12 Jul 2016

Russian hot air balloonist launches solo around-the-world quest

2:03 pm on 12 July 2016

A Russian adventurer has lifted off from Western Australia in a bid to break the world record for a solo hot air balloon flight around the globe.

Fedor Konyukhov took off from Northam, 96km from Perth, at 7.45am local time - from the exact spot where American aviator Steve Fossett launched the last successful circumnavigation of the world.

Fedor Konyukhov

Fedor Konyukhov Photo: Fedor Konyukhov Expedition Center

Mr Konyukhov, 65, is hoping to beat Mr Fossett's 2002 record of 13 days.

The flight path for his trip goes over Australia, the Tasman Sea, New Zealand, the Pacific Ocean, South America (Chile and Argentina), the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa and the Indian Ocean, before a planned landing back in Australia.

Mr Konyukhov's team began filling his balloon with helium about midnight in preparation for the launch, after about 30 volunteers from Northam helped lay it out on Monday.

The Roziere hot air balloon is 52m tall and weighs 1600kg, although the adventurer will be confined to a pod not much bigger than himself in its gondola.

The launch comes after the mission suffered a number of setbacks after arriving in WA in early June.

A cargo delay, and then a string of unfavourable weather meant they had been unable to prepare for a take-off.

However the Russian is now hoping to travel about 33,000 kilometres at speeds of up to 300km/h.

He will use autopilot to help fly the balloon, but will not be able to rely on it the whole time.

Mr Konyukhov has previously climbed Mount Everest, sailed around the world, sailed solo around Antarctica, walked to the North and South poles and last year rowed 16,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean to Queensland's Sunshine Coast - a journey which took 160 days.

He is also a Russian orthodox priest.

"I like to travel, that's the truth, I was 15-years-old when I went on my first adventure, it's my lifestyle," he said.

Russian travellers Fedor Konyukhov, at right, and Viktor Simonov at the North Pole.

Russian travellers Fyodor Konyukhov, at right, and Viktor Simonov at the North Pole in 2013. Photo: AFP / Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti / Sputnik

Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov pilots his boat into the Australian port of Albany after a 102-day solo circumnavigation of Antarctica in 2008.

Fedor Konyukhov pilots his boat into the Australian port of Albany after a 102-day solo circumnavigation of Antarctica in 2008. Photo: AFP

Mr Konyukhov faces a tiring journey in his bid to break Mr Fossett's record.

He will sleep only four hours a day, in 45-minute periods, in -40°C temperatures at an altitude between 5000m and 8000m.

He will also be in constant contact with his control centre and the team's meteorologist in Belgium for updates on the best route.

Launch master David Boxall - a design engineer at Cameron Balloons Bristol, the company that manufactured the balloon - said the flight would require constant attention.

"When you go around the world with a jet stream, people think it's a continuous ride, that you get in the jet stream and you stay there," Mr Boxall said.

"But it's not like that. It's like a really poor car journey, some of it's highway but when that ends you have to descend into the lower atmosphere, onto the sort of B-roads, before manoeuvring yourself back into the next bit of good jet stream."

- ABC

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