Russian balloonists Fedor Konyukhov and Ivan Menyaylo set a new record in hot air ballooning on 25th January 2016. The intrepid aeronauts flew for 32 hours and 20 minutes in Russia. Their flight broke the 1993 world record set by Dr. William “Bill” Bussey, who had flown in a hot air balloon for 29 hours and 49 minutes. Bussey had covered more than 1200 kilometers from Amarillo, Texas to Milbank, South Dakota.
Konyukhov and Menyaylo launched at 7:51 a.m. on 24th January 2016, Sunday morning, from the Sonino aerodrome in the Tula region of Russia. The balloon headed north east, flying over the regions of Moscow, Ryazan, and Vladimir before they made a safe landing on Monday, in the village of Shestunikha.
Fedor Konyukhov, well known for his expeditions across land, ocean, and air and also for his successful ascents to the seven highest mountain summits, said that for 32 hours they did not sleep, eat, or rest and had to stand all the time. “It was necessary to switch tanks, and watch after the burners. We did all that together. We even had no time to open the thermos to drink a cup of tea. Instead of drinking water we sucked on icicles.” Konyukhov told Sputnik.
A long hot-air-balloon flight means lifting with enough propane gas tanks to keep the burners working. The aeronauts carried 50 cylinders, each filled with 46 liters of gas. “It was crucial to take as many tanks as we did; we lifted on a limit. We even feared we would crash with such a weight,” said Konyukhov.
After using only half of the first tank, they threw it overboard to lighten the balloon. They dropped spent cylinders one by one, while their support team followed the balloon and collected the empty cylinders. Throughout the journey they worried if they would have enough fuel to better their own past record of 19 hours and 20 minutes.
They faced many challenges, including below freezing temperatures. “At night the temperature lowered to -35˚Celsius (-31˚Fahrenheit) while at daytime it reached 20˚C (-4˚F). The condensed water from the balloon was dropping upon us turning in icicles and we were very cold,” Konyukhov said in an interview with RT.
As the balloon frosted up and became heavier in the severe cold weather, they feared that they would be able to hold on for only 25 hours. “We threw everything we could to lighten it; felt boots, food, thermoses, anything that was there, just to get lighter.” said Konyukhov. “But everything went well, we worked well, thanks to God and Ivan Menyaylo, a good pilot, my partner.”
Konyukhov and Menyaylo were attempting the feat for the second time. “It is nice for us … to bring Russia another victory,” said Konyukhov.