The biggest hot air balloon ever designed and built is set to soar to altitudes of 10,668 meters or more in support of the US veteran charity Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF).
The balloon will carry seven people within its rattan basket. Five of those people are then planning to jump out of it, with parachutes, plunging from an icy altitude where airliners typically fly but balloons rarely travel. Getting to that height with that many people is already unusual for hot air balloons, but jumping out of the aircraft is even more unusual.
“Balloons don’t normally fly above 18,000 feet [~ 5,500 meters],” explained Andrew Baird, the general manager of Cameron Balloons US. He told Popular Science that such a jump would not be easy. “It’s hard on the body,” he says. “You have to approach the mission scientifically and with great caution,” he added.
The balloon will attempt this potential world record-breaking event over New Mexico this month to raise funds for SOWF, which supports wounded veterans and, in the case of being killed in action, their families for healthcare and education of children.
The main balloon structure is crafted from something called Hyperlast, a type of nylon coated with silicone on both sides. This coating prevents the material from being porous, explained Baird. “The purpose of a balloon fabric is to trap air — we want to trap all that hot air because that’s what generates the lift,” he says.
We want it to be lightweight and flexible, but we also need it to be rugged and slightly elastic.Andrew Baird, General Manager of Cameron Balloons US
Cameron Balloons US has created its largest balloon, measuring approximately 34 meters when fully inflated. The fabric and associated equipment used in a hot air balloon can weigh over 454 kg, not including the basket and burners.
The upcoming flight, named “Alpha 5 Project,” is currently penciled in within a window between September 15 and October 15, weather permitting.