Gondola, Breitling Orbiter 3

Gondola, Breitling Orbiter 3
Creative Commons

Basic structure is yellow and orange with the inscription, Breitling Orbiter 3. Upper structure houses burners and equipment. On March 21, 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Bryan Jones guided Breitling Orbiter 3, the first balloon to fly around the world non-stop, to a safe landing on a desolate stretch of desert in Western Egypt. It was a happy ending to a story that had begun in June 1980, when English pilot and balloon builder Don Cameron announced that a group of adventurers planned to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon. That original project did not result in a launch, but it did establish the goal. Over the next two decades, 18 teams announced their intention to accept the challenge. Seven of those teams launched a total of sixteen balloons in unsuccessful attempts to fly around the world. In the fall of 1997, the Anheuser-Busch Company offered a trophy and a one million dollar prize (one half of which was to be donated to charity) to the first balloonists to achieve what was widely recognized as "the last great aviation challenge of the century." While none of the teams had achieved that elusive goal by the end of 1998, they had captured the public imagination with a series of record-breaking long distances flights and hair's breadth escapes from danger. That Bertrand Piccard should be attracted to the challenge was quite natural. An experienced aviator who has flown everything from ultralights to high performance aerobatic aircraft, he is the grandson of the Swiss scientist who developed the pressurized balloon gondola; flew a balloon into the stratosphere for the first time (27 May 1931) with companion Paul Kipfer; and invented the Bathyscaph, a research submarine in which Bertrand's father Jacques descended to a depth of 10,916 meters, the deepest spot in the world's oceans. Piccard has explained that circumnavigating the world in a balloon is "a fabulous metaphor for life - to try is the only way to succeed." He made two unsuccessful attempts to capture the prize in 1997 and 1998, accompanied by crewman Wim Verstaeten and with the support of Breitling SA, Swiss manufacturers of fine chronometers. The lessons learned on the Breitling Orbiters 1 and 2 flights provided a firm foundation of experience that enabled the team to develop trustworthy technical systems and a basic strategy for the Breitling Orbiter 3 project. Designed and built by Cameron Balloons, of Bristol, England, Breitling Orbiter 3 stood 180 feet (55 meters) tall when fully inflated. Like most of the balloons entered in the around the world competition, it combined the advantages of hot air and helium technologies to create a balloon capable of remaining aloft for extended periods of time. The envelope was constructed of a nylon fabric welded to a helium-tight membrane, covered with an outer protective skin coated with aluminum on both sides to provide improved thermal control. The shape and special features of the envelope insured maximum temperature stability in order to maintain a constant altitude, conserve helium and reduce propane consumption. The propane gas that fueled the six burners of Breitling Orbiter 3 was contained in 28 titanium cylinders mounted in two rows along the sides of the gondola. Concerned about fuel consumption, the team added four additional propane containers prior to take-off. It was a wise decision. The balloon landed in the Egyptian desert almost three weeks after take-off with less than a quarter of a tank of fuel remaining. The Breitling Orbiter 3 gondola was constructed of a weave of Kevlar and carbon fiber material. After take-off the cabin was sealed at 6000 feet to trap the air within it. During the flight the cabin atmosphere was supplemented by oxygen, and the carbon dioxide was removed by lithium hydroxide filters. Cabin pressure was maintained at around 3.5 psi by adding oxygen and nitrogen to the cabin air, as necessary. At 10,000 meters (33,000 feet), the cabin pressure equaled the atmospheric pres

Created By:

Dane Penland

Date Created:



Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, NASM Original Photography, NASM Acc. 2012-0026.


Aircraft; Aviation; Balloons & Airships; Private

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