Final check up before the big jump

Published on 02.04.2010 - Generali Arctic Observer

Jean-Louis Etienne's team is preparing the balloon and all the technicalities that go with it. Soon, the big jump over the Arctic ocean.

Deposited at Svalblad on 26 March, Jean-Louis Etienne's team at once set about their task in Longyearbyen Airport. 28 March was the day for the preparation of the burners' gas. The twelve propane bottles around the gondola had been filled with an especially pure gas in France.

However, as propane solidifies at -44°C, his two Swiss fellow crew members, Roland Wickie and Pierrick Duvoisin (who have had experience of Bertrand Piccard's three Breitling balloons), had preferred to add ethane to the tune of 6%. This very volatile gas solidifies at -88°C, thus lowering the point of liquefaction to -50°C. He can therefore be sure that the propane would function even at the very low temperatures that he could encounter at high altitude.

The following day, the bottles were installed around the gondola, suspended from the stainless steel framework. They were numbered from 1 to 12 in a clockwise direction. This identification allows sure-fire monitoring of the consumption. The bottles were divided into two groups of six, each connected to a manifold from where the burner's feeder pipe starts. There are two burners, therefore two manifolds. This system enables a bottle to be opened or closed simply with a quarter turn of a valve, without having to screw the pipe on to the bottle as is traditionally the case.

On 30 March, the balloon had to be inflated. This operation is the trickiest part of the flight because this is the moment when the canopy is at its most vulnerable. You have to make sure that it doesn't get caught up on anything sharp. Etienne chose a site in the former airport sector, easily accessible by truck and by the crane that brought the 14 containers of Liquid Air. But the operation was interrupted because of a blizzard and will be resumed tomorrow, weather permitting.

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