Intertwined Histories of Human Ballooning, Diving Rescues, and the Inflation Olympics: A Personal History

Date Written: 

The Intertwined Histories of Human Ballooning, Diving Rescues, and the Inflation Olympics:

A Personal History

 by Latecomer




The so-called extreme sport of human ballooning was invented by accident during emergency diving rescues that were performed on girls who lost buoyancy during deep dives and had to be brought back to the surface by pumping their rubber diving suits full of helium gas.  Ordinarily, the helium pressure should be released at the moment the rescued girl breaks the surface, but in some cases the girl was actually lofted helplessly into the air as a balloon before the helium tank could be shut off either  because the tank valve became stuck, the tank attendant was distracted, or because of a deliberate prank played on the hapless girl inside the suit.


Initially, the sport was practiced with more-or-less standard diving gear and straight helium, but the pressures required to achieve enough suit inflation to become buoyant in air were hazardous, and the absence of oxygen in the inflation gas limited the duration of the balloon ascent to the amount of time the girl inside the airtight suit full of helium could hold her breath. The appeal of the sport was greatly enhanced in the late 1950’s by the development of thinner and more elastic balloon suits and the blending of enough oxygen into the inflation gas to allow the balloonist to breathe more or less normally during her flight. In addition, the cumbersome and claustrophobic 3-window diving helmets were replaced by lightweight, clear plastic “space helmets” which offered greatly improved visibility.  With purpose-designed suits and oxygen-containing inflation gas, altitudes of up to 50 feet were easily attainable, and the duration of flight was limited only by the amount of oxygen contained in the suit at the beginning of the ascent. When this was spent, the balloonist was forced to return to the ground or risk suffocation inside her suit.


The introduction of helmetless suits, in which the girl balloonist breathed ambient air while her suit was inflated, allowed flights of indefinite duration. However, exceeding 50 feet of altitude without a helmet required so much helium pressure that the girl inside the suit could no longer inhale. This problem was solved with a two-hose gas supply, in which air was pumped into the girl’s lungs through a hose at the same pressure that helium was being pumped into her suit. A beginning balloonist could then easily achieve altitudes of up to 50 feet or so but beyond that, the breathing air pressure required to balance the helium pressure inside her suit was great enough to require heavy rubber straps to hold her mouthpiece in place. This problem was solved by replacing the mouthpiece with a full-face respirator mask, but the system consisting of a full-face mask with a two-hose gas supply proved unpopular because of how common it was in practice to exchange the two hoses in error. This led to a number of unfortunate incidents in which the girl in the suit was pumped full of helium while her suit was being filled with air.



While these advancements were taking place, the records being set by young women in the various weight classes of the Inflation Olympics were nearing a limit established by their ability to exhale against the air pressure imposed by the air pumps with which they inflated themselves. Thus prevented from breathing, the inflated girl was forced to hold her breath while fully inflated and few if any could do so for the 60-second duration of the belly dance routine called for by the rules. This proved true even after it became common for competitors to train before the Olympics with pressure-breathing systems intended to strengthen their ability to exhale against the inflation pressure supplied by their air hoses. In response, the International Inflation Olympics Rules Committee established the so-called “Unlimited Class” of competition, in which the participants were allowed to introduce muscle relaxants (most commonly nitrous oxide) into their breathing supplies. This allowed them to achieve degrees of inflation which could not be attained using ordinary air, and to do so at inflation pressures low enough that they could still exhale (with effort) and not have to hold their breath while performing. The rules also permitted replacing the air in the nitrous mix with pure oxygen, so that less effort would be needed for the inflated girl to get enough air even though her ability to breathe normally was still somewhat impaired.




Meanwhile, in the realm of recreational diving, full diving suits with helmets were falling from favor and were being superseded by the more comfortable and easy-to-use suitless air supplies, in which breathing air was pumped down to the diver through a hose and fed into a full-face diving mask equipped with a valve assembly and an optional breathing bag. Girls lost buoyancy much less often with the suitless system, which reduced the number of rescues performed per year for the first time in the history of diving air supply technology. However, the ease of use and comfort of the new system allowed even the least-experienced and the heaviest girls (who were, ironically, the ones with the highest oxygen demand and the greatest likelihood of losing buoyancy during a dive) to reach greater depths- up to 20 feet or more- than had been possible before with the helmeted suits. This meant that the remaining rescues commonly involved the heaviest girls who were least-experienced, who were getting stuck at the greatest depths, and who could only hold their breath for short times- if at all.


Rescuing them without distress was very difficult.  It was quickly discovered that a 250-pound girl sunk in 20 feet of water on her first deep dive could not be pumped up with helium as big as a rubber suit could, which made her ascent so slow that she would run out of air (while having to pressure-breathe pure helium) before making it to the surface. What to do? At this point, someone made the happy discovery that if blended with helium, the Olympic-sanctioned inflation gas mixture was a superior rescue gas. The nitrous content acted as a relaxant, allowing the girl being rescued to be inflated as much as a rubber suit at that depth. The oxygen content of the gas and the reduced pressure let the rescued girl breathe enough to meet her needs during the ascent. The new gas mixture became widely adopted.


And it would prove to have a new and unanticipated use.



The remainder of this article is admittedly speculative, because although the discovery described below was sufficiently well-publicized to completely revolutionize the sport of human ballooning, the details concerning exactly how the discovery was actually made and who made it have never seen print.  Rumor has it that a certain very large girl who had been recently rescued from a dive gone badly wrong was advised to switch to the sport of ballooning instead, which was represented to her as being inherently safer than diving. She preferred the freedom of movement and comfort of the suitless ballooning system, and the full-face mask was the same type she had been using for dives. But her weight meant not only was her need for oxygen great, but so also was the amount of lift she needed for a balloon flight. Enough helium pressure to float free meant that she could not breathe at all, and she wisely did not trust the two-hose solution. This is when the breakthrough took place. The exact details, including unfortunately her identity, are still a secret- but knowing a bit about recent diving accidents, we can certainly guess at them.


