diplome Montgolfier presented by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, and the John Oliver LaGorce Medal from National Geographic. In a special White House ceremony in 1979, President Reagan presented a special Congressional Medal to Maxie Anderson and the crew of the “Double Eagle II” in recognition of their momentous flight across the Atlantic.