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Raven Industries

An early Raven burner seems little more than a blowtorch today

An early-'60s design by Ed Yost, demonstrating the (then)
awesome power of its (then) revolutionary 1-can burner.

Raven started it all, and the strength of its early designs led to the success of Aerostar balloons well into the '00s.

Without the late Ed Yost, modern sport ballooning would be a shadow of what it is today. Yost's Raven Industries developed the modern hot-air balloon in answer to a request from the Office of Naval Research seeking a reusable aircraft based on the Montgolfier principle. Now, you can read Raven's Final Report to the ONR in its entirety, courtesy of the Balloon Historical Society and Christine Kalakuka!! (Christine, you will be dearly missed by so many.) The Early Years of Sport Ballooning is honored to present this one-of-a-kind glimpse into the initial development of the modern aerostat, with all original text and illustrations. We hope you enjoy the Final Report, and encourage you to let me know what you think of it!

Having all but singlehandedly invented the modern hot-air balloon, Yost had the foresight to realize that, more than merely offering utilitarian value to the military, ballooning was fun! Raven Industries, touting "the Most Beautiful Balloons in the World," enjoyed snowballing market share throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, and remained a major force (albeit renamed) until 2007, when the company ceased accepting new balloon orders. A while back, Tom Oerman sent me an amazing collection of ballooning memorabilia which, in addition to the fantastic additions to the Stokes page, and several other items, included a mint-condition, perfectly gorgeous, Raven brochure from 1972. I couldn't just keep it to myself, so I scanned it in and made a page for it. My gratitude to Tom is immense, and I hope you all enjoy the brochure as much as I have.

I'm still adding to this page, notably with recent contributions by Mike Emich and Jon Radowski, who have both gone to great lengths to help me with the site. Just because this page is bursting at the seams, though, doesn't mean I can't still add more! If you have classic Raven photos or memorabilia that would make this a better Raven page, either in digital form you can e-mail, or in printed form I can scan and return at my expense, please drop me a line! This page has come a long way, but I bet there are even more gems of information out there for all you Raven fans!

Click on any of the images below to open a new window with a MUCH larger version.
Some files are nearly 300KB, so downloads may take a while.

" ¤ " symbol indicates photo scanned with permission from BALLOONING magazine and the BFA.

Colorized photo courtesy Balloon Historical Society

Ed Yost landed the Office of Naval Research contract by tethering this plastic balloon (powered by plumber's pots burning kerosene) in 1955, and sending photos of the ascent to the Navy.

Ed Yost shows the ONR X 38 system (see Raven's Final Report to the ONR) to Navy personnel, probably 1962 or 1963.

Ed Yost with Raven engineer Russ Pohl, early '60s (how did it all get off the ground with that one-can burner?). In this shot, Yost (center) prepares Nick Piantanida (right) for his ill-fated skydiving record attempt.

Raven got its start in sport balloons purveying one-place "Vulcoons," which, rather than climbing into, you just sorta put on. Many clubs quickly added seatbelts. Here is a young Don Piccard (left) preparing a Vulcoon for flight. Here is the super-compact Vulcoon on its little trailer.

Ektachrome © National Geographic Society

Bill Berry flew this S-55 at Reno in '65 - compare Berry's basket (Ektachrome © National Geographic Society) with the standard-issue. Subsequent owners used a 1930s Navy barrage balloon basket (photo courtesy Carl Holz [left]), the burner on a wooden gas balloon load ring. In a hard landing, 1974, note the "free-floating" burner dropping into the occupants' midst (courtesy Carl Holz).

Collection of George Garcia Jr.

In the early-to-mid-'60s, Raven was just getting into multi-place balloons - this crate-like gondola makes even the later aluminum models look luxurious. Here is another mid-'60s gondola, looking like a project in a "learn welding at home in your spare time" course, and here is another (this one from the '65 Reno Nationals - note ducted inflator in background).

If you can find a copy of this April, 1963 Popular Mechanics, do! (Look on ebay for issues sold in lots - worked for me). GREAT Vulcoon pics inside! (See above, for example.)

Evidently, the U.S. Navy was determined to squeeze every possible military use out of their investment in balloons. Here, Navy personnel prepare to send a Shrike missile aloft for "testing purposes." The mind boggles (at least mine does) at the thought of hot-air balloons as missile platforms.

Another early Raven, complete with precarious-looking proto-gondola, undergoing flight testing in the early sixties. Here it is (or one like it) with three (!) crewmen on board.

Raven offered a factory inflator in the '60s, which ducted pre-heated air into the balloon, but was bulky and generally unpopular (and apparently troublesome when the balloon rolled in crosswinds). This entry in the '65 Reno Nationals (not a Raven), clearly has no one holding the crown line, probably because it used an inflator like this (thanks to Lance Terry for this theory).