Supposedly she got a ride from a friend to the swimming pool where she had been taking diving lessons, got hold of a full bottle of rescue gas, brought it back to the ballooning field, and attached it to her air hose. The two of them did a quick round of rock-paper-scissors to determine who would be first to try the idea. The winner put the mask on, pulled it down over her face, spun the valve on, and then inhaled deeply and effortlessly as the compressed rescue gas rushed into the mask and pressurized it- and her.


With a forceful push she found she could still exhale a bit against the insistent pressure in her mask, and as the nitrous being pumped into her did its work, she felt herself begin to lazily loosen up and inflate. With each inhalation she felt herself become bigger and fatter and lighter. With each short and sharp exhalation she blew a brief fan of vapor across the inside of her gas mask’s plastic faceplate. It was hard work. The nitrous put a dopy gloss in her eye as she gazed down in frank wonder at her bulging belly, warm and firm as she ran her plump, slightly numb and tingly hands over the shiny stretched elastic of her ballooning costume.  


As the pressure in the mask grew, her cheeks bulged out around its edges but the rubber straps holding it over her face held firm and air-tight. Ponderously expanding and growing increasingly dizzy from the gas, she spread her arms out wide and planted her feet in anticipation of liftoff. Taking one last huge breath, she then found herself- weightless. This was it! With a sharply cut-off gasp of surprise, her eyelashes fluttered and she tossed her head back sharply and emitted a sudden and violent huh! that clouded the faceplate of her mask with exhaled moisture and caused her swollen breasts to jounce inside the elastic confines of her overburdened flying suit. But the pressure in her mask was now so great that her own desperate exhalations were forced right back into her with a dull hiss.


There was no escape for the girl in the ballooning costume. She was now filled to bursting and completely unable to exhale. Eyes wide in panic, she strained up on point in her ballet shoes and while mincing about in distress on tiptoe, she was eventually overwhelmed by the pressure and with a final sudden surge in the size of her belly she became an airborne balloon. Behind the plastic faceplate of her mask, her eyes were now half-shut, her brow furrowed, her lips parted to helplessly admit more and still more of the drugged helium that would not be denied- the gas that now gently but firmly overrode her urgent need to exhale- the gas that was inexorably blowing her up bigger and bigger into an immense fat balloon, now questing skyward.  


As she rose slowly and smoothly into the air, the green and blue sequins sewn to the pair of fairy wings clipped to the back of her flight costume sparkled in the sunlight, and by moving her fattened arms slightly the wings could be made to flutter.  The only sound was the rhythmic hissing of gas flowing deep into her immense and now thoroughly anesthetized belly. The glitter-covered balls on the ends of the springy antennae sprouting from her hairband glistened and bobbed to and fro as she fluttered her way higher and higher, and although drugged to the marrow by the gas that was still being pumped into her she realized that she was now transformed at last into the mythical being of her most secret dreams- fulfilled as a butterfly maiden, replete yet completely weightless, tethered only by the air hose upon which she was wholly dependent for breath and flight, the hose that connected her mask with the tank of gas back on the grass of the ballooning field- now fully one hundred feet beneath her.


In this, her very first flight, in the presence of at least one witness (whose identity I will coyly not admit to but which you can also certainly guess at), weighing in at a measured 255 pounds and breathing from a pilfered tank of ordinary DiveSafety Res-Q-Gas, our own Butterfly Maiden broke the human ballooning altitude record. She remained aloft for over twenty minutes, fluttering blithely about on her tether until her gas supply finally ran out. She then gently floated back down to earth and made a perfect landing in one fat but dainty bounce, wings still a-flutter, her face flushed and radiant behind the steamed-up faceplate of her mask. Yes… Oh yes.  Perhaps a little less nitrous, and a little more helium, next time…


She had found her element at last.


Rumor has it that human ballooning is slated to become an officially sanctioned Inflation Olympics sport. If it does, I know who will win the gold. With a little coaching, perhaps... and a few minor alterations to that costume.  


It seemed just a bit tight, up there. 

Author's Note: 

Since my first post here in February of this year I have struggled with the question of whether or not to abandon this site in favor of spending my time on more productive things. But just this afternoon, the idea for this story came to me, fully formed, and I started writing it down in almost the same manner as my first story. And here it is. I am posting it because the read count total on my first story now far exceeds the audience size for any of the hundreds of technical memos I wrote during my 33 years as an engineer. Hope you enjoy it more than the engineers who had to read any of my engineering reports, however well-crafted I considered them at the time. 

Average: 4 (7 votes)
a sketch to accompany this story

I have just finished a pencil sketch of warmup flights being performed by contestants at the Inflation Olympics. I will post it as soon as I figure out how to get it scanned in a discreet manner. -Latecomer


Nice story. I liked the suit inflation since I am into suit inflation.

Are you a good artist by the way?

Hi my name is Tom. I run the inflatable chicks yahoo group

response to slayer

Hi Slayer, I am a self-taught sketch artist (strictly analog: pencil, paper, and eraser)- not professionally good. I have sketches to accompany this story but still lack the nerve to post them. 


I have been experimenting with suit inflation sketches recently but not yet willing to stick my neck out and share them. Sketches seem a lot more personal that written works...


Best regards,





I have done that comic. Maybe I can help? If you like though :/

Hi my name is Tom. I run the inflatable chicks yahoo group