RAVEN Industries Inc.

Is along with General Mills Inc., Winzen Research Inc. and Schjeldhal one of the biggest high altitude balloon manufacturers of the United States and the world.

The company origins date back 1956 when James R. Smith, Paul Yost, Duwayne Thon and Joseph Kaliszewki left their jobs at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory of General Mills, Inc. in Minneapolis, Minnesota and founded the new company, using capital they receive from investor Cyrus Hoigaard.

One of the first decisions was where to locate the new company. Sioux Falls, South Dakota was considered for several reasons. Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls had been used as a launching site for balloons on several occasions. The place was also great for launching balloons during "turnaround" a period of several weeks when the winds slow down and often change direction, keeping the huge helium balloons in one area in the air for hours or days.

In febraury 1956, the company negotiated with Faye Wheeldon, mayor of Sioux Falls at the time, (whom personally invited Raven to locate in the city) the purchase of a building there, so as a result a converted Army barracks served as the first headquarters for the company.

Kaliszewski and his first employee, Jerry Green followed by six engineers and technicians renovated the building, set up a rudimentary machine shop, and supervised the construction of the first balloon tables and heat-sealing equipment. In April were started to build the flight operations equipment and electronic and communications systems. Within its first year, Raven was building high altitude research balloon systems, and implementing field programs in cosmic ray physics and upper atmosphere science. One of their first customers was the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

In those early times, Raven was primarily a research and development company, and gradually became more of a production company. Enough customers began to transfer their balloon work from General Mills to Raven thus providing most of the sales for the first five years of operation.

The company quickly built a reputation as an innovative manufacturer of scientific balloons. The US Air Force, the ONR and several universities began placing orders with the company, resulting in Raven flight services group traveling through the United States and Canada, providing balloon launching and recovery operations.

Raven continued to grow and in September 1959 completed manufacture of a six million cubic foot scientific balloon, establishing with it a world's altitude record of 150,000 feet. The balloon stayed aloft for 11.5 hours.

In 1960, Raven made its first manned hot-air balloon flight, under ONR's contract. This first modern-day balloon capable of extended flight, signaled the beginning of world wide hot air ballooning. The next year, Raven sold its first sport balloon.

Ten years after its inception, Raven had grown into an industrial, aerospace and military research development and manufacturing company so major expansions to facilities took place. The first satellite plant was built in Huron, South Dakota, for parachute manufacturing. And a new balloon manufacturing plant, totaling 30,000 square feet of production area was completed in the airport industrial area. Also the company diversified their production capabilities that now included from snow suits to parachutes and digital-logic modules for industrial control applications.

In 1968 a superpressure Mylar balloon manufactured by Raven set a world record for duration by remaining aloft 441 days. Balloons of that type would circle the earth dozens of times, providing meteorological information not available from any other source.

By 1972 the company continued its expansion plans, adding 20,000 square feet to their balloon manufacturing facility and building a 9,200 square-foot plastics manufacturing plant.

In 1978 Raven reluctantly discontinued its balloon flight operations after ONR started handling balloon launches from a facility in Texas.

Entering the 80's, despite the difficult economy that marked that decade, several milestones were reached by the company. On regard ballooning, Raven made headlines as they manufactured the balloon "Kitty Hawk" for Maxie and Kristin Anderson's first non-stop transcontinental balloon flight. As a major step to diversification of the company on February 1, 1986, Aerostar International was formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Raven into which the sport balloon operation was transferred. Aerostar's mission is now to carry on the work Raven had done in the field of hot air ballooning, helium parade balloons and advertising inflatables.

In the 90's decade Raven became involved with Project Earthwinds to design and manufacture a helium-filled balloon for an around-the-world flight. This was an entirely new concept of how balloons could be used for near-space research. Earthwinds' design involved using two balloons -- one helium-filled balloon made of Raven Astrofilm was connected to a second anchor balloon, which served as a ballast. The project ultimately never achieved its full potential and no succesfull longer flight was achieved.

In late 1995 a major turning point came to the company when Raven purchased the high-altitude balloon manufacturing assets of Winzen International of Texas. Winzen had been Raven's main competitor, and the acquisition made Raven Industries the only balloon supplier for high-altitude research in the United States, developing and manufacturing scientific balloons with ever greater capabilities in lift, flight duration and reliability for NASA, the Air Force Research Lab, as well as other agencies around the world

In the first decade of the 21st century Aerostar International is involved in the field of Tethered Aerostat Persistent Surveillance Platforms (PSS), High Altitude Balloons and Airships, Parachutes and Protective Wear. However several milestones were also acomplished.

In 2002, NASA launched from Lynn Lake, Canada, the largest balloon ever successfully flown, with a volume of 60 million cubic feet, setting a new world record that remained unbeated since 1975. The balloon manufactured by Raven-Aerostar climbed to a peak altitude of 49.4 km, for a flight that endured 23 hours.

On November 8, 2005 Raven subsidiary, Aerostar International, along with Southwest Research Institute and the US Air Force Research Lab successfully launched and flew a powered stratospheric airship. The project, titled "HiSentinel," focused on developing small nearspace airships for inexpensive tactical communications and Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance applications. This flight carried a sixty-pound equipment pod to 74,000 feet on a five-hour flight, and was only the second airship in history to achieve powered flight in the stratosphere.

Others marks beaten include three endurance records during Antarctic campaigns between 2003 and 2012, as well providing to ATA Aerospace -in charge of the Red Bull Stratos jump operations- the largest balloon used for a manned mission ever (29.7 million cubic feet) and the development of the superpressure balloons used for the "Loon" Google X project devoted to offer balloon-based broadband internet access in isolated areas.

Related Entries

External Links

Aerostar - official website
Raven Industries - official website