Tracy Barnes

Tracy Lay Barnes was born in St. Louis Missouri on February 21, 1939. At age 15 he moved to Wayzata, Minnesota where he graduated from Wayzata High School in 1957. July 1957 he joined the U.S. Army 101ST Airborne Division, assigned to the Meteorological Section as a weather balloon technician. He made over 100 parachute jumps with the first military sport parachute club. He was discharged July 1960. In September of 1960 he was a student of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

From February to September in 1961 Barnes worked as a technician for the Balloon Project Division, Department of Physics at the University of Minn. He worked under William Hutch on several balloon projects including the development of plastic tetrahedrons. During 1962-1972 Barnes developed and flew a number of promotional balloons and airships in the Tracy Barnes Corporation.

In 1973 he Co-founded The Balloon Works, Inc. with Dodds Meddock and Karl Stefan, as the Director of Development and Design. He was President until he sold the company in 1982. After selling The Balloon Works he took a two year sabbatical and moved to the mountains of Colorado.

In 1984 he returned to Statesville, NC and started a lighter-than-air development company, the Blimp Works (which became incorporated in 1985). The company was started for the purpose of developing blimps and airships. In order to fuel the projects of manned airships he developed a line of tethered and remote control helium blimps to sell to the advertising and photography industries. During the 90’s Tracy designed and flew successfully 2 one-manned airships: #1 Skywalker and #2 Whispership.

Currently Tracy is president of the Blimp Works, Inc., where he is still actively designing. In 2007 he was granted a patent on a new tethered blimp design for the British Military. This blimp design is currently in use by the British in Iraq and Afganistan. It is used as an aerial observation platform to protect the troop encampments. The new design of collapsible tail fin makes it possible for the blimp to be rapidly inflated by a minimum number of troops in high wind conditions.


Pvt. Tracy Barnes in the 101st Airborne.


Barnes makes his first Hot Air Balloon Flight in “Old Lumpy” on October 13, 1961. He built the balloon from five used army parachutes.


Tracy was presented the 1st Wirth Medal by the Queen of England, for his contributions to the safety of ballooning. In specific, his contribution of the “Parachute Valve” system of deflation.


Above Tracy is shown in in the Museum in June of 2008 with his A-3 hydrogen gas polyethylene balloon N66B with plastic light weight foam cabin. Using this balloon he established seven world altitude records in 1964. Later when the FAI increased the number of balloon sizes from 10 to 15 he was awarded 11 records, for this flight. These records still remain unchallenged.