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Fatal Flight of Capt. Gray

DAYTON, Ohio -- Capt. Hawthorne C. Gray exhibit in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Capt. Hawthorne C. Gray exhibit in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. H.C. Gray (in flight suit) prior to his ascent on March 9, 1927. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. H.C. Gray (in flight suit) prior to his ascent on March 9, 1927. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The balloon basket and equipment items used by Capt. H.C. Gray on his altitude flights. Note the five small parachute packs hanging on the basket. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The balloon basket and equipment items used by Capt. H.C. Gray on his altitude flights. Note the five small parachute packs hanging on the basket. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. Hawthorne C. Gray, one of the Air Corps' leading balloonists following World War I, was selected to make experimental high-altitude research flights in 1927. During his first flight on March 9, he lost consciousness at 27,000 feet because his oxygen equipment froze; he survived because his balloon luckily descended by itself. 

On May 4 he made another flight, this time reaching an altitude of 42,740 feet, a world record height. However, when he attempted to descend, the gas valve stuck in the "open" position and the balloon began falling, forcing Gray to parachute to safety. 

Gray made his last flight on Nov. 4, taking off from Scott Field, Ill., at 2:23 p.m. At 3:13 p.m. his balloon rose into a heavy overcast and Gray passed from sight. At 5:20 p.m. his balloon was seen on the ground near Sparta, Tenn.; Gray's body was found in the open balloon basket. His last entry in his logbook was made at 40,000 feet; the writing was "shaky" indicating he was experiencing a lack of sufficient oxygen. His recording barometer indicated he subsequently reached 42,740 feet, the same as on his May 4 flight, before the balloon began descending. For some unknown reason, Gray's oxygen supply depleted, and he died in his basket after beginning his descent. This tragic flight was the last open-basket, high-altitude balloon flight until 1955 when such projects were reinstituted to develop pressure and space suits of a new era.

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In accordance with the updated guidance released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DoD) and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will require all visitors to wear face masks indoors effective July 30, 2021 until further notice.

Visitors ages three and up will be required to wear masks while indoors at the museum. This policy applies to all visitors, staff and volunteers regardless of vaccination status. Visitors may wear their own masks or a free paper mask will be provided. Cloth masks will also be available for purchase in the Museum Store.
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Please note Springfield Street, the road that leads to the museum’s entrance, is undergoing construction through the beginning of September. Expect lane reductions and some delays. Please follow the signs and instructions provided by the road crews.

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