ML 137962


Interview 4:08 - 20:48 Play 4:08 - More
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Steve Fossett  






Hot air balloon  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
27 Jan 1997

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ALEX CHADWICK 4:17 (asks how he identifies himself)

STEVE FOSSETT 4:22 I think I'm an adventure sportsman. 4:24

AC (mentions he has bkgd. in sled dog racing and ballooning and asks what else he does)

SF 4:37¿ I'm very active in sailing. I've probably spent 2 mon. on the water sailing this past yr. trying for world records. 4:46

AC (asks what abt. balloons attracts him)

SF 4:54 It's the endeavor itself to fly around the world that brought me into ballooning. I identified this 5 yrs ago as perhaps the greatest unachieved goal in aviation is to fly a balloon around the world. And from that identification I decided I wanted to be part of the competition and then set out at that time to get my ballooning licenses and take the steps necessary to work my way up to around the world attempts. 5:22 - (AC comments he's only been doing this for 5 yrs.) - that's right. I'm a newcomer to ballooning which really blows the socks off of my friends in ballooning that I've come in and now I'm trying to do some really interesting flights. 5:35

AC (asks abt. getting permission for flying around the world and taking off and hoping for the best)

SF 6:05 yes, it's hard to get a decision from some of the countries and it has to do w/ the way governments work that they can offer some reasons. (continues talking abt. this subject) 6:36

AC (mentions how 2 balloonists 2 yrs. ago were shot down over Belarus and how not getting permission can be deadly)

SF 6:51 It was very sobering to see that balloonists can actually be killed under these circumstances . we've taken precautions to prevent the same thing from occurring which is more a lack of communication b/tw the civilian aviation, b/tw the balloon and the military. But this is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of around the world flight is the military risk. 7:13 - (AC of being shot down, not of crashing) - balloons can be flown down. I could have an equipment problem w/ a balloon and I can fly it to the surface and do some kind of a reasonable landing. That's not the threat of death. The threat of death would be something dramatic like being shot. 7:34

AC (talks abt. how he went across the Atlantic and abt. then having to wait in Libya; asks to explain how you are able to wait and delay progress)

SF 8:11 interestingly you can steer balloons. A balloon goes w/ the wind and the only way you can steer it is find different wind. And the wind at different altitudes will be at slightly different speed and perhaps 10 or 15 degrees different direction. In the case of libya we tried to fly around the south end of Libya by flying at a lower altitude where the wind was not only slower but also gave me a different direction that allowed me to get south. There was a way to wait and try to work my way around. 8:42 (AC asks if that was why he ran out of fuel) - I did consume some extra fuel in this operation of flying at a flight level which was not a part of the flight plan¿. But I did more of that over the atlantic where we also needed to change directions and consumed a great deal of excess fuel over the atlantic. By the time I finished going over libya we were able to calculate that I only had enough fuel to make it 2/3 the way across the pacific. 9:18 - (they laugh abt. this)

AC (asks how he knew he didn't have enough fuel)

SF 9:38 we had the proper amount of fuel assuming we didn't have any diversions which would consume extra fuel. That was where our calculation came up short. All distance flights in the past have been w/ an ideal flight level profile and we're used to calculating fuel needs on this requirement. Now for around the world flight we're having to concern ourselves w/ what we call steering and it's going to consume extra fuel. I think for the next flight it's going to call for taking a buffer of fuel, perhaps a 50% buffer of fuel. 10:16

AC (questions if SF really set out to go around the world but to go as far as he could and learn more so the next time he could go around the world; comments that he doesn't regard this trip as a failure)

SF 10:45 no. the flight was very successful. There's 3 absolute world records in ballooning - distance, duration aloft and altitude. This flight set 2 of the 3 absolute world records. It was successful. What I'm saying is when you start off on a round the world flight you can't be assured of a success b/c you can't forecast the weather that far out. You can't anticipate how you're going to respond the various equipment problems. In that sense it is an adventure. I take off w/o all the answers knowing that many things have to be solved during the flight in order to make it a successful flight. 11:26

AC (asks if he is scared when he takes off)

SF 11:31 Yes I'm pretty anxious and worried prior to taking off b/c there's a lot of pressure associated w/ a launch b/c there's a great risk of equipment failure or pilot error during a launch phase so I'm greatly relieved when I get to altitude and I've made it - in this case - out of Bush stadium and I'm back in control of the balloon and everything is moving slower and it's a great feeling to get away from that and then I relax. 12:03

AC (asks what it is like being up in the balloon at abt. 18,000 ft.)

