Julian Nott Balloon Design

About Julian Nott

Pilot Designer Julian Nott


Julian Nott

Julian Nott passed away peacefully on March 26, 2019 after suffering multiple injuries from an extraordinary and unforeseeable accident following a successful balloon flight and landing in Warner Springs, California. Julian was flying an experimental balloon that he invented, designed to test high altitude technology.

His loving partner of 30 years, artist Anne Luther, was at his side.

Known as the founder of the modern ballooning movement, and one of its most creative and innovative exponents, Julian was changing the course of balloon history with the development of an entirely new system in which conventional ballast is replaced with cryogenic helium. He has broken 79 World Ballooning Records and 96 British Records including exceeding 55,000 feet in a hot air balloon.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has described Julian as “a central figure in the expansion of ballooning as an organizer, pilot, and most of all as arguably the leading figure to apply modern science to manned balloon design.”

We join the family and the ballooning community in mourning the passing of Julian Nott, an exceptionally brilliant man who rejoiced in exploration and adventure. He will be missed but never forgotten.

His beloved Anne Luther, his brother Robin Nott, and nieces Elizabeth Salmon and Katherine Nott survive Julian. He is buried at the Nott Family Plot in the historic Watts Chapel and Cemetery in Surrey, England.

If you wish to honor the memory of Julian Nott you may make a donation to the Julian Nott Scholarship Fund.  Beginning in 2020 a scholarship award will be made to one Santa Barbara High School student, accepted to college and majoring in either science or engineering.

Please make out a check for any amount to The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara and mail it to them at  P.O. Box 3620 Santa Barbara, CA 93130  Or you can make a donation on-line at https://sfsb.ejoinme.org/MyPages/DonationPage/tabid/221420/Default.aspx   Please mention the donation is in honor of Julian Nott.

Julian Nott’s archives may be found at the following institutions:

Contact: Roberta Greene, Roberta.greene@icloud.com

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Julian Nott - Ballooning Magazine

Lighter than Air Magazine

Lighter than Air Magazine

Lighter than Air Magazine

Lighter than Air Magazine

The London Times

Julian Nott

Record-breaking high-altitude balloonist who was obsessed with safety but died after plummeting down the side of a mountain

April 30 2019, The London Times

Julian Nott near Canturbury
Nott near Canterbury in 1981 TIMES NEWSPAPERS LTD

When Julian Nott undertook survival training with members of the US navy Seals, a special operations force, to prepare for the possibility of a balloon landing at sea, he was already 73 and the conditions were rough. He suffered hypothermia and was told to go to hospital. Instead, he went into Starbucks, drank coffee, had a doughnut and declared that he felt as well as he ever had done during a career setting 79 world records as a balloonist.

Nott had set a record for the highest documented tandem sky-diving jump — from 31,916ft — just the year before. “Sky-diving for me is like going to the dentist,” he said. “I do not enjoy it, but I know it’s good for me. And a good parachute, if you know how to use it, can save your life when all goes wrong flying experimental balloons.”

He designed and constructed one of the first hot-air balloons with a pressurized cabin, which he piloted to a record altitude of 55,134ft in one hour, nine minutes and 42 seconds. The cabin was the only item built after 1960 to be included in an exhibition staged by NASA, the American space agency, on high-altitude ballooning.

Nott’s other achievements included: the first crossing of the Sahara Desert and piloting the world’s first solar balloon across the Channel. He designed, built and piloted a prehistoric balloon, using only methods and materials available to the pre-Inca Peruvians, and built a Moët & Chandon champagne cork-shaped balloon that he flew over Mount Fuji.

Nott before Channel Crossing

Julian Nott, above, before the Channel crossing in 1981 TIMES NEWSPAPERS LTD

He also worked on a balloon designed to fly into space and piloted a prototype that was devised to land on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, where the approximate temperature of the atmosphere is minus 175C. The balloon is still being developed, but Nott piloted it within an atmospheric simulator, which was filled with frozen nitrogen, at NASA.

