A first invitation for a flight had already led to a pleasant meeting with the small record gas balloon. Another time I was able to fly parallel with the balloon for 4 hours, so I could see how 2 grown-up, normal weight balloonists operated this 360m3 aerostat. That's the moment I decided to make an attempt to break the record myself. According to my calculations this would certainly be possible.
Rosenmontag... finally the big moment has arrived. The organisation runs smooth as a train, the only thing we still have to do is to find an observer, someone who has to follow the attempt and who has to register everything meticulously. A new record also has to be announced beforehand to be valid.
To avoid thermals the take-off is set to 23:00h. NOAA, the American weather computer, tells us we will be flying south-east at a speed of 20 km/hr. The night binoculars, the search-light, the big battery - all standard equipment for night flights - will have to stay at home this time.
The maps, 2 GPS, night-light, Becker radio, Becker transponder, 2 6Ah batteries, some food and drink, a woollen blanket, 2 tiny folding-seats and the winter barograph have to accompany us on our trip. We can start with 7,5 sand bags of 11 kg each. This should be enough to take us through the night. But we will have to wait and see if it is also enough to help us break the record. First we have to fly 7 hours through the night and then to plan the further flight taking into account the remaining ballast.
Benjamin (64 kg) and I (74 kg) take off at 23:23hr and are very surprised to find 5° warmer air at an altitude of 250m. This warmer air causes the balloon to descend all the time, and after an hour of flight we have used a complete bag of sand. That's an awful amount of ballast for such a small balloon. We are also astonished about the weak wind speed; at 8 - 12 km/hr, direction 120° to 160°, we fly towards Dortmund.
We enjoy the beautiful trip over the eastern Ruhr area.
Dortmund CTR isn't active tonight and with a wind direction of 90° we fly straight to Sauerland.
We are a bit reluctant to go that way because the mountains can be 1000m high. Above Menden the wind turns more to the northeast in the lower wind layers. With this wind we can fly into the valley. But this isn't without danger either. The valley is covered with windmills, they seem to be everywhere. To avoid collisions we have to keep distance, even though the highest mills are illuminated. Because, who can promise us that the illumination is working tonight? Fortunately the faint moonlight on the snow is helping us a bit. Nevertheless it is tough and we constantly need 4 eyes to see the danger and to keep away from it.
With 4,5 bags of sand we manage to pass the night. At 6:00hr we fly straight to the Paderborn airport. The planes with destination Berlin are ready to take off, but thanks to the Paderborn air traffic control our little balloon can continue without having to spend more ballast. Therefore the airplane pilots have to wait 5 minutes. We are very grateful to the traffic controllers for the priority they granted us; thanks to them we don't have to break off our attempt.
We continue our flight at a speed of 20 - 25 km/hr. It's a good speed and it gives us the possibility to break the distance record too. A gorgeous sunrise with super visibility announces a grand flight over het Weser mountains. Over the satellite radio we inform our crew, and by 8:30hr they leave too. The observer is determined to witness the landing and to take notes.
Between 5:00hr and 10:30hr we have used no sand at all, and with 4,5 bags left we are in a comfortable situation for such a small balloon. Close to Göttingen we cross the A7 and continue east. The sun warms the balloon and we climb to 1000m. This way the end of the flight still becomes exciting. We intended to land by 11:00hr but because our crew isn't there yet, we postpone the landing a little bit. Yet a quick decision needs to be taken. Ahead of us lies an area of pine woods. Upcoming cumuli will cool off the gas in our balloon, and trying to cross these woods will certainly cost a tremendous amount of sand. We take the safe side and choose for a safe but sportive landing.
With a firm pull at the valve line we start the landing at 11:10hr. Descending at 3 m/sec I want to avoid our having to fly over the woods anyway, or even having to land in the middle of them. I still have to pull 3 times, but the balloon doesn't want to gain speed over 3,5 m/sec. At 300m above the ground the wind slows down from 30 km/hr to 8 km/hr and now I'm certain we're going to make it. At 100m the GPS shows 25km/hr again, so we go through some tense moments. The trail rope and the xtra ballast have to wait a bit longer, otherwise we simply fly over the landing spot and after that: 20 km of woods.
At 50 m we throw everything out, a tree top at 25 m nicely slows the balloon down, and at the moment it wants to go up again I open the valve entirely. It works! The balloon softly settles on the landing field.
30 minutes later the crew is with us and the balloon can be packed. The small landing party is combined with a visit to Nordhausen. Food and drink are good, the prices are those of 15 years ago: 29 Euro for 5 persons.
With a flight of 11:54 hr and a distance of 240 km straight, we really have broken the old records of 10:30 hr and 155 km. Yet we will have to wait to party until the homologation.
We can hardly believe that the existing world record of 46:10hr - 1941 in Russia - can be broken.
We wish to thank all our helpers, without them this flight wouldn't have been possible!!!