tance ballooning is to keep from runnin g
tending the rangeof lighter-than-air flight.
Last year the Breitling Orbiter 3made it
aroun d the globe and then some.
mission accomplished, landed with three
gallons of propane left. While they could
have flo wn through th e day, it is doubtful
theballoonwould h ave made it throug h
sup erp ress ureball oon ,in steadofa
Roziere style, how longcouldthey h ave
stayed aloft? How many times might they
havefl ownaro un dthewo rldina
Never heardof a superpressure bal-
loon? Also known as constant pressure or
positivepressure,there h avebeenvery
few manned superpressure balloons, built
pilotedon e.Thesuperpressureballoo n
constant volume within its gas cell it will
ballast to “trim” the desired b uoyancy the
balloonwillcontin ue toflyatthatalti-
face finishhas tomaintain thetempera-
ture of thehelium gassothatitwillnot
cool down at nig ht. Withou t such features
balloon would shrivel upatnight.
Haveyouever seen acartoonchar-
acter holding ontoa balloonastheyrise
balloon finally pops? Then yo u have seen
Gasballo onsusedtoday, includin g
Rozieres, hav ean opening that allows the
gas within the envelope to escape. Rising
intoth e atmosphere, the gas, usuallyhe-
lium, expands. The fabric of the envelope
changesshape andexpands as the exter-
balloon rises beyond a point th at the fab-
riccan expand and gas is expelled through
the gas cell tears. Thisis what happened
toJ. ReneéandGlobal Hiltonin1998.
andcouldnotexpel the gasandthe bal-
balloons have been knownto bu rst when
tached at the equator sothat the deflated
envelop e actsasa parachute.
researchp rojects. The Frenchhavehad
and makemultipletrips arou nd theworld.
manned flight was Thomas Gatch’s failed
balloonLight Heartdisappeared without
trace. His attempt was also the first to use
th e“jetst ream.”Th eclu st erof
superpressureballoonswasmad eb y
The nextyear Malcolm Forbesan d
Tom Heinsheimeralso attempted to make
altitude for a very long time.
was to start on the west coast “testing” the
system as they crossed the North Ameri-
can continent inWindborne. Strong winds
along the groundbefore th ey were read y
tofly. A quickactin gcrew member cut
away the helium balloons, sav ing Forbes’
“Forbes andI foolishly trieda simi-
lar kind of folly, cluster o f superpressure
balloons,”relates Tom Heinsheimer.“We
Since these can only take a certain amount
of stress, we needed a cluster of ballo ons
to carry a reasonab le payload to fly across
Heinsheimer stilledb elievedinthe
superpressure theory, but lost any faith in
acluster balloon system. He immediately
began work on asingle cell superpressure
envelope.With Forbes no longer involved
in Heinsheimer’s idea, he needed a fund-
“I worked for the Aerospace Corpo-
Coast Air QualityManag ementDistrict.
It was sort of a natural connection . Aero-
ATMOSAT(Atmo sph eri cSatellite)
America. WorkingwiththeAir Quality
DistrictandEPA itwasa natural touse
the superpressure balloon for smog test-
ing. The superpressure was the only real
sphere. You couldn’t use a hot air balloo n
follow the air.
“The whole idea with superpressure is
that once you set it,forget it, it really moves
like the atmosphere. We were able to carry
instruments, dograbtests, do science and
had positive PR. We hada lot of visibility
and people liked it.It heightened the aware-
nessof the air quality. At the same time it
got us some interesting data.
“The problem is that you have got to
ATMOSAT programwas abouta half a
Forbesanymore.SoI hadtofinda way
Heinsheimer’s balloon made about a
dozen scientific flights, most in Southern
California. One of the lo nger flights was
nightwhentheyranout of altitudewith
attempt, a p rototype,” says Heinsheimer.
“Itwasbuilt fromwovenKev lar witha
mylar film over it. The ten meter balloo n
flew it at 35 millibars. It was not capable
ofdoing a day/night cycle without throw-
Ac cord in gt oRo gerBark er,
Schjeldahl b uilt the balloon, on the agree-
ment that noonewouldever know that.
Heinsheimer including a memorable plea-
sure flight along the southernCalifornia
“We took off at the o ldNike b ase in
peninsula, up the coast to the n orth, flew
directlyo verLAX at2,000feet, swung
landedindowntownLos Angelesat the
Coliseuminthegrassyarea bythe Na-
tional History Museum. Wethrew out the
players to tie it around a tree. The balloo n
came in May 1984. The Fédération Aéro-
nautique Intern ationale had recently cre-
for ballo ons. Withfree heliumleftover
race in Palm Springs, Barker made a solo
flight andestablished distance and dura-
tion records for AS-4 size and up of 22.9
milesan d sevenhours49 minutesaloft.
As one of the quirks of aeron autical
recordsetting, the ATMOSAT was now
in the reco rd books un der two categories.
egorybeingestablished, flew 571miles
on one flight andhad ano ther flight of 32
stoodas national records until surpassed
come to the conclusion that superpressure
was the way to circumnavigate the world
by balloon. “The balloon was made out of
a rather conventional woven nylon with a
ing.The strengthmemberswere Kevlar
[load] tapes,” Nott says.
Nott made twoflightsoftheproto-
typ ein Australia. Atwo hourtest flight and
aflightacross Australiathat setthreerecords
duration 33 hours, 8minutes, 42 seconds.
good track,” says Nott tod ay, referring to
thetesting. “Whatwe learnedfromthat
prototype was how to make a very effec-
tivesuperpressureballoon .I feltthatit
days it was an impossible amount to raise
for aflightaroundthe world. Theother
superpressureballoon is wonderful ifyo u
want to fly at a constant level. But on an y
practical fligh t withacrew yo uhaveto
change altitu de.”
Th el as tat tem ptt ou s ea
superpressure balloon was January 1991.
40-year old Fumio Niwa, a technical en-
gineer for a Japanese co mputer firm, died
hearing a loud “p ow!” The balloon began
to descend and Niwa was forced to ditch.
Pacific. The first, in mid-February 1989,
ended with an ocean ditching some 1,50 0
milessoutheast of Japan.
While hot air, gas, andRoziere bal-
loons trace their lineage back to the eigh-
teenthcentury,man nedsup erpressure
ment. Coy Foster’s upcoming flights will
extend the bo dy of knowledge. How suc-
cessful willhe be?
signedto fly at onealtitu de.” saysNott.
“If Coy does it right he should be able to
fly to the east coast [from Plano, Texas].
If he really does it right, he should be able