You’ve scheduled a hot air balloon ride with your family and you couldn’t be more excited. You decided to go for a two-hour ride because you want to drink in every part of this experience as best you can. Two hours in the skies can be a pretty long time, but what is the longest hot air balloon flight in history?
The longest hot air balloon flight was the one orchestrated by Bertrand Piccard in 1999, who traveled about 25,000 miles from Switzerland to Egypt on a nonstop worldwide flight. In 2002, Steve Fossett flew throughout Australia for 20,482.26 statute miles. The third-longest hot air balloon flight on record is by Per Lindstrand, who traveled 6,761 miles from Japan to Canada in 1991.
In this article, we’ll talk more about these incredible hot air balloon record-holders, as these are some of the most passionate ballooners around. If you care about the history of hot air ballooning, then trust us, this is one article you won’t want to miss.
The Longest Hot Air Balloon Flights in History
Bertrand Piccard – 25,000 Miles
An environmentalist, psychiatrist, and explorer from Switzerland, Bertrand Piccard has quite an impressive resume. On March 1st, 19991, he set off on the adventure of a lifetime with his flight partner, balloonist Brian Jones. They flew in the Breitling Orbiter 3, a specialized hot air balloon known as a Roziere balloon.
A Roziere balloon has chambers for keeping heated gas and non-heated gas alike, including helium and hydrogen. Both types of gasses can provide lift. The balloon is named after Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, who invented the Roziere balloon around 1785.
Cameron Balloons constructed Piccard’s Breitling Orbiter 3 (yes, its name refers to the watch brand). The company has built balloons for long-term trips around the world for years, more of which you’ll see in this article. The Breitling Orbiter 3 is a massive 180 feet tall upon inflation. It features six burners with gas stored in nearly 30 cylinders, each made of burly titanium.
Its gondola is a combination of carbon fiber and Kevlar, so it’s surely a tough enough basket to fly for long periods. To maintain a comfortable cabin atmosphere, Piccard and company added oxygen and nitrogen. They also had lithium hydroxide filters for lessening the levels of carbon dioxide. Under the gondola are solar panels that could keep the lead-acid batteries charged so the balloon could get electricity and communicate via GPS.
When Piccard and Jones launched their flight in the Breitling Orbiter 3, they didn’t stop once since they didn’t need fuel to achieve forward movement (the first balloon flight of its kind to do this). The flight started in Switzerland’s Chateau d’Oex, heading southwest over the Mediterranean. The next day, the twosome flew across Mauritania in Northwest Africa before eventually reaching the Egyptian desert.
They didn’t do it alone, as Piccard and Jones had the assistance of ground meteorologists who filled them in on weather conditions such as changing jet streams. When the team finally made it to Egypt, the flight had taken them 19 days, 21 hours, and approximately 47 minutes.
Piccard won lots of acclaim for this momentous achievement. The gondola of the Breitling Orbiter 3 is featured in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum in the Dulles Airport. Piccard was rewarded the Charles Green Salver, FAI Gold Air Medal, and the Harmon Trophy for his accomplishments.
It’s no wonder that Piccard eventually created the Solar Impulse, an aircraft intended for long-range flights that relies on solar power. Although it’s a plane and not a hot air balloon, it just goes to show that Piccard has not lost his interest in doing the extraordinary!
Steve Fossett – 20,482.26 Miles
The man with the second-best hot air balloon flight record is Steve Fossett, who died in 2007. He was an adventurer, sailor, aviator, and businessman from Jackson, Tennessee, so he too wore many hats. He also has set huge records for flying both fixed-wing aircraft and balloons very long distances during nonstop flights. It’s believed that Fossett established as many as 100 records in a variety of sports during his lifetime.
Unlike Piccard, who flew with another person, Fossett’s hot air balloon flight of record was a solo trip. Fossett had flown hot air balloons many times, journeying from South Korea to Leader, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1995 and establishing a record as being the first solo balloon flier in this part of the Pacific Ocean.
Then, on July 1st, 2002, Fossett broke another record, being the first to make a solo flight around the world without stopping. He flew for 14 days, 19 hours, and approximately 50 minutes for over 20,000 miles for a total that’s believed to be 20,482.26 statute miles. A statute mile is one that’s equivalent to 1,760 yards per mile. His flight began in Northam, West Australia and ended in Queensland, Australia.
Fossett’s hot air balloon is known as the Spirit of Freedom. Like Bertrand Piccard’s balloon, Fossett’s too is a Roziere balloon. His was made by Tim Cole and Donald Cameron. Cole is a balloonist himself and Cameron–also a balloonist–is the man behind Cameron Balloons. You know, the same company that constructed the Breitling Orbiter 3.
The Spirit of Freedom is 10 stories or 140 feet tall and has elements of a gas balloon and a traditional hot air balloon. It boasts 38 hanging tanks with ethane and propane for keeping the burners ignited.
The capsule or basket is carbon and Kevlar and features a translucent bubble hatch. The gondola is the equivalent of a household closet with space for a sleeping bag and a bench for sitting and relaxing. You can see the capsule today in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institute.
The Spirit of Freedom’s envelope–which is the balloon itself–didn’t survive the landing. However, over in New Mexico’s Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, there’s a miniature display of the Spirit of Freedom.
Fossett went flying on September 3rd, 2007 in a plane somewhere in Nevada and never came back. He was only supposed to have had five hours of fuel for the plane. Although his body was not found (despite intensive search and rescue efforts), he’s believed to have died in a crash.
Per Lindstrand – 6,761 Miles
The third record-setting hot air ballooner we have to discuss is Per Lindstrand of Sweden, an entrepreneur, adventurer, pilot, and aeronautical engineer. In 1991, long before Steve Fossett’s and Bertrand Piccard’s awesome flights, Lindstrand made some of his own records in a hot air balloon.
In a noteworthy 1988 flight that started in Plano, Texas, Lindstrand achieved a then-record-setting altitude of 64,997 feet. No one touched that record until 2005, nearly two decades after the record was set!
On January 15th, 1991, he flew from Japan and landed in Northern Canada, a flight that’s 6,761 miles. He accomplished this goal in his hot air balloon the Virgin Pacific Flyer, which was constructed by a company called Thunder & Colt. Lindstrand flew with Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. At the time, theirs were the top records for hot air balloon flight duration and distance. They also achieved awesome ground speeds of 245 miles per hour, surpassing their previous speed.
Oh, and on top of all that, the Virgin Pacific Flyer is known as the biggest hot air balloon in history.
After the 1991 flight, Lindstrand flew with Branson again as well as Steve Fossett in December 1998 in a Roziere balloon that started in Morocco and landed near Hawaii. The flight lasted a week with the intention of being the first ballooners to travel the world.
Lindstrand–for his hot air ballooning accomplishments in 1988 and 1991–received the Royal Aero Club Gold Medal as issued by Prince Andrew. He also earned the Britannia Trophy from the Royal Aero Club as well as the Harmon Trophy and the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Honorary Fellowship in 2006.
The longest hot air balloon flight is still Bertrand Piccard’s 1999 flight to Egypt from Switzerland, in which he covered roughly 25,000 miles of worldwide ground in about three weeks. Steve Fossett flew a remarkable distance in a balloon as well, more than 20,000 miles, and impressively, he did it on his own too.
Per Lindstrand has tried to break records in flight for decades, and his 1991 trip to Canada from Japan at 6,761 miles is still considered a record to this day. We hope you enjoyed learning these interesting facts about hot air ballooners!
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