19 years ago on this day in aviation history, the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom lifted off from Northam, Western Australia for what would be a 20.627 mile (33.195 km) flight.
The Bud Light Spirit of Freedom
It was the start of the first successful solo circumnavigation of the world in a balloon, piloted by the 52 year old American adventurer Steve Fossett. Who had made 5 previous attempts for a solo circumnavigation of the world in a balloon, Previous attempts failed or had to be aborted for different reasons, like lacking overflight permissions and other dangers. Fosset recorded numerous records and firsts in the record books during his life, from fixed-wing aircraft to balloons, airships and sailing ships.
The Spirit of Freedom was a balloon that used both Helium and hot air to stay airborne, a Roziere balloon.
The 140 ft tall balloon (designed by Donald Camaron) carried the capsule with had 38 tanks supported on the sides of it. The tanks were filled with a 69% propane and 31% ethane mixture and they supplied the burners. A specially designed autopilot (Comstock Autopilot) was installed to keep the balloon at a constant altitude by controlling the burners. It was this automatic control of the burners that allowed Steve Fossett to sleep. The capsule and balloon together were 180 ft (55 m) tall and had a maximum diameter of 108 ft (33 m).
The capsule was built by Tim Cole (Greeley, Co, USA) and was constructed of carbon and kevlar. Luxury was not available, and the only comforts were a bench and a sleeping bag. Meals consisted of military rations (MRE's) which he heated on chemical heat packs. Per 24 hours he slept less than 5 hours in short naps of around 45 minutes. At regular intervals, he had to climb (partly) out of the capsule to change fuel tanks. Besides the autopilot and VHF radio's for contact with air traffic, only a GPS system and a satellite telephone were on board. An Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacon (EPIRB) was also installed as was a bucket as a toilet...
The route flown by Fossett
The flight would last more than 13 days, landing on the 2nd of July at Eromanga, Queensland Australia. During the flight, other ballooning records would be set;
Fasted speed by a manned balloon, 174 knots or 200.24 mph (322.25 kph)
Distance covered in a balloon in 24 hours, 2769.25 nm (5.128,65 km)
Steve Fossett went missing in a light aircraft on the 3rd of September 2007 between Nevada and California, it would not be until September 2008 before the wreckage was found. Only two bones of his body were found, half a mile (800 m) from the crash site.
Probably scattered by wild animals.