Russian explorer Fedor Konyukhov plans to fly solo and nonstop around the world in a balloon, in June 2016. Konyukhov hopes to break the record set by American adventurer Steve Fossett in 2002 who completed his round-the-world flight in 13 days and on the sixth attempt.
Like Fossett, Konyukhov also will launch from Australia and fly in the Southern Hemisphere. His route will be mostly over oceans, taking him over the Tasman Sea, New Zealand, Pacific Ocean, Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa, Cape of Good Hope, and the Indian Ocean, before he reaches his destination in Australia.
The British company Cameron Balloons is making the balloon with a Rozière design, which is a combination of helium and hot air technologies that work best for extended flights.
A large cell of helium is placed inside a specifically designed hot-air balloon envelope. Six burners warm the helium at night. To reduce the effect of heat from the sun, during the day, the balloon is equipped with a system of insulation and vents. This helps to conserve the helium and maintain a fairly constant altitude, allowing the aircraft to fly for lengthy periods. The balloon will carry 34 cylinders of propane gas that will provide fuel to the burners for up to 20 days. The cylinders suspended on the sides of the gondola weigh 14,960 pounds.
The total volume of the balloon is 59,000 cubic feet; when inflated the balloon will stand 184 feet tall and will weigh approximately 20,000 pounds.
To accommodate any emergency landing on water, the gondola made from carbon fiber (capsule) has life raft features, with two keels at the bottom, one bubble hatch, and one window. The bare essentials on the flight include navigation and instrument flight deck, a sleeping bench, food rations, water and oxygen supply.
A 24-hour workday
During the flight, Konyukhov will have to send data to mission control, complete navigation tasks, check fuel calculations, read instruments, change fuel tanks, and clear ice from equipment. All this work will be happening at an altitude of 26,000-30,000 feet, at average speeds of 150 kilometers per hour and in negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, he will have to keep warm, maintain his oxygen supply, eat, and sleep only in short spurts of 30-45 minutes, for a total of four hours in 24 hours.
Konyukhov first envisioned a round-the-world balloon flight in 1992. “I was stationed at a base camp of Mt. Everest, preparing to climb the summit, when I heard talk of a flight, the year before over Mt. Everest by balloon. Since that time I’ve been working towards my dream to fly around the world in a balloon.”
Konyukhov’s cruising altitude is expected to be around 17,000 feet, so he will wear an oxygen mask, as the air gets thinner and oxygen levels decrease with increasing altitude. The summit of Mount Everest is at 29,035 feet, and Konyukhov has scaled it twice, by using supplemental oxygen. To minimize the risk of altitude illness, he will gradually acclimatize his body to the upper regions by spending two weeks at Mount Everest’s base camp located at 17,000 feet. Then, he will travel to Northam, Australia for his flying adventure.
Konyukhov’s balloon flight is around the Southern Hemisphere and is technically not a true circumnavigation of the earth. The following criteria must be met for a successful circumnavigation: Start and finish at the same point traveling in one general direction, reached two antipodes (two diametrically opposite places on earth), cross the equator a minimum of two times, cross all longitudes and cover a minimum of 40,000 km.
In March 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones circumnavigated the earth in their balloon Breitling Orbiter 3, in the third attempt. They took off in the Swiss Alps, flew for 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes, in the Northern Hemisphere and landed in Egypt. Their balloon flight covered 40,000 kilometers or 25,000 miles.
American adventurer Steve Fossett, however, found success flying around the Southern Hemisphere on his sixth attempt. In June 2002, Fossett took off in Australia covered 23,000 kilometers in a flight that lasted 13 days, eight hours and 33 minutes. His balloon, the Spirit of Freedom, reached speeds of 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour).
Konyukhov, an intrepid explorer, is also an artist by profession and became a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2010. He has achieved numerous feats of adventure on land, across the sea, and in the air.
In hot-air-ballooning, Konyukhov and Ivan Menyaylo set a new world record in January 2016, when they flew for more than 32 hours in Central Russia. They broke the 1993 record set by American William Bussey who had flown more than 1,200 kilometers in 29 hours and 14 minutes, from Amarillo, Texas, to Milbank, South Dakota.
Well known for his skills as a boat man, at 15, Konyukhov crossed the Azov Sea on a rowboat from his hometown in what is now Ukraine to Russia.
His many maritime expeditions across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans also include a solo journey in a rowboat across the Pacific that lasted 160 days.
Konyukhov has also conquered the North and South Poles and successfully climbed the seven summits—highest mountains of each of the seven continents.