Two ballooning legends, Ed Yost and Don Piccard, conquer the English Channel, 1963 (shown here inflated beforehand (?) in South Dakota [collection of Mike Emich], pre-takeoff and aloft). The "Channel Champ" helped prove the viability of the new generation of hot-air balloons, landing successfully in France despite a banner-related envelope tear on descent.


Dick Keuser takes off at the first St. Paul Winter Carnival race, at the burner of a pre-Vulcoon model owing virtually everything to the ONR program's X-series models.

The chair-type gondola of this Vulcoon prototype (better shot [collection of Mike Emich]) was to have been the production version, but proved too costly. Here's the same (?) chair during burner testing, early 1960s (blurry), and a later prototype, much closer to the final design.

The first commercial Vulcoons used this curious-looking double burner (I'd love to know more about its anatomy and output - anyone know, who can share?). Bill Berry is shown here in the one-off custom basket he used in place of the "chair," in a 1965 issue of True magazine.

Collection of David Tanzer

For a time, Raven marketed its multiplace balloons under the "Vulcoon" name, as it had done with the earlier one-place chair-type models. This ad is from a 1971 issue of Ballooning magazine, reproduced by the kind permission of the Balloon Federation of America.

1974: Raven redefines the market with the low-cost Rally RX-6

Brochure above: Collection of Mike Emich; ad below: Collection of Jon Radowski

In 1974, Raven introduced the Rally line of affordable aerostats. The Rally was a bold play for the low end of the market, long dominated by Semco. The 1st-generation Rally sported a fiberglas gondola with single HP1 ("Square Shooter") burner, and a distinctive envelope design that featured alternating straight and gusseted "banana" gores. Tom Oerman notes that the Rally design came about after (though perhaps not as a result of) Oerman's introducing the company to the Stokes system, which also featured alternating gusseted gores. The non-gusseted gores are not tapered, which greatly reduced the labor (and cost) of constructing the envelope. Limiting choices to "off the rack" color combinations also allowed streamlined production and lower cost. The Rally was a success, allowing many pilots to enter the sport for whom cost had previously been prohibitive. The fiberglas gondola did not stay on the market long, in part because it tended to crack under stress when cold, but largely due to customer demand for more inviting materials. The fiberglas gondola's replacement was a proper wicker basket, less lavish than the company's upmarket models, but far more hospitable than the original. The basic Rally design (as updated with the late-'70s Rally II (¤) remained in the Aerostar catalogue until the end (the company stopped accepting new balloon orders in February 2007).

The 4-can burner was credited by pilots like Dennis "Capt. Phogg" Floden with greatly improving the Ravens' performance in competition. Here is Floden's 4-can at the '73 Worlds (collection of George Garcia Jr.). The two-can design that predated the 4-can was considered robust when introduced (another 2-can, and another).

Photo by the author

This shot, from the 1980 Fiesta, depicts a (then fairly current) HP-I Square Shooter I system in action. Here is a nice clear Raven Industries photo of a Square Shooter I system.


The HP-II "Square Shooter II" burner was introduced in '79, as shown in this ad from Ballooning magazine. Here is an ad from 1980, announcing the new Trutemp digital pyrometer (¤).

Photo: Phil Smith

By the late '70s, top-of-the-line Ravens came with a luxurious instrument layout, including the remote blast valves at right. Here is the much more spartan instrument binnacle from the aluminum Raven gondola, and here's an earlier version of the remote-blast-valve concept.

Collection of George Garcia Jr.

Raven's line of gondolas expanded steadily through the '70s, so that by '79, everything from barebones aluminum to luxurious suede could be had under a Raven envelope (for a time, you could have both, with the early '70s transitional aluminum/wicker basket [collection of Mike Emich]).

Collection of George Garcia Jr.

Raven offered a Stokes-like superpressure system (though I don't think they sold too many). Here's a nice, technical ad for the system, a shot of the fan/burner, and the basket with fan/burner mounted (all ¤).

The Velcro top ripping out - a disconcerting sight to those of us accustomed to parachutes...

I wish I had a better shot of this balloon, if only to figure out what the strange load-cable arrangement is all about.

Collection of George Garcia Jr.

I thought this was a neat shot of what it was like to fly in an aluminum Raven basket. This is an "Export 'A'" balloon, participating in the '73 Worlds.
Thanks to Mike Emich for the loan of a real treasure trove of memorabilia, including the Rally brochure depicted above (and MUCH more). Extra-special thanks to Lance Terry, for the loan of his '78-'81 Ballooning magazines, and to Glen Moyer and the Balloon Federation of America, for the generous permission to reproduce images from Ballooning.  Thanks to Tom Oerman, for many contributions, particularly this 1972 Raven brochure. Raven's Final Report to the ONR was made available, with some of the most important images on these pages, by the Balloon Historical Society and the late Christine Kalakuka. Thanks to George Garcia Jr. for the loan of many items from his massive collection of ballooning memorabilia, and to Jon Radowski for several scans from Ballooning, and lots of other assistance over the last few years.

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