SF 12:18 I see some remarkable sites for instance flying across the atlantic what do I see but city lights, a grid of a city. Immediately I recognize that's hamilton, bermuda¿ or flying south through algeria and coming upon the great sand dunes of the Sahara and the Sahara just continued for 2 days. Absolutely remote terrain. Looking out and seeing the terrain is fascinating and I do it quite a bit. 12:51

AC (asks what would have happened if something would have gone wrong over the Sahara)

SF 13:00 That is really remote and I was thinking abt. this. If I have to land the balloon here there is no way I can get this balloon equipment out of here. There's no roads. In fact it would have been a big project to get a helicopter in to recover me alone b/c it would have taken refuelings of a helicopter to get to these remote locations. 13:23 - (AC what do you think abt. that) - It's an uncomfortable feelings and of course the best answer is to have a successful flight and not have to land in a remote location. 13:36

AC How do you keep up your good spirits?

SF 13:42 I enjoy this and perhaps it's a bit natural on my part. I've learned to view things that don't always go exactly right/ I learn to view them w/ a sense of humor. I'm so used to things going wrong. I enjoy what I'm doing¿ take the good and the bad that comes w/ it. 14:06

AC (asks if he was an extravagant kid)

SF 14:21 no, I'm not super anything. In fact maybe that's why people are personally interested in me b/c I'm really pretty close to normal. I'm pretty close to normal looking and seem like a pretty normal person but I did develop these interests in different sports at a very early age¿. My first sport was mt. climbing and I started that when I was 11 yrs. old in the boy scouts. 14:49

AC (talks abt. How SF does this by himself and thinks it as safer that way than w/ someone else)

SF 15:42 In my particular case, I believe it is. I have a lot of experience through mt. climbing and ballooning in dealing w/ altitude effects and that's the greatest illness risk n this type of flight is altitude sickness. So I can recognize the onset, the slightest tinge of altitude sickness coming on and I can retreat to my oxygen mask and fight that off. I believe, just b/c of my personal bkgd. that I'm in a good position to take care of my health on a flight like this. 16:19 - (AC asks why not take an extra crew member along just for safety) - 15:25 I think members of my team would be an outstanding choice for that¿ b/c they know the equipment inside out¿. But there' a scale of a project - if I added a crew member, it's not only the weight of the crew member and his clothes and equipment but then you need more balloon sys. which in turn requires more weight. But adding a crew member I might increase the scale o the balloon sys. by half. 17:01

AC (comments on how SF equipment seems very simple for the approach)

SF 18:45 I suppose I first chose the simple approach b/c that was what was available to me. Something I could do w/o raising commercial sponsorship. And then as we got into this, happily we found out that this equipment was very effective if we apply some new solutions and make some modifications to it. Now we have realized by taking simple equipment we reduce the risk of equipment failure. Now we believe we have an advantage over the teams that have taken on pressurized capsule sys. and huge balloon sys. that they're the ones w/ the disadvantage even though their projects are vastly more expensive, they have actually put themselves at a disadvantage compared to my simple approach. 19:31

AC (comments that SF balloon is smaller; his is only 75ft.)

SF 19:39 yes, the volume of my balloon is less than half the size of the other smaller balloon, the Swiss team and only abt. 1/5 the size of the British team. It is a small sys., but that's an advantage for me. 19:55

AC (asks if SF doen't make it first will he still try to go at all)

SF 20:15 I think in ballooning the original achievement is of the greatest significance and then making solo flight, for instance making a solo crossing of the Atlantic or a solo crossing of the Pacific - solo flight is also a worