Sunday, May 25

Some information details about the balloon used in 2002 and 2003 for Michel Fournier's Super Jump attempts

The balloon used for Michel's 2002 and 2003 attempts was actually a prototype built by Cameron Balloons in Bristol, UK.

Cameron hadn't built helium balloons until then. Michel's launch team have commented that it was built more like a hot air balloon than a helium balloon and that it had an open bottom.

A remote controlled valve was installed at the top of the balloon. This was so that once Michel had reached the desired altitude and jumped -- and once the capsuled had been detached from the gondola set off by a timed explosive device triggered by Michel before he jumps -- the valve would open, releasing all the helium and allowing the balloon to gently fall down to the ground.

Inflating the balloon proved tricky in 2002. The sleeve that you see extending left from the balloon was poorly attached to the balloon. The compressed helium contained in the truck to the right is propelled into the balloon by means of high pressure hoses which are connected to the fragile sleeves.

In 2002 the pressure proved too much for the sleeve which detached from the balloon early during the inflation process. Fortunately the quantity of helium lost was minimal. The sleeve was reattached by the launch team in a more solid manner. But the unforeseen delay eventually forced the cancellation of the attempt because of subsequent inappropriate weather conditions.

As you see the sleeve is actually held tightly around the business end the hose.

You can in the picture above that the two sleeves are fully extended away from the balloon as a result of the helium having been injected. Inflation is almost complete at this stage. Look at the spool which prevents the balloon from being released. You will notice that only the top portion of the balloon is inflated. Most of the length of the balloon lies safely on tarps on the North Battleford Airport tarmac. You can see a portion of it extending to the right of the spool above.

The 2003 attempts proved the right one in terms of weather conditions, but it also proved the inappropriateness of the balloon. In this picture, the sleeves are hanging loosely after the inflation is completed.

Launch conditions are optimal. The spool flips open and the balloon starts rising...

As the balloon starts ascending, the helium rises inside the balloon and starts pushing through the top as the sutures rip open. It is a devastating blow.

The balloon falls softly back to the ground. Michel is in tears in his capsule as he realizes that his balloon has now been rendered useless. It will later go to the dump.

Launch director Ricardo Valera comes to take a closer look at this mess.

It becomes obvious to him that the balloon sutures were a weak point.

We all count our blessings that Michel is safe and sound. If the balloon had ripped open after the gondola had started to rise in the sky, things could have gone dreadfully wrong for Michel Fournier.