50 years ago, Bangalore boy took a ride on India's first balloon flight

BANGALORE: Fifty years ago, a shy teenager from Bangalore stepped into the passenger basket of a hydrogen gas balloon, on the country's maiden balloon flight. Anil Kumar was 14 when he took to the skies, dressed in a striped sweater and white trousers. The lad made it to the history books.

Launched from the Race Course grounds on November 14, 1963, by S Nijalingappa, the then chief minister of Karnataka, the balloon landed about 20 miles away, flying at a height of 1800 ft for 100 minutes, in a village called Cholanayakana Halli, Magadi Road.

The balloon was brought from the Pestalozzi Children's Village in Germany, in Wahlwies, near Lake Constance in Germany. Two trained and licensed pilots were required for the flight. As they were both Germans, and this was the first flight of a balloon in India, they felt it appropriate to carry at least one Indian. They chose an Indian child to fly with them, to mark Children's Day; and that's how Anil headed out on his open air flight.

Now president and CEO of Target Pvt Ltd, Anil Kumar is setting up a licensed balloon club in Bangalore to commemorate the golden jubilee anniversary of the balloon flight. The club will be utilized largely to raise money for local philanthropy.

On this occasion, the Indian Posts and Telegraph Department thought it fitting to bring out a First Day Cover. Ramchandani, the then postmaster general of India, handed over two mail bags containing the First Day Covers, to be carried as Balloon Mail.

Of the pilots, Hermann Johness Scheer, who was also director of Pestalozzi Kinderdorf, died in 1998. The other pilot, Alfred Schulz, lives in Sonthofen im Algau.