Russian explorer and balloonist Fedor Konyukhov who set a new world record flying solo around the world, last July, is preparing for another adventure — a hot air balloon ascension to the stratosphere.
Cameron Balloons, manufacturer of the three balloons used by aeronauts for their successful round-the-world flight, including Konyukhov’s balloon, will also manufacture his stratospheric hot-air balloon.
The world-record for highest altitude in a hot-air balloon is held by Indian businessman Vijaypat Singhania, who flew to an incredible altitude of 21,027 meters (68,986 feet) on November 2005 in a balloon made by Cameron. Singhania rose in his 1.6 million-cubic-foot balloon over Mumbai, India, and landed safely, a few hours later.
Fedor’s aim is to soar higher than Singhania, see the curvature of the earth and gaze at the inky-blackness of the cosmos – which can be observed from altitudes of about 35,000 meters (114,800 feet). This altitude is nearly four times the height of Mount Everest, which is at 29,035 feet above sea level and is Earth’s highest elevation. He will also be rising almost four times the altitude of jet airliners that fly between 30,000 and 40,000 feet.
According to Cameron Balloon’s website, the balloon envelope will need over 8,500 meters (8.5 km) of fabric and it will be the largest hot-air balloon ever built. The balloon’s volume will be 3.5 million cubic feet, and it will stand over 68 meters tall and 61 meters across, at its widest point.
Konyukhov, an intrepid explorer, recently clinched yet another record in hot-air ballooning for flying non-stop for 55 hours and 14 minutes. On February 7, 2017, Konyukhov and fellow balloon expert Ivan Menyaylo took off in a 10,000-cubic-meter balloon weighing five tons, from Yuzhny airfield in Rybinsk. After cruising at speeds from six to 25 miles per hour and at altitudes between 620 and 980 feet, they covered a distance of 1,029 kilometers (640 miles). They flew over central Russia toward the south-east and landed in Krasny Kut in Saratov.
Their flight of endurance broke the 1997 hot-air balloon world record in the 9 000 to 12 000 cubic meter category, set by two Japanese –Michio Kanda and Hirazuki Takezawa–who had flown from Canada to United States in 50 hours 38 minutes.
Konyukhov also holds the world record for a solo round-the-world balloon flight in record time. For this historic flight, Konyukhov received the newly instituted FAI-Breitling Pilot of the Year Award, in Switzerland, last November. The award recognizes outstanding achievements in the world of air sports. In addition, Konyukhov was also honored with the FAI Diploma.
“I am extremely happy to have been given this award,” he said. “I’m really very proud. I thank all the people who helped make this happen.”
For his solo round-the-world flight, Konyukhov, had taken off in his Rozière balloon (a combination of helium cell and hot-air balloon) named Morton from Northam in Western Australia on 12th July 2016. After flying over a distance of 20, 502 miles (32,996 kilometers), around the Southern Hemisphere for 11 days, eight hours, and 42 minutes, he landed his aircraft in Bonnie Rock, Western Australia, on 23rd July.
Besides Konyukhov, America’s Steve Fossett, as well as the team of Switzerland’s Bertrand Piccard and England’s Brian Jones have accomplished the feat of circumnavigating the globe in a balloon.
Konyukhov also has other world records for endurance and bravery. 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 trekked to the North and South Poles and successfully climbed the seven summits—highest mountains of each of the seven continents. He has completed the Iditarod dog race and also traveled the Great Silk Road by camel. He is also an artist, a writer, and a Russian Orthodox priest.
As for his soaring adventure, Konyukhov has indicated that he would like to attempt the high altitude hot-air balloon flight in late summer 2017; however, with so many variants, Cameron has agreed to a nine-month timeline from sales agreement to delivery.