Maiden flight for first solar-powered hot air balloon

The Tribute Bristol International Balloon Fiesta hosted a milestone event in ballooning technology earlier this month with the debut flight of the world’s first solar-powered balloon.

The historic 25-minute flight took place on 6th August as part of a mass ascent in which involved over 100 balloons, each with distinctive visual hallmarks.

In strict technical terms the balloon is a hybrid, as it requires the use of a propane burner for lift off and landing. However, for in-flight purposes the balloon is fully solar-powered. Solar energy is used to heat air within the balloon canopy, keeping the aircraft aloft. Consequently, the flight used less than one tenth of the amount of fuel used for a similar flight in a traditional balloon.

Unfortunately, there was one minor mishap during the flight. Given that this was a mass ascent there was, at one point, a risk of collision with a fellow balloon decked out to resemble the animated character, ‘Stuart the Minion’. The pilot of the solar-powered balloon, Pete Dalby, had to take evasive action, briefly using his burner to avoid bumping in to Stuart. However, this brief safety manoeuvre has not prevented media outlets from recognising the significance of the maiden flight.

Dave Vauxhall, chief designer at Cameron balloons (the company responsible for the innovative design), was on the flight, and expressed his gratitude for the favourable weather conditions on the day:

“We have to have good sunshine and we got it. If it had been cloudy it wouldn’t have worked.”

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