The Russian Rozière hot-air balloon Morton completed a successful takeoff from Northam airport in Western Australia on 12 July, the point of liftoff being recorded as 7:30 am local time.
This event is the culmination of two years of design and preparation, as well as shipping and assembling Morton.
The balloon’s take-off was preceded by twenty-four hours of tense work, from the assembly of the envelope to setting up all of the equipment at the airport. The team began extracting the envelope (what we’d call the “balloon” part of the aircraft) from its container at 8:00 am on 11 July, and Morton was ready to go exactly one day later.
U.K.-based Balloonist Don Cameron, the balloon’s designer and manufacturer, and the man in charge of take-off, said everything proceeded perfectly. Overnight, the balloon’s envelope was pumped with approximately ten thousand cubic metres of helium.
Photo: SkyWorks WA
Just before take-off, Pilot Fedor Konyukhov slightly heated the air in the envelope, and the balloon began to rise steadily at a speed of two metres per second. Fedor Konyukhov took-off with the maximum possible fuel reserve (propane) on board. All thirty-five gas cylinders were fitted around the gondola.
“The significance of this event cannot be overstated,” says Oleg Kolchenko, Vice-President of GK “Morton”, and company organiser and project investor. “An international team of more than one hundred unique specialisations, from Russia, Australia, England, and Belgium, have worked tirelessly for the flight to take place. We have come up against a vast amount of new information, but we worked together and made it happen.”
Escorting the balloon, the team and journalists from every major television channel ran to their respective helicopters and managed to chase down the rising aircraft.
The first, Australian, stage of the project has come to an end. Morton is in the sky. The team of technical specialists responsible for filling the envelope can return to the U.K. with a sense of fulfilment. The baton has now been taken up by the specialists at the Northam Flight Control Centre
From this moment a ground team will begin following Morton’s flight path, with the help of several satellites. We will know the coordinates of the balloon at any moment, as well as the balloon’s altitude, course, speed, and even the temperature on board the gondola. The gondola’s interior temperature will be relayed by the pilot.
From the moment of takeoff, Fedor Konyukhov made three phone calls to the Northam Flight Control Centre, using the Iridium satellite service to make a report on his wellbeing. He said that he will be using an oxygen mask past 3,000 metres altitude (10,000 feet). It is cold in the gondola – seven degrees Celsius. He hasn’t been using his heater during the day in an attempt to save fuel for heating at night, when the temperature on board will plummet to minus thirty degrees Celsius
After the balloon reached its maximum altitude for the first day – 22,000 feet, Fedor ran a check on the envelope’s control system. It is currently 3:00pm in Australia, and in two hours the sun will set. Fedor Konyukhov is set to experience his first night as the sole pilot at an altitude of 6,500-7,000 metres. The ground team is doing its best to help the Pilot, but in the end every important action has to be performed by him, all we can do is observe.
See an interactive map of Fedor Konyukhov’s route at konyukhov.ru/map
You can also view the route map at www.iridium360.ru
The official website for the project “Around the world in a Roziere balloon “Morton” can be found at a flyfedor.ru