Street Smarts: Super Chicken Drive honors plucky character on US-crossing balloons

2013-01-08T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T15:35:42Z Street Smarts: Super Chicken Drive honors plucky character on US-crossing balloonsDavid Leighton For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Just north of Tanque Verde Road and west of Pantano Road is a street with one of Tucson's quirkiest names: Super Chicken Drive.

In early 1980, John Shoecraft, a Phoenix developer and hot-air balloonist, asked his friend Sheila Ripps to draw a logo character of the mythical Phoenix bird for his hot-air balloon.

She created a colorful character and showed it to Shoecraft, who exclaimed, "That's not a Phoenix bird; it's a super chicken." Still, Shoecraft liked the character and decided to put it on his balloon.

The character was the inspiration for Shoecraft's Super Chicken Across America adventure, his attempt to cross the United States in a hot-air balloon. According to Shoecraft, "Super Chicken is in all of us; he represents freedom of spirit and the courage to reach beyond our limitations - to dream and make those dreams come true."

On Sept. 20, 1980, Shoecraft and co-pilot Ron Ripps launched the Super Chicken, a 10-story helium balloon above a 9-foot-diameter gondola, from Oceanside, Calif. Two days later, they were forced down by thunderstorms near Columbus, Ohio. Shoecraft jumped from the gondola after an emergency landing failed, making the gondola immediately lighter and causing the balloon to propel upward to an altitude of 1,200 feet.

Ripps parachuted for the first time, to safety.

Super Chicken II took off from a football field about 30 miles north of San Diego on Dec. 3, 1980. This was the second attempt at flying nonstop across the U.S. in a helium-filled balloon, but this time it was in winter. Inside the gondola, temperatures were 12 to 16 degrees above zero. Two days later, the balloon developed a helium leak and was forced to land in a pasture in southwestern Kansas.

Super Chicken III departed Oct. 9, 1981, from Costa Mesa, Calif. This time, Shoecraft's sidekick was veteran pilot Fred Gorrell. They traveled 2,515 miles, landing on Blackbeard Island off the coast of Georgia on Oct. 12. In the process, they got their names into the Guinness Book of World Records as the first pilots to cross the U.S. in a helium-filled balloon.

Shoecraft named Super Chicken Drive after the character in about 1983 while building an apartment complex, now called the Estancia Apartments, that is on the street. North Gondola Way, which is close to Super Chicken Drive, is named after the balloon's gondola.

According to a former resident of the area, the street sign was stolen several times and eventually was not replaced.

Editor's note

Each week the Star tells the stories behind Tucson street names. If you have streets to suggest or stories to share, contact writer David Leighton at streetsmarts@azstarnet.com

Sources: • Special thanks to reader John Spence for suggesting the street. • Special thanks to Kelley Sims, senior land agent for El Paso Natural Gas. • John Shoecraft. • Super Chicken Across America press release, 1980. • "2 Balloonists Bail Out; Craft Found in Greene," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 23, 1980. • "Crew of Superchicken Bails Out: Storm in Ohio Deflates Helium Balloon Flight," The Toledo Blade, Sept 23, 1980. • "Super Chicken II Roosts Early," The Palm Beach Post, Dec. 5, 1980. • "Super Chicken, Super Flight!" Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Oct. 17, 1981. • Norris McWhirter, "Guinness Book of World Records 1986," Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.,1985.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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