03 / 07 / 2007
Air Traffic Control co-ordinator Kevin Stass is the finest ATC co-ordinator in the world so I asked him to work on the trip and this is what he has to say. Kevin said, “David asked me to join the Toshiba Transatlantic Challenge team to liaise with ATC, Aviation Authorities, Search & Rescue and work in Mission Control. Because he is such a nice bloke (and promised to buy me a pint or two if he breaks the record) I, of course, said yes! I worked with David’s team in 2003 when he flew from St.John’s, New Brunswick to Blackpool. I have also worked on a balloon flights with Richard Branson (my boss), Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett. I also worked on the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer flight as Mission Control Director.
My day job is working for Virgin Atlantic as Route Planning Manager in Flight Operations. One of the great things about being involved with these flights is the teams you work with. These are not only the Mission Control, Launch and Sponsorship teams working with the project itself, but also the ATC centres and aviation authorities all over the world. They are just as important. They have also given fantastic support to the balloon flights I have worked on. I would like to particularly thank the following for their support of the Toshiba Transatlantic Challenge. Canada – Tom Young, Chris Mouland, Dave Rose, Dave Rome, Jim Vey, Alain Piche, Ron Carter, Bob Grant, Dale Lahey, Pierre Laroche, Deborah Martin, Dave Wall, David Soucy, Keith Whalen, Tony Mason and Bob Lavers. UK – Dave Grove, David Miller, Steve Horton, Ian Davis, Steve Patterson and Willie Muir. France – Frederic Bousquet, Eric Vernede, Ghislaine Delorme, Marcel Le Bouedec, Edwin Etheve, Bernard Puil and Oksane Chaure. Netherlands – Kees Spaamer, Kemal Tasdelen, Bart Meijer, Dave Vrielink, Gloria Bonnet and Marcel Hartman Iceland – Helgi Bjornsson, Haukur Einarsson and Arni Baldursson Ireland – Garrett MacNamara, Terry Treanor and Terry O’Neill Santa Maria – Henrique Nunes Falmouth MRCC – Steve Huxley The other great thing about working on these flights is meeting people like David. He has done so many fantastic things (too many to list here) but he is so down to earth. He’s the sort of bloke you could be having a beer with in the pub and he’d say, ‘I fancy flying a balloon across the Atlantic in a ridiculously small balloon, fancy being part of my team?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, all right’ and he’d say, ‘Ok, get the beers in and I’ll have a bag of pork scratchings.’ God’s speed mate
Having spent a very busy evening sorting out the control centre, uploading data and downloading weather we are now ready for launch.
The Argos transmitter, which sends us an automatic balloon position report every 15 minutes started playing up at tea time, only to find that Bert had put a cover over the basket in St John and this interrupted the signal, It would be so frustrating to hold the flight because of a small hitch but the Argos is essential for David’s safety.
In the control centre is Clive Bailey, Kevin Stass and Jordan Rivers-Scot.
We have spoken to the launch team on several occasions and all seems to be going to plan. David is in high spirits but we do sense a hint of nervousness in his voice (not surprising)
Finally Dave called at 00:35 UTC, had a text book take off at midnight UTCand was now at 5,000 feet just clearing the mist, heading 105 deg and travelling at 14 knots, big sigh of relief in the control centre and down to work. Kevin busy contacting Air traffic Control and informing the Marine Search and Rescue at Falmouth that the flight is now live.
We all wish you a safe and speedy flight Dave.
Jordan is down loading en-route data, we have been given a block of air space from 5,500 feet to 7,000 feet from our good friends at Gander Oceanic ATC, thank you all at Gander.
Dave will call us on the hour with height, position, track and speed information, this will enable us to plot his course and adjust his altitude to gain the correct route to Europe.
Log at 01:00 UTC position N47:36 W52:22 Altitude 4,850 feet speed 14 Kts and track 117degrees. We have given Dave latest ATC instructions that he needs to report via VHF every 30 minutes to Ganda ATC.
In the control centre we have just drawn straws to see who gets the next coffee, well done Jordan! It’s going to be a long night.
