Saturday, February 7, 2015

(#128-1) February 7 2015. Department of crazy things





The great thing about this kind of impractical but inspiring achievement, is that it encourages all of us to step out of our comfort zones and do something (‘Do’ as opposed to ‘Consume’). How many of us actually do is another matter—but at least we are tempted to. Or am I just speaking for myself? I truly hope not.

I love aviation in virtually all its forms—except flying in conventional commercial aircraft. That has been turned into a pretty miserable and expensive business by the airlines—which it needn’t be. In contrast flying with an airline like Ryanair in Europe is downright cheap. True, you don’t get any frills—but at the price you don’t expect any (and you won’t be disappointed).

To cross the Pacific in a balloon strikes me as being a somewhat extraordinary achievement—and courageous. Even in these days of GPS, it’s a very big ocean and if they had gone down in it, would a rescue ship have been near enough to get to them in time?

Nice touch—particularly at this particular time—that an American and a Russian did the deed.

Apart from raising our spirits, do adventures like this serve any useful purpose? Actually they do. They almost always push the envelope technologically—a pattern of progress that tends to feed upon itself.

In this case, let me note in passing the remarkably low weight of the balloon itself. I don’t know the dimensions but it must have been both large and robust to lift itself, the two crew, the capsule and all the associated equipment.

It weighed only 220lbs (c.100 kg). We’re getting better and better at producing light but robust materials. That has all kinds of implications for everything from construction to airframe design.

In passing, let me confess that one of my areas of interest concerns the development and use of light but strong materials. This was inspired by reading Buckminster Fuller many years ago.

He asked a group of architects to guess the weight of a well known ship. All returned reasonably accurate answers. He then asked them the weight of the Empire State Building. None had any idea—yet these were all professional people involved in building design.

His point is that, in all too many cases, we use our finite supply of raw materials recklessly and without adequate thought—and we need to change that approach.

Map of the balloonists' route

Two Eagles gas balloon completes record Pacific crossing

Two pilots in a helium balloon have completed their crossing of the Pacific with a sea-landing off Mexico, setting new milestones on a six-day trip.

American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev landed safely, their Two Eagles Balloon team said.

They claim to have beaten the world distance and duration records by flying for more than 137 hours and travelling more than 5,209 miles (8,383km).

To set the records the team needed to beat the existing records by 1%.

"The Two Eagles balloon team is pleased to report the Two Eagles balloon has landed safely just off the Baja coast near La Poza Grande," their team said in a statement.

"The pilots made a controlled descent to a gentle water landing about four miles off the Baja coast. The balloon is stable and still inflated and the pilots are fine."

The two pilots left Japan on Sunday and had aimed to land in Canada or the US. However, weather forced them to change course towards Mexico.

They were met in the sea by a Mexican fishing boat.

The statement stressed that the sea landing was acceptable "under the international rules governing the establishment of world records".

"Two around-the-world attempts using a different type of balloon landed in the water and were approved as records."

Closet-like space

The two pilots needed to beat the existing records - both set in 1981 - by 1%.

For duration that meant staying aloft for about 138 hours and 45 minutes, and for distance they needed to travel about 5,260 miles.

The Two Eagles Balloon team said the landing "occurred at six days, 16 hours and 37 minutes", with the pilots covering the distance of 6,646 miles.

Gas-air balloons are difficult to steer, relying on the differing wind speed and direction at different altitudes.

In order to change height the pilots have only a helium release valve to go down and sandbags to jettison to go up.

The hi-tech "Two Eagles" balloon is made of a strong Kevlar and carbon-fibre composite, but weighs only 220 pounds (100kg).

It is fitted with monitors and other instruments that track their course and compile data to be submitted to record-keepers.

The specially-designed capsule sits beneath a huge helium-filled envelope and is designed to stay aloft for up to 10 days. The pilots live in a closet-like space with a very low ceiling.

VOR Words 165

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