David Blaine is putting his own spin on the Pixar film Up, attaching himself to 52 helium-filled balloons to take flight over the desert in Page, Arizona Wednesday in a stunt streamed exclusively on YouTube, which funded David Blaine Ascension. You can watch the experience live and after the fact on the video platform here or in the video below.
The magician will narrate the experience, which began at 5:55 a.m. PT on Sept. 2 from high above the earth as he ascends 18,000 feet into the sky for about an hour and a half, with the flight and landing expected to last about an hour, he told Variety before taking flight. While Blaine told the outlet he had originally wanted to stage Ascension above his hometown of New York City on Aug. 31, the wind conditions and overall safety concerns caused his team of aviation experts to move the stunt to the desert about 130 miles north of Flagstaff.
"Arizona is one of the best locations for ballooning. It allows for pretty optimal conditions," he said. "New York would be a spectacle, which is not what we want right now," but the view of Arizona also "would be spectacular," he added, making it clear he would still love to take his ballooning to the Big Apple one day. Before taking off Wednesday, Blaine was harnessed to 42 eight-foot balloons and 10 smaller balloons between four and six feet in diameter, depending on his weight the morning of the stunt.
While using helium balloons in aviation isn't unprecedented, this is the first "cluster ballooning" stunt to be broadcast from the aeronaut’s perspective. Blaine explained the difficulty he anticipated during the stunt was with the landing, as he won't have experience with the desert terrain after the last-minute location change.
Blaine told Variety he had dreamt of flying through the air on balloons ever since his mother took him to see Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon as a kid, which features the young protagonist floating over Paris with a bundle of balloons. The stunt has taken almost two years to train for, as it required him to obtain a pilot's license as well as a commercial balloon pilot's license and become a certified skydiver. Keeping Blaine safe as he floats thousands of feet high are the illusionist's parachute and oxygen mask, which federal regulations require for any aircraft ascending to those altitudes.
With his 9-year-old daughter watching this stunt, Blaine said he wanted to make Ascension less death-defying and more inspiring. That doesn't mean it isn't a dangerous undertaking, however, as while Blaine will be in constant communication with his team, "This one is just me all alone. That makes it different."