Log at 02:00 UTC, still very early in the flight, position height and altitude exactly as our weather God, Luc Trullemans predicted Altitude 4,800 feet, speed 17kts and track 118 degrees. Luc first shone as a forecaster when he accurately predicted the fall out from Chernobyl and since has been involved in many long distance balloon records, all of David’s and of course, the successful round the world balloon flight. It is always a comfort to both us and David when Luc is on the case.
Now 02:30 UTC and things are going well for us in the control centre, all data being received and Dave in good spirits, very early in the flight though and while Kevin slips away for a couple of hours sleep we all know that the first 12 hours are critical for a gas balloon flight, this is when any small leak in the balloon will start to become apparent, no turning back now so sleep well Kevin and think of Hempie, no sleep for him for quite a few hours, then only the occasional cat-nap, Yawn!!
04:00 UTC All is well, track still constant and speed now dropped to 14 knots which is good, Dave is travelling behind some bad weather and we need to keep him behind it. The balloon is now in clear air above cloud and Dave has a fantastic view of the full moon with the light reflecting off the silvery tops of the stratus clouds below. Temperature is 4 degrees so a walk in the park for the hardened explorer. The biggest problem is the basket is so small he cannot move around to keep warm so hot drinks are a must.
Dave still in good spirits although getting cold, we are checking on sunrise times to try and give him something to look forward to, not only will the sun warm his body up but also the helium in the gas cell, which will expand and slowly cause the balloon to rise. We have to be very careful over the next few hours to ensure he does not climb to high and speed up, catching the bad weather ahead, things are going to get interesting. Time for Jordan to catch some ZZZZ to make sure the control centre team is in a fit state to help Dave. Current position is N47.23 W 51.01, altitude 4,100 feet, speed 15 Knots and a track of 125 degrees.
Luc has just sent a satellite picture of the weather surrounding Dave that we will try to up load later. There is a narrow track of good weather that the balloon is travelling in, long may it continue
Luc has just sent the latest weather report and things are looking good’ when the sun rises at 07:39 the balloon will rise due to the helium expanding, we call this solar gain and Luc wants the balloon to rise to about 6,500 feet today giving Dave a good track.
Position is now N47:18 W 50:41 Altitude 4,100 feet, Speed 14 Kts and Track 130 Deg. All is well with a distance travelled of 160 KM, a long way to go but we new the first 24 hours of the flight would be slow with speeds picking up Wednesday and Thursday up to 50kts.
Our main Job this morning is to get Hempie to sleep when the balloon starts solaring, the safest time for some shut eye, he does have an altitude alarm that can be set to wake him up if the balloon descends or climbs under/over pre set altitudes.
We can smell bacon and eggs cooking in the canteen so I know where we will be going soon, must tell Dave as he munches on a dried sandwich and drinks Luke warm chocolate!!
We had a question earlier, What is UTC, well UTC is sometimes refered to as Zulu or GMT and stands for universal coordinated time which you would think should be UCT but then the French got hold of it and hey presto we have UTC
So, on a project like this or flying a 747 to the states you travel through several time zones, ie in St John’s it now 04:30, London 08:00 and UTC in each location is 07:00 so if we all operate in UTC we are all talking of the same hymn sheet without the worry of ‘are they 5 hour ahead’ etc. UTC is one hour behind British Summer time and then, when the clocks go back in November British time will be UTC.
A famous American Colonel arrived at an airshow last year to watch his beloved fast jet arrive from the States and when it was over 10 minutes late he was about to chastise the crew on the radio when someone kindly pointed out that all times were UTC and the aircraft was due in 50 minutes and would be on time. Hope you understand now what and why we use UTC.
03 / 07 / 2007
Finding our Feet
Tuesday has been our first full day in the control centre. We’re all finding our feet with the brand new Toshiba technology surrounding us in ‘mission control.’ Kevin managed a lie down in the Toshiba medical room for his rest (minus the nurse and bed wash), shortly followed by Jordan heading for the board room at sunrise to set up his army camp bed.
By about 0730 UTC the team was back up to speed having been updated by Clive. According to the plan, David called us on his SAT-PHONE every hour, on the hour making his position reports to us. This has several important purposes; it double checks his verbal position against the automatic ‘ARGOS’ satellite position; it makes sure the old-man’s still ok and allows us to pass any vital information regarding weather conditions.
