News of the Other Teams

Published on 02.04.2010 - Generali Arctic Observer

While Jean-Louis Etienne's team is preparing his balloon and all the technicalities that go with it, the two Canadians are on the spot for their crossing of Greenland, while for his part, the pilot Art Mortvedt, with his Polar Pumpkin, has postponed his attempt.

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.

As far as Art Mortvedt is concerned, he has sent us this e-mail a week ago : "My flight with the Polar Pumpkin through the Western United States and Canada also went very well. The Polar Pumpkin is now in Fairbanks, Alaska with my team of engineers. My mechanics have found critical maintenance issues that must be addressed before I can safely fly to the North Pole with an extra heavy load. Also, there is a NASA instrument which I will be carrying on board which has yet to be installed and flight tested. We plan to do that installation and testing here in Alaska next month. Physicists in Austria may be building another special instrument. Therefore, I must delay my flight until April 1, 2011. So the next year will be very busy with continued preparation and lectures. ..."

As for the two Canadians, Sebastien Lapierre and Olivier Giasson, they are on the spot in Tasilaq. Unfortunately, for them it's been nothing but bad news since their arrival. Since the ice is bad this year, they cannot get to the expedition's starting point on skis, or even in dog-sleighs. So they tried to find a helicopter but none is available before 08 or 09 April. They are only forty odd kilometres from the glacier and they cannot get to it, which is highly frustrating... Moreover, they haven't managed to find a sufficient quantity of gas for their stove. That evening, they were meeting an organizer of expeditions of this kind in order to examine the various options that were open to them.

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