The Theory of the Disastrous Andrée Arctic Expedition

theory vs practice



Can you steer a balloon by drag-ropes?

It is not a little strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea. To be the first that have floated here in a balloon. I can not deny that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can well face death having done what we have done. (Andrée after take off)

                                     The Eagle with drag-ropes and sail for steering.

Unfailing Belief in Theory

The Swedish engineer Solomon August Andrée (1854–97) based his  Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 on a theory to steer the ballon with the help of sails and drag-ropes reaching down to the ground. The expedition and theory was received with such patriotic enthusiasm in Sweden, that despite evidence that the drag-rope steering technique was ineffective, Andrée launched his ballon The Eagle off from Svalbard in July 1897 together with his two companions Nils Strindberg (1872–97) and Knut Frænkel (1870–97), towards a secure death driven by Andrée’s unfailing optimism, faith in the power of technology, and disregard for the forces of nature…read more

         Andrée outlining the drag-rope theory to Swedenborg, Strindberg and Fraenkel scratching his head.

The idea of Andrée was to let the friction of the drag-ropes slow down the balloon as compared to the air and thereby be able to use sails for steering, which he claimed had worked fine in a test flight with the balloon Svea allowing a deviation of 27 degrees from the wind direction.

The Swedish Ballooning Association today ascribes Andrée’s conviction entirely to wishful thinking, capricious winds, and the fact that during test much of the time Andrée was inside clouds and had little idea where he was or which way he was moving. Moreover, his drag-ropes would persistently snap, fall off, become entangled with each other, or get stuck to the ground, which could result in pulling the often low-flying balloon down into a dangerous bounce. No modern Andrée researcher has expressed any faith in drag ropes as a balloon steering technique, according to the Ballooning Association.


                            Enthusiastic patriotic crowd cheering the departure of the expedition crew.

Incorrect or Correct Theory?

But who is correct?  Andrée or the Swedish Ballooning Association? Is it really impossible to steer a balloon by drag-ropes and sail? 

Can you figure out the answer? You can get help by looking at Why It Is Possible to Fly and Why It Is Possible to Sail revealing the secret of drag and lift of wings, sails and kites! 

A small Prize will be awared for a correct answer of the drag-rope problem.

Clue: How does a kite fly?

                         The Eagle crashed on the pack-ice after two days, film developed 33 years later.

              With unfailing optimism…approaching the end on October 6 on the desert island Kvitoya.

Theory and Practice

Was it in fact so that the idea of Andrée was correct, but that he missed something in the implementation? In fact, the drag-ropes were lost soon after launch because they unscrewed out of their screw holds which Andrée had reluctantly been persuaded to add as a safety feature…

If a theory is correct, then you can succeed if also the realization is correct, but if a theory is incorrect then no realization is possible. 

                                    Balllon flight July 11-14 and travel on foot to Kvitoya… 

…the middle of the night… shadows on the glacier… the flaming outside…not of innocent white doves… carrion birds… bad weather, we fear… to escape… out to sea… crash… grating… driftwood…(last entry in Andrée’s diary)