At about midday, Clive disappeared for a well needed sleep (and shower!) and remerged a new man a few hours later. Kevin’s been keeping tabs on airspace restrictions and relentlessly keeping the search and rescue authorities updated. We’ve been liaising with the forecaster, the media, organising interviews, updating the Toshiba Challenge website, in-taking large amounts of caffeine whilst monitoring progress.
Into the afternoon and evening, we’ve been keeping on top of things and listening to David telling us about his liaison with a military Hercules flying beneath him and a helicopter having-a-nosey.
It’s Kevin’s turn for some ‘shut-eye’ and Clive and Jordan are now beginning late evening with a concerned phone call from David; he’s worried as he anticipates he’s going to need to dump more ballast than thought to stabilise his gas balloon as he flies through the cold evening air.
04 / 07 / 2007
The Importance of ATC
Air Traffic Control Co-Ordinator, Kevin Stass, said,
There are five oceanic area control centres that control the north Atlantic: Gander, Shanwick, New York, Santa Maria and Reykjavik.
At the moment David is under the control of Gander OAC as he is in their air space. Gander will hand him over to Shanwick Control at 30 degrees west longitude at 0600 UTC tomorrow July 5 if the current forecast track is maintained.
Every time there is a position report from David mission control relay the information to Gander or the relevant OAC. It is a legal requirement to report the position of all aircraft. In fact, I have been liaising with all possible OAC centres since last April.
David had said that he would not be flying higher than 18,000 ft because he did not want to carry any oxygen bottles due to weight. Flying lower than 18,000 ft means that it is better for Air Traffic Control as it does not conflict with normal cruising altitudes of modern commercial airlines which generally fly above 30,000 ft.
However, once he gets to domestic air space where aircraft are climbing and descending into and out of airports that is when the essence of ATC becomes vitally important.
As soon as he comes within 200 miles of France their ATC will be able to pick him up on Radar as David is carrying a transponder.
Under aviation, law aircraft have to give way to balloons.
The forecast track of the balloon is taking him in the direction of the Brest peninsular in North West France. If he reaches land at this point he will have broken the world distance record for the AA06 class of non pressurised gas balloons.
This is currently held by Bob Berben and Benoit Simeons who reached a distance of 3400.39 km which was achieved during the Gordon Bennett race in 2005.
04 / 07 / 2007
I arrived this morning at 8. Dave said I should come and help. Why? I’m in the Royal Air Force and he thought a military pilot’s input could come in handy.
I met Hempie when I flew him in a Hawk. He was the technical adviser on the RAF South Pole Expedition in winter 2006. He may be one of the world’s leading explorers and he may have come face to face with a Polar Bear but he didn’t want to go upside down in a fast jet!
So, I turned up at HQ Toshiba in Weybridge and Clive was nowhere to be seen, asleep in the next room. Kev and Jordan were running the show. Dave phoned for his hourly check as soon as I walked in, “Duffy’s here, Hempie.” David said, ‘That’s great. Who’s Duffy?” Yeah, cheers mate!
Louise has arrived with flapjacks and cake so things are looking up although we’re worried Dave isn’t getting enough height quickly enough. Double click on the chart on the left, if he stays at his present height he won’t even get half way to Portugal. He needs to get on the blue line soonest.
Clive’s here now, half naked looking for a new shirt, he smells a bit. Hopefully the sun will start to warm the balloon soon and it’ll help Dave climb.
Tom pops into help, a friend of Jordan’s, another airline pilot. Thats way too many now!
Double click the photo on the left
From left to right: Jordan, Kev, Tom, Clive and Duffy
04 / 07 / 2007
HQ concern about cloud
Dave seems to have flown below some cloud so his balloon is cooling. Hence he has descended a bit. We’re worried about him gaining too much height while dropping the all-important sand because he could come back into the sun and end up going too high and going past the favorable wind. Its a balancing act and we’re hoping Dave makes the right decision.
04 / 07 / 2007
Here is a prediction of what we hope Dave will do. The black dots are Dave, the red line is the route. Its based on Luc’s weather forecasts so isn’t completely exact, although Luc has been very accurate so far.
Double click on the picture
04 / 07 / 2007
We have just received this from Luc, it shows the cloud has said he can see ahead. We think Dave will pass underneath the cloud sheet around midnight.
