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flying toward success: a collaborative approach to designing 1859 balloon voyage at conner prairie

Thanks to Conner Prairie’s General Manager for Experience Delivery, David Allison,  for this guest post.  

Winner, 2009 Pinnacle Award for “Best Of Show” for the 1859 Balloon Voyage Exhibit Launch.

The biggest news at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park north of Indianapolis in the last year was the debut of our new 1859 Balloon Voyage experience. This project has been highly successful and highly popular for our guests. We had over 21,000 people fly to 400 feet in our balloon last year as we told the story of John Wise’s airmail journey through interactive exhibits and engaging storytelling. As project manager for the contenballoont and operations of the balloon, people often ask me how we were able to blend the modern balloon experience with the unique Indiana story of the first airmail flight. As we delved deeper into John Wise’s story, we realized that we were going to need to consult with experts in the field of aviation history. One of our first official meetings about the balloon project involved the world’s authority on the history of ballooning in America- Dr. Tom Crouch, the chief curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. His expertise helped to guide the stories that we told through our exhibits to keep us firmly “grounded” in the history of aviation. Additionally, he explained to us how America’s fascination with flight in the 19th century led to the excitement surrounding John Wise’s flight from Lafayette, IN, in 1859. 

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Tom Crouch then joined us for the debut of the exhibit in June as a keynote speaker. Our on-going relationship with Dr. Crouch (and the Smithsonian network of museums in general through our new Smithsonian Affiliation) led us to finding out about an annual Air and Space Museum conference that is held in Washington DC. This year, myself (Dave Allison, General Manager for Experience Delivery) and BJ Sullivan (Chief Pilot for 1859 Balloon Voyage) attended the Mutual Concerns conference in DC in late March to share with other Air and Space Museum professionals from around the country how Conner Prairie designed and developed our cutting-edge fusion ofballoon3 a modern-day thrill ride (the balloon) with an age-old historical story about Indiana’s past. This nexus of an exciting experience grounded in the reality of a unique Indiana story is the heart of Conner Prairie’s mission to “inspire curiosity and foster learning about Indiana’s past by providing engaging, individualized and unique experiences”.

Photos courtesy Conner Prairie.