The balloon DaVinci TransAmerica, which crash-landed in Ohio early Tuesday during its attempt to make the first nonstop balloom crossing of the United States, was not registered with the Federal Aviation Administration as required by law, the FAA said last week.
"A balloon is an aircraft and all aircraft have to be registered," said Richard Henderson, chief of the FAA's General Aviation District office in Portland, Ore. He said the DaVinci's flight, which went from Tillamook, Ore., to Spencerville, Ohio, is being investigated.
Dr. Fred Hyde, a crew member on the balloon, said the FAA is "making a fuss about some technicality."
According to the FAA, the general aviation district office in Portland can fine the owners of an unregistered aircraft up to $1,000. FAA records, however, are unclear about who owns the balloon.
A helium balloon is made up of two parts, the envelope that contains helium and the gondola. The envelope for the DaVinci flight was donated by Winzen International, a balloon company in Minneapolis. Ownership of the gondola has not been determined by the FAA.
"It is kind of a peculiar deal," said Mark Weaver, an FAA spokesman in Oklahoma City, where aircraft registration records are kept.
Weaver said FAA records show the gondola was originally purchased by the Atomic Energy Commission sometime before 1974. The gondola was used in three earlier federally sponsored balloon flights that gathered information about pollution, radiation and ozone levels in the atmosphere.
Balloon crew member Rudolf J. Englemann, who was aboard all four of the gondola's flights, said the FAA's mention of the license issue is "pretty darn irrelevant."
He asked why the FAA did not bring it up during the earlier flights, when the government was a sponsor.