Breaking records, however, was not his main goal. “Most of all I hope to use science to advance and innovate [ballooning],” he wrote. He was the first balloonist to be admitted to the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Julian Richard Nott was born in Bristol in 1944, the son of Robert Nott, a company director, and his wife, Joyce, who had graduated from Girton College, Cambridge, and ran The Times Book Club. His parents encouraged him to explore his interest in science at a young age, setting up a laboratory in their garage, which he twice set alight. He took apart everything he owned, including toasters and computers, then put them back together.

After his parents moved from Bristol, he was educated at Epsom College in Surrey, and then St John’s College, Oxford, where he was captain of the college boat club. He took a degree in chemistry and later worked for Voluntary Service Overseas in Bangladesh. His first interest in ballooning was not exactly cerebral: he was dancing in a London nightclub to the song Up, Up and Away by the 5th Dimension when he decided to book a flight as a birthday present for his girlfriend. Ever the romantic, he would later give his long-term partner, Anne Luther, an artist, pink roses every week.

As his achievements grew, so did the nature of his sponsors, not least Moët & Chandon and Rolex. He was in demand as a public speaker and became a consultant for Google, NASA and others. According to Anne: “He was not completely fearless or brave in the traditional sense. He was thoughtful about every flight or item he designed, always looking at ways to make it safer. Once he gave it his final approval he relaxed in the knowledge that he had done all that he could and then ventured into some of the most dangerous situations.”

The couple met in 1989 over a business breakfast in New York, where he had been sent for three months by Airship Industries, of which he was a partner. Nott’s mission was to oversee the company’s recently acquired contract for a US Navy airship from an office in the Explorers Club. He became a US citizen in 2012, living in Santa Barbara, California.  Nott also worked on the design of the airships that flew over Los Angeles and Athens for the Olympic Games of 1984 and 2004 and with surveillance balloons which flew over the recent Rio Games.

His approach to business was marked by a careful attitude to budgets. Even though he was 6ft 2in, he would curl up into a central economy seat on long-haul flights to save money for a sponsor or client.

Displayed prominently in his office were two quotes: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” and “Even the journey to the stars begins with a single step.” A psychic once told him that if he wanted to be recognized, he should put his name up in lights. Such advice resonated with him and he ordered a small custom neon sign of his signature, which he kept lit in his office. He trademarked the phrase “Math lets dreams take flight”.

Anne Luther reckoned that he was “a bit like a teenager when it came to authority”. She added: “He could be quite irreverent. Never in regard to flying or safety, but if there was a sign that said, ‘Do not enter’, he was through the door. ‘Do not touch’ was an invitation for him to embrace or examine something more closely.”

On one occasion Nott jumped over the red ropes at the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research complex, so he could touch the Apollo space capsule. If a sign proclaimed, “No standing on the grass”, he would promptly do so, but with an impish grin. “Of course, he had his hand slapped by the authorities when caught, but he would usually charm them into forgiveness,” Anne said. “We had the most wonderful behind-the-scenes adventures.”

He was an avid reader of poetry and a passionate hiker, not least hiking up and down the Grand Canyon in one day in 2010. He hiked the hills around Santa Barbara County every week and completed 80 hikes last year. Although he was an early electronic adopter and always had the latest newest version, he wrote with a fountain pen.

Nott died when a balloon he had invented to test high-altitude technology landed on the side of a mountain at Warner Springs, California.  Following the successful landing he returned to the cabin when it plunged down the face. His co-pilot suffered injuries, but survived.

Nott’s death shocked those who knew him because they were aware of his concerns about his safety.

“When we were first dating, we went to a country fair and I suggested we ride the Ferris wheel,” Anne said. “He refused, and I laughed and said, ‘You’re not afraid of heights, are you?’ He said that he wasn’t, but he didn’t know who had designed this wheel or assembled it and he wouldn’t take a risk riding it.

“When we were in Hawaii and I wanted to fly in a helicopter over the volcanoes, he spent three days interrogating operators on their ability to fly and their safety record before he selected one. This is why he had never even broken a bone flying or hiking. He was thoughtful and cautious, not fearless.”

Julian Nott, balloonist and scientist, was born on June 22, 1944. He died after sustaining injuries in an accident on March 25, 2019, aged 74


Telegraph Obituary - Julian Nott

The Art and Science of Ballooning that is Ahead of the Curve™