Dropping Spies By Balloon
The U.S. military and the CIA always wanted to know what was going on with the Soviets, but with strong border security they were rarely able to sneak their spies into the country without being detected. They needed another plan and so they turned to General Mills and Betty Crocker for help. The Navy had a crazy idea to drop spies into the Soviet Union using balloons made by General Mills and Betty Crocker. It was about as successful as one might expect.
The plan was to fill a large balloon with helium and then a spy would be able to fly through the air and over the heavily guarded borders and drop into Soviet territory without ever being detected on radar. The plan hit a snag when a test flight using a large helium balloon ended in a very public disaster. After the crash made headlines, the Navy decided against using helium. The CIA had latched on to the idea as well and were not opposed to the idea of helium, but had trouble getting their hands on large amounts of it without government or Navy support.
So the CIA turned to hydrogen instead. The first test flight by CIA officer Walter H. Gioumau was conducted in October 1951. He used ballast and a parachute to try and direct his balloon. His first problem was a gas leak and his second problem was a rainstorm. The third problem was when he thought he heard an approaching planeâ¦but it turned out to be a train on the ground below him.
Despite the terrifying moments of his first test flight, he did try again. The second flight went much better than the first but not well enough to keep the project going. Gioumau was deployed to Europe and the balloon division was abandoned for more reliable pursuits.