Le Grand Saut (The Big Jump) /08

May 2008

Le Grand Saut is the largest balloon project most of us could ever hope to be involved with. It will break 4 world records, certainly be entered into history books and, I wouldn't have passed up the once in a lifetime chance to participate for anything when we were asked to help with tracking and recovery operations.

Above: Shortly before launch following filling operations and releasing the two long filling tubes to float freely.

Right: The 600,000 m3, 90 m tall, 1 ton balloon requires a large shipping container, large equipment to move it and a lot of helium (4,000 cubic meters) to carry Michel & his 1 ton capsule to 130,000 ft. where the balloon diameter will become 161 m.
(or 21,188,800 ft3, 295 ft. tall, 141,260 ft3 of helium & 530 ft. in dia.)

Michel will set 4 world records during his jump:

  • Altitude record for freefall
  • Altitude record for human balloon flight
  • Time record for longest freefall
  • Speed record for fastest freefall

From Left to Right: Curtis, Tony, myself, Cindy, Barry B and Garrett with Michel Fournier in the doorway of his capsule just before his May 2008 attempt.

As explained elsewhere on the web, a problem allowed the balloon to unfortunately leave without the capsule. There was no tracking device on the balloon, but after watching it rise for a few minutes and a remote controlled helium release valve was opened as it drifted away we couldn't resist trying to locate where it would land anyway. Friends operating a tracking camera ≈ 20 miles down wind provided a bearing and estimated distance from their location once it landed and we were able to reach the balloon in a farmer's field in little more time then required to drive there. Of course, it didn't hurt to also have a helicopter to help spot the location from the air and to find the obscure dirt road required to reach the location that would have taken hours to find on our own.
Much of the balloons 16 micron thick polyethylene film tore off in small pieces and landed elsewhere during it's plunge back to earth, but what remained still created a pretty good pile of material.

Right: It may appear to only be a few feet deep, but two people standing several feet inside the pile on the far side are barely visible over it. (slightly left of center)

Visit: http://www.legrandsaut.org/ and click on "The Equipment" link for more information about the balloon, capsule, Michel's suit, parachute and other details of this fantastic project.

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