Inspired by his childhood dream of flying and his aspirations to do a beautiful stunt for his daughter, David Blaine partnered with a team of subject matter experts including Skydiving Expert, Luke Aikins, Meteorologist, Don Day, Balloon Aviation Expert, Burt Padelt, Aerospace Engineer, Art Thompson, Production Company, Done+Dusted, and Performer Flying Experts from TAIT, to stun YouTube’s live-streaming audience with his most ambitious stunt yet – Ascension.
Ascension involved Blaine floating away with a cluster of balloons until he reached an altitude of 25,000 ft. above the ground. At this point, Blaine would eject himself from the balloon cluster and take flight via parachute to get back down to the ground. A death-defying stunt like this requires a lot of work. Blaine had to learn how to skydive, fly a hot air balloon, read the wind conditions and land in dangerous terrain. Further, the stunt includes health risks such as Hypoxia and Hypothermia.
Having worked together on previous stunts, Blaine began conceptualizing and planning event logistics with TAIT in late 2019. Blaine’s imagination and vision for this stunt challenged TAIT to expand our existing performer flying expertise and deliver a first-of-its-kind, FAA-certified balloon aircraft that captivated his live-streamed audience and impressed his daughter, Dessa.
“A top priority for the Ascension stunt was to ensure the health and safety of our crew by having CDC guidelines and social distancing practices in place. Strictly following these protocols while delivering a cutting-edge flying performance for David Blaine gave us a promising feeling for the future of the entertainment industry.” – Adam Davis, Chief Creative Officer at TAIT
Amidst the global COVID pandemic and the delays associated with 2020’s nonessential business restrictions, TAIT designed the balloon cluster specifically to Blaine’s imagination. As the nonessential business restrictions were lifted in Pennsylvania, TAIT produced a rendering game engine that allowed Blaine to virtually interact with the TAIT team and design the overall shape of the cluster, as well as the size and color of each individual balloon from the comfort of his home.
As a nod to the magician’s passion for card tricks, Blaine’s final design concept was a 52 ft. tall balloon cluster with 52 various sized balloons. The size of the balloon determined the amount of uplift that Blaine would float above the ground. For example, the balloon cluster was equipped with three different sizes of balloons:
The helium-filled balloons were tricked out and could be popped remotely, as needed to ensure Blaine remained buoyant throughout the duration of his flight. All of the balloons were attached to a 4 ft. in diameter, aluminum clew plate which lived inside of a single fiberglass balloon. The fiberglass balloon also stored Blaine’s parachute, oxygen tank and a transponder used for aerial tracking purposes. 9 cameras were also installed throughout the cluster to allow for the entire stunt to be filmed live.
On September 2, 2020, David Blaine’s Ascension live stream began promptly at 9 a.m. EDT on YouTube. The stunt itself began roughly 2 hours into the live stream but the broadcast also included behind the scenes snippets including Blaine’s skydive lessons, Hypoxia training and test flights at TAIT.
“Watching David float away into the sky instantly brought a smile to the entire crew’s faces. Our hope for this project was to share that same moment of happiness with the world through the virtual live streamed event.” – Jim Shumway, Performer Flying Expert at TAIT.
NOT SEEN ON YOUTUBE: After Blaine detaches himself from the balloon cluster, Blaine’s Flying Experts remotely triggered several balloons to pop (causing the payload to become negatively buoyant). As the remaining cluster came in for landing, the crew jettisoned a remote deployed ballast to soften the landing. As the balloon cluster landed safely on the ground, the crew located it via transponder location device and recycled its raw materials to prevent this stunt from negatively impacting the environment.
Blaine’s entire Ascension production was done in strict accordance with the CDC and OSHA’s pandemic protocols and safety guidelines including testing, social distancing, use of PPE, quarantining, disinfecting and good hygiene practices.