Double click the picture
04 / 07 / 2007
Wow, we’ve just had a major moment in the expedition. Chris Evans just interviewed Dave live on his Radio 2 Drivetime show. Fantastic, especially for Louise who is a big Chris Evans fan. She was so excited she dropped her voice recorder!
Pass the word https://toshibachallenge.com/
The incredibly kind email from Benoit Simeons (the current record holder Dave is trying to beat) Chris read out on air was also very special, it has given Dave a huge morale booster. He is now more confident than ever he is going to beat the world record.
04 / 07 / 2007
We have just heard from Luc. We’re now trying to contact Dave. Luc says he must not descend below his 10000 ft, if he does then the wind will carry him south into the wrong wind tracks and he won’t reach Europe. The problem we have now is as darkness moves in the balloon will cool and he will need to release some of his precious sand to keep height. The problem with helium is the molecules are so small and they constantly escape out of the balloon. He has no extra gas to pump into the balloon (the weight of a helium cylinder would offset the gain of the gas) so he is fighting a losing battle of bouyancy. He has probably switched his phone off till the next hour check-in to conserve battery.
04 / 07 / 2007
“The most daring balloon flight”
Email from Beniot Simeons, as read out by Chris Evans on Drivetime
As the current holder with Bob Berben of the record(s) you’re trying to beat (http://www.europeanballoon.be/fr/GB_2005.htm), I know very well how difficult your objective is. You are fully depending on the weather and the technique and must trust your team on the ground in some times very difficult circunstances. You have the best meteoroligist in the world helping you, but still the challenge is there. You need and will need a lot of courage, perseverence, self confidence and skills. This adventure is without any doubt the most daring flight ever tried with this kind of balloon. I’m quite condident you will succeed. If you land in Belgium, be sure the beers will be waiting for you !
From my very deepth heart I wish you good luck.
Enjoy your flight & soft landings
04 / 07 / 2007
Email from Richard Abruzzo
July 4, 2007 4:15 PM Albuquerque
Wow! – I was off doing some fun 4th of July stuff with the kids this morning and when I checked back in on your progress you were already most half-way across!
Once you get over the hump it is all downhill to the finish! Beyond the obvious (crossing the North Atlantic!) I am pretty sure that a lot of
folks are not clear as to how difficult of a thing you are trying to accomplish. When I flew this same size (AA-6) and type (Padelt) across the North American continent in 2003, I felt very fortunate to have achieved the first solo continental flight and a world distance record in the process, knowing that I had taken that tiny balloon almost to the limits of it’s capability. You are once again extending the limits of what is possible with these tiny balloons.
The big difference in what you are doing, and it is a very big difference, is that you are conducting this flight entirely over the sea without the safety net of land below.
I have no doubt you will pull it off. The weather looks good, your speeds are coming up and you are one tough hombre! Make sure to get some shut-eye before you land, an hour or two will do, so that you are fresh and can get that thing
back on the ground safe.
All the Best,
04 / 07 / 2007
Burning the midnight oil
Having had a very busy day in the control centre dealing with the press (we love you) and general logistics things have calmed down and now is the time for planning what is going to be a very strategic day tomorrow and also reflecting on today’s events.
The fact that Chris Evans, Radio 2, interviewed Dave on the satellite phone and also read out the fantastic e-mail Benoit Simeons sent gave us a huge boost and had a dramatic effect on Dave’s confidence. Thanks to all who have sent such kind messages to Dave, it really keeps his spirits up and makes us all the more determined to succeed.
Hempie is currently at 10,000 feet tracking towards Europe at 29.4 knots, he is very tired, only having had 4 hours sleep in the last 48 hours and is cold and stiff, not being able to move around in the tiny basket that has become his home.
The balloon has now stabalised and needs very little attention but we cannot get Dave to sleep, he has a real fear of landing in the water and will not relax at all, he also knows that if he did fall asleep it would take more than the altitude alarm to wake him. The big problem for us is he is not yet half way on this epic journey and has a minimum of 36 hours to go, when he reaches landfall the workload will increase dramatically talking to various air traffic controllers etc and we have to put safety first so we have given him the ultimatum, you sleep or we make you land at the first opportunity. Of course he could lie but although we know he is stupid enough to attempt this flight in the first place we hope he will not resort to that.
