The B&N Bank hot air balloon record flying

16 March 2015

After almost 20 hours of standing in the gondola of the B&N Bank hot air balloon, Fedor Konyukhov and Ivan Menyalo managed to set a new Russian record for flying an AX-9 balloon.

After a day of rest, Fedor Konyukhov was back in the office sharing his experience of flying the B&N Bank hot air balloon with his copilot Ivan Menyalo:  

“The hot air balloon was built by a Russian company Rusbal.   We were very pleased with the quality of the air craft.  Despite the fact that we did not make a training flight prior to the start, the balloon did an excellent job of carrying us through the day and into the night. The vessel was completed on March 3rd, and on March 14th it was already in the air with the two of us.

It was tested by the fire so to speak, and in the end, it did not disappoint us.  On the day of the start we were faced with much warmer weather than anticipated. The weather forecast stated that the air temperature would reach -10 °C, but on Saturday morning it was only -5 °C.  During the day the air temperature went up to +6 °C.  Considering how much work and preparation went into this project we decided against canceling the flight.  We knew that flying the hot air balloon in such warm weather would make it difficult to beat the world record of 29 plus hours.  We decided to focus on setting a new Russian record of being in the air for more than 17 hours. (Previous Russian record for AX-9 type balloon was 17 hours 49 minutes set by Vladimir Gladkov in February 2013).  We spent the entire day hanging low over Kostroma City.

After we dropped the 20th fuel canister our hopes of beating the 18 hour mark started to dwindle.  In our last attempt to outlast the standing record, we decided to continue into the night.  With the dark setting down upon us the temperature did drop down to -3 °C, but we never saw the promised -10 °C.   Soon after sunset, the wind picked up significantly and the speed of our flying vessel reached 30-35 km/hr.  Flying through the dark night passing woods, fields and marsh plains down below with an old moon above was both a strange and exhilarating experience for myself and my copilot Ivan Menyalo.  A light from the fuel burner made it barely possible to see each other’s faces in the dark.  Without flashlights, the visibility outside of the air balloon was minimal.  The adrenaline ran high.

We were approaching the airport of Nizhny Novgorod.  As the wind did not let down, we realized that it would be impossible to maneuver away from the airport flying zone while maintaining a low altitude with the balloon.  If the wind did not push us towards the airport’s no fly zone we would try our best to stay afloat until morning.  With four fuel canisters left, we decided not to press our luck and started to look for a safe landing spot.  Once we learned that we have achieved a new Russian record were happy to call it a night and contacted our support team to inform them of our decision to land.  We spotted a large open field in the distance and went for the landing. Our support team that was following us since the takeoff arrived to the field just in time to help with the touch down.  We were all very pleased with the experience and the final results.  Currently we are awaiting the official confirmation from the Federation of Aeronautical Sports of Russia that our time of 19 hours and 10 minute in the air is a new Russian record for a hot air balloon type AX-9.

I am thankful to my copilot and friend Ivan Menyalo for his knowledge and expertise.  He has more than 1,000 hours of flying hot air balloons, but flying in the dark was a first for him.  We now know a lot about flying this type of hot air balloon.  This experience will help us a lot in our preparations for setting a new world record, which stands at 29 hours, 14 minutes and 35 seconds. In addition, we would like to improve the Russian record for flying a hot air balloon over a long distance.  As of right now, the record belongs to Leonid Tiukhtyaev and Sergey Grishin, who in April 2008 covered a distance of 540 km in their hot air balloon type AX-10. 

Both Ivan Menyalo and myself would like to thank our support team who was instrumental in our success.  There were two of us in the gondola, but we knew that we were successful only because of the tireless work of our team. A special thanks goes to Leonid Tiukhtyaev, the president of the Balloon Federation of Russia, who provided professional and emotional support throughout the project and during the flight.  There were a few times when we were flying really low to the ground, especially when we needed to drop down empty fuel canisters.  Each time it was so great to see the faces of our teammates riding the cars along the flight route.

We are very thankful to our primary sponsor B&N Bank for believing in us and being actively involved in seeing the project through.

Translated by Tatiana Koreski 

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