Three men in a Balloon

 THREE MEN IN A BALLOON are airborne and starting a most magnificent adventure – to drift silently across the Atlantic Ocean in an open wicker basket suspended by an enormous balloon full of hydrogen gas, destination – somewhere in Europe.
They are at 8000 feet where it is 6°C. Their speed is15knots and direction 083°
Bert Padelt built the balloon to fulfill a long-held dream and second pilot is Sir David Hempleman Adams who has twice flown a balloon across the Atlantic solo. Third is Dr. Frederik Paulsen – explorer, scientist and entrepreneur.
Bon voyage !
Track their progress here ……
STOP PRESS…. scroll down to read why they were forced to land early.
 Photograph: Johnny Green
Sir David Hempleman-Adams ( Hempie) explains the process of events on his short-lived gas balloon flight planned to cross the Atlantic.
“As you will know, we had one delayed trip a couple of weeks ago. We wondered if we would have to wait a long time again. Wim gave us all a heads up that something good was happening this week. But not all the models agreed. He slowly got more confident and that checked out with other weather men who were seeing the same pattern.
Another early start from Wiltshire to Heathrow, and we were in Presque Isle that afternoon. Another weather brief. The GFS and ECMWF (European and American) models were unusually lining up. Frederik was on the next flight out. Luckily, we had all the systems checked on our previous trip. Bert had brought together an extraordinary group of gas and hot air balloon pilots to help get the balloon ready for launch. Paul Cyr had organised a great team of locals to help with parking, and inflation.
Thursday evening we had another briefing. Looking good for a Friday evening launch. 6 to 8,000ft to climb out and maintain that altitude for the first day. After that go up 2,000ft per day to Europe. Either France or northern Spain in 4 days. No thunderstorms. A perfect forecast, confirmed by two other weather men.
Wim was working so hard to show us the latest tracks. All good, every track getting us to Europe. Wim’s next weather report came in early Friday morning. A launch and inflation team meeting. All good to go. Take off approx 10pm. I went back to bed to try and get some extra sleep. I was excited and anxious so it didn’t work. We must have had 50 people in the team working with us. Very humbling. All the boys in the control room ready for the off and trying not to drink! Bert did so well. Everyone wanted to talk to him. In the end I took him back to the apartment so he could try and sleep before the launch. It would be a long night flying.
We looked out of the door, the winds had subsided for the inflation and the balloon looked magnificent with the flood lights on it. A beautiful envelope, lovingly hand crafted by Bertie and Joannie. Wim gave us the latest weather. Instead of a climb out to 6 to 8,000 feet he now wanted 8,000 to 10,000ft, meaning we would have to lose more ballast before launch. Before launch a gas balloon is weighed off so that on launch it rises to a specific height, reaching equilibrium between the weight of the balloon, the volume of the gas giving the lift, and the air pressure at a specific altitude.
The launch site was a mix of emotions. Lots of friends there. The ballooning community is so special. John said the balloonist’s prayer and we were away. Bert flew the balloon. I was on the radio to Presque Isle, then Boston ATC. Sam Canders, a professional captain on jets, had cleared the way. I called up Boston Centre. Gas balloon N56US. They said, “Hello we have been expecting you”, gave us a squawk number and wished us good luck!
As we climbed it got colder. Then new weather news from Clive in our control room. We needed to keep south of Gander or we would get into a new weather system. We would find the right speed and bearing to achieve this at an altitude of between 10,000 and 12,000ft. This meant ditching more of our ballast before launch. Bert was not a happy bunny, burning through our ballast. The duration of a flight depends on the amount of ballast you have remaining, and it is important to conserve ballast as much as possible, but particularly early in a flight.
Then we hit an inversion, where there is a layer of air that is at a higher temperature than the air below it, meaning that the lift of the balloon decreases once you hit the inversion layer because the air is less dense. The balloon was flying beautifully but we couldn’t get through this layer. We were jettisoning ballast to give us more lift, but we kept bouncing back down.
Lots of discussion. Could we wait until first light, which would about 4.30 am. That would give a bit of solar heating to the gas, increasing the volume and lift and helping us to punch through the inversion layer. Wim said the expected clear skies has disappeared. We would have solid cloud giving little chance of solar heating. In addition, the latest run of the weather models now showed that we needed to get up to 13,000 to 14,000 ft that morning to catch air flows that would take us to southern Europe. If we couldn’t hit that altitude we would land much further north, in some terrible weather disturbances.
When we took off, Bert was so excited. Frederik was busy doing his data collection. I have often said flying solo is so much easier, you only need to look after yourself. I had a quick 2 hours’ sleep. Freezing. I woke and asked Bert how it was going. Not good. We are burning through ballast and kept bouncing off the inversion layer. To get to the required heights, we would not have enough ballast to get to Europe. We talked to Clive and Wim again. We were close to the ocean. We needed to make quick decisions as there was land below but not for long. Wim said if we didn’t find the right track, there was no solution now. With cloud predicted for 12 to 18 hours instead of the expected 6, things were changing fast.
Poor Bert, I nearly started to cry, his boyhood dream was disappearing. I have been involved with several Atlantic flights, none have been so well organised. None, on take off, had such a good forecast on take-off, and on not one did the forecast become so unstable and change so quickly. The weather has been so cruel. We had limited time. Bert said he felt with this new weather profile, we wouldn’t get to Europe. Especially with the new update to find the right bearing and speed or end up on Iceland or in very cold water.
So a masterclass in getting a balloon into a tight space. Bert coaxed us down. And we landed on dry land in New Brunswick, Canada. We thought civilisation, but whilst we saw a lot of logging roads and a couple of moose, nothing. In all the contingency planning I had never expected to land and be eaten alive by mosquitoes!
There are so many people I would like to thank. Of course my fellow travellers Bert and Frederik. So many more, I will not mention anyone else, because I will forget someone which would be appalling.
A huge Thank You to you all, Hempie X
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