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2010 Articles

SEP 17 2010
The Maiden Flight of the Cameron GB-1000

Cameron Balloons has constructed a new gas balloon especially for the 2010 Gordon Bennett race. The GB-1000 is an entirely new concept in gas ballooning which should make the use of flammable hydrogen gas much safer.

The principle is that the balloon is completely sealed so that the hydrogen cannot touch air at any point. Normally this type of balloon cannot be sealed, because the gas expands as altitude is gained and it must be allowed to escape through an open "appendix" at the bottom of the envelope. If this were not done, the balloon would burst.

The new design has a system, which senses any pressure rise in the balloon and opens the valve automatically to discharge it safely through a metal vent at the top of the balloon where it dissipates.

When I arrived at the launch sight the hydrogen gas was just starting to be pumped in to the envelope from a large tanker truck parked alongside. The safety precautions were always evident in dealing with such a flammable gas, with someone always having to have their hand on the main gas tap just in case it needed to be shut off in an emergency. As the amount of gas inside the envelope increased it started to lift, taking on the appearance of a jelly fish rising from the ground.

Unlike a hot air balloon the envelope is much smaller and more spherical; hydrogen gas is much more buoyant than hot air so there's no need for such a large envelope, but the process of inflation takes much longer.

Over an hour later and the balloon was completely filled with gas, additional sand bags were being added to the basket to ensure we didn't have an uncommanded take off.

With this being the very first flight of this type of balloon, a series of tests on the new valve system were undertaken by the Cameron team. Although the balloon had been inflated with air before to check for leaks, this was the first time it had been filled with hydrogen. Everyone was happy with the tests and a visual inspection of the balloon revealed everything as expected. The gas pipe was disconnected from the balloon and the filler pipe which hangs down from the envelope was tied off and then secured to the basket ring.

Crew for the first flight of the GB-1000, which had been named "Lady Luck" were David Hempleman-Adams and Simon Carey, who will fly the balloon in the Gordon Bennett Race; they were joined by Don Cameron of Cameron Balloons in the basket and film maker Leo Dickinson who was strapped on to the outside of the basket! Clive Bailey, who will be ground coordinating the flight of GB1, would fly a normal hot air balloon as chase balloon to monitor the flight.

After a team briefing, the flight crew donned parachutes prior to getting in to the basket; a standard procedure when making a first flight in any new aircraft. With everyone onboard and good luck wishes passed on from the ground crew, the chase balloon also started to inflate and the first of the sand bags were removed from the basket. The idea is to remove as many bags as necessary to get the balloon in a buoyant situation, still in contact with the ground but ready to fly, so that the take off can be controlled by emptying sand from the next bag.

In a combined effort Don started to empty a sand bag and David pulled the quick release which had been tethering the balloon to the ground and slowly the balloon started to rise. As the balloon caught the breeze it stabilised at a height of around 20 feet and David emptied another sand bag which soon saw the balloon entering a steady climb away from the launch field.

Clive was soon airborne in the chase balloon and the pair started to float off towards Bristol for a very successful first flight.

David said of the flight: "Going up in a new balloon is like trying out a new car; you always need to check how it works and how it feels. The new design from Cameron's is great, they have done a really good job in developing it."

Simon, David's co-pilot said: "It's a ground-breaking design which has its own built in safety features such as a valve on the top of the balloon which automatically vents hydrogen without letting in normal air. David and I greatly enjoyed playing with our new toy!"

Clive Bailey, Director of the Gordon Bennett 2010 and David's Flight Director, added: "It was amazing to see the balloon flying after all this preparation. We are all very excited about the race now."

The 54th Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett International Gas Balloon Race 2010 launch window opens on Saturday 25th September. Since our last report the event has seen the withdrawal of the Czech entry but there are still 20 teams entered in the race. Another major change is that the race will start at a private site near to Bristol, a change from the original Ashton Court venue. The organisers have had to change the launch site due to financial constraints and they have asked us to pass on the message that if you don't have a ticket then you will not be granted entry to the new launch site.

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