Our flight planning is now taking into account the en-route weather and the best altitude to fly the balloon at, Luc, our weather forecaster and Bert, who built the balloon are absolute stars, sending us a constant stream of invaluable information so that we can bring Dave safely into Europe.
05 / 07 / 2007
Today has been a happy but very stressful day for the Team at HQ.
Dave is doing really well and we’re now looking at strategic planning against the fast changing weather patterns for possible landing sites, or rather HQ are disagreeing slightly with Dave over where is best to bring him down. Dave is naturally keen to fly for as long as physically possible, but that needs to be realistically balanced with safety and a decent landing site.
At the moment the weather predicted for tomorrow morning over the Nantes region of France (the ideal site) is not good at low levels. We’re hoping the weather will improve so we can land him somewhere in Lyon or Dijon area.
05 / 07 / 2007
Clive’s thoughts for the day
06/0707 00:15 by Clive
I think we have just survived (just) the busiest and certainly the most intense day of the week. Our saving grace has been Luc’s weather forecasting and the outstanding performance of Bert’s balloon, had either faltered I am sure Kevin and myself would now be in the coronary department of the local hospital! Both the balloon and Luc have performed 150%. A big thanks guys.
After saying goodbye to Duffy at 07:30 this morning (he is back this evening) and welcoming Sue Carden at 09:00, one a fast jet pilot, the other one of the best balloon pilots in the world (I’ll let you guess which one is which) we started planning for tomorrow.
The balloon’s performance meant Hempie got a couple of hours sleep in half hour chunks and poor Luc has been dealing with an ever changing weather pattern trying to get us the fastest and safest track to land fall. Luc has kept Dave a few miles to the North of some very bad weather for the last 3 days and it is critical the balloon does not slip under it at this stage, Luc will take care of that.
Kevin has spent the whole day contacting French Air Traffic units to pre-warn them of Hempie’s arrival, the big problem is that we still do not know 100% exactly where Dave will be arriving in France but our predictions are becoming more precise as the hours go by. It is always best and good practice to talk to the controllers and as Kevin will confirm they have all been fantastic, many a little excited at maybe having the privilege of working with the mad balloonist that has just crossed the Atlantic in little more than a toy balloon. However, they may well change their views if they do talk to Dave!!
After some sleep Dave has been busy checking all the communication equipment that will be required when he enters French air space at about 03:00Z this morning, Kevin has been doing all of Dave’s position reporting whilst over the Atlantic and now he will have to do it himself using the VHF radio, many of the batteries have died due to the cold so new ones have been installed. No more rest for Dave until he lands late this afternoon.
Our plan is to break the World distance record for this size balloon at about 03:30Z this morning and arrive over the coast, very close to Nantes at 9,500 feet , continue at this altitude until approx 06:00Z, then start a slow descent to 7,000 feet , stay there for about 1.5 hours to miss a few busy airfields and hopefully pick up a more Southerly track to take Dave to a safe landing area. Slowly Dave will vent some helium to start a slow descent to land in the area between Lyon and Dijon, once down to 500 feet we will hand complete control of every thing to Dave and we have every confidence that he will make a text book landing.
The above could change a little when Luc sends us the next weather forecast at 08:00Z.
Every one in the control centre and those scattered around the globe that have been advising us throughout the flight haves done everything possible today to help bring our very brave and very very tired mate back down to mother earth as safely as possible. If he screws up the landing then I can assure you it will cost an awful lot in beers.
05 / 07 / 2007
Dave has done it! He has got passed Benoit Simeons’ world distance record for the AA-06 (37,000 cu ft) class of helium balloon and gone that extra 1% further that is required to oficially break the record.
What a feeling, we are all completely ecstatic.
Our effort is now completely devoted to finding Dave the best and safest landing site. The Dijon region is still looking favourite at the moment.
06 / 07 / 2007
Control Centre at 0810Z
So far so good, Dave came over the coast a little faster than we wanted at 50 kts, 10,000 feet, some sea mist below. He has done all his checks and we have got him to start a decent to 6,000 feet to wash some speed off to find a track of 100 degrees and 32 to 36 kts, he has vented a little helium to descend.
