Flight of the J. Renee

By Mike Barker

Just an hour after taking off from a quarry in Illinois, a helium cell in the balloon burst at 21,000 feet. Two hours later the 165′-tall balloon landed in an Indiana cornfield. After bouncing and skidding across the snow covered field, the capsule, with Uliassi safely tucked inside, snagged an irrigation rig, finally bringing it to a halt.

Uliassi commended the integrity of the capsule built by Ron Jones at Fabrication Specialties of Fife, Washington. He said,”The capsule, which weighs 280 lb., came through with minor cracks after supporting 16,000 lb. of fuel and equipment.” (Damage to the irrigation equipment was estimated at $25,000.)

The 6’8″ x 4′ x 5′-high capsule, or gondola, was built of foam, carbon fiber and WEST SYSTEM® epoxy. It was designed to house Kevin, his navigation and communication equipment, and eighteen days of food water and oxygen. The capsule has characteristics of both a space capsule and a large picnic cooler. The 6″ thick high density foam core is not only structural, it also provides necessary insulation from the extreme cold at the balloon’s intended cruising altitude of around 30,000 feet. (See related article on foam.)

Uliassi is planning another round-the-world record attempt this fall. After patching minor cracks, the capsule is as good as new and ready for the next flight. Uliassi is expecting it to be about 20,000 miles longer than the last.