If you want to see the view Dave currently has go to Google Earth, find Nantes and pan out to 6,000 feet. We now anticipate a final landing between Geneva and Dijon. More soon
06 / 07 / 2007
Making Plans for Nigel
Nigel was Dave’s launch buddy, he helped oversee the take-off at Newfoundland and he is dead keen to be the pick-up chap. He is so keen that he is panicking a bit as he now has to rush off to ‘somewhere’ in Europe.
Poor Nigel had only just hit UK soil before HQ needed him to be dashing off again. He thinks we’re winding him up with our vagueness, but Dave could still land over a very large area.
He is having a bit of a nightmare too, his own towing vehicle (he needs a trailer to recover the balloon) broke down after one mile. Luckily, the nice chaps at ‘Help Hire’ immediately loaned him a Shogun, for free, after hearing his tail of woe.
Then Nigel needed a matching number plate for his trailer. Panick! A rushed visit to his local garage and he had one in the bag only to find out ‘Help Hire’ had changed the Shogun. Aaarggghh.
Then disaster, after he’d set off, no wellies!! Wellies are the most important bit of kit, as Dave has an uncanny ability to land in the middle of a big muddy field every time. Luckily Nigel has dainty feet and they happened to match Nicky’s (Dave’s PA) size, so she came to the rescue and lent him her boots.
Nigel is now at the Channel Tunnel with instructions from HQ to head to the general Dijon area. Obviously his phone is running out of battery and he has no charger, but this time he’s saved by his willing helper Bob Wilson who thought ahead and brought one.
Good luck guys, we’ll be keeping you updated.
06 / 07 / 2007
Simeons and Berben
This world record wasn’t just previously held by Benoit Simeons, Bob Berben and he were co pilots during the flight, so it was a jointly held record.
All the more credit to Dave for doing this solo.
06 / 07 / 2007
3 World Records for David Hempleman Adams
To break a previous record Dave must have exceeded the old record by over 1%. Each new record must also be ratified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the aviation governing body (a point Dave forgot on his blog in his excitement!).
Non-pressurised gas balloon size classes are split into codes, starting at AA-01, the smallest (250 cubic meters of gas or less) and counting up to AA-15, the largest (22000 cubic meters and above).
The Toshiba Challenge balloon is an AA-06 size. AA-06’s size limits are between 1200 and 1600 cubic meters, as Dave’s balloon heats up it expands from its cold size of just over 1000 cubic meters to fit into the limits of the AA-06 class.
The distance record for both the AA-06 and AA-07 size class was 3400.39 km, giving a 1% extra target of 3434.39 km.
The world record for the longest flight in an AA-06 balloon was 80 hours and 18 minutes, the 1% extra target to beat was 81 hours 06.
Dave has so far flown in his Toshiba Challenge AA-06 balloon for 82 hours and 30 minutes and he has covered a total of 3949 km. As Dave has a smaller balloon he automatically beats the AA-07 distance record as it is considerably harder to fly a smaller balloon with less gas to play with than a larger one. So he has beaten 3 world records.
Now we just need to wait for ratification from the FAI before the 3 new world records are completely official.
06 / 07 / 2007
What an awesome experience. 5 new world records.
Observing people who aren’t directly involved has been fascinating. From the lady who texted Radio 2 when she’d got so emotional she’d wept when she’d heard what Dave was undertaking to the people who have been visiting the HQ. It seems everyone has utter respect for Dave and you can visibly see their whole being and goodwill almost coming out of their sleeves, when he was mid Atlantic, the concern on visitors face’s was unbeleivable. Being part of the team gives you confidence in Dave succeeding so luckily for us that particular worry hasn’t been such a problem.
We have been overwhelmed with gifts too, from champagne (unopened, I hasten to add), fruit platters to loads of good will messages.
A few hours to go, then bed for a week. After a little champagne 😉 Thanks to everyone for everything.
06 / 07 / 2007
Clive is busy giving Dave instructions, going through his drills and generaly telling him he’d better pull off the best landing or else.
We expect him down within an hour.
He has slowed right down to 13 kts and is now at 2000 ft looking to land.
06 / 07 / 2007
Dave is 13 minutes late for his check in, we’re waiting for news.
Hes not been more than 2 minutes late before.
06 / 07 / 2007
Finished. Landed in 15 kts!!!!
Thankyou all for your support.
We’ll put on more deatils when we’ve run out of champagne.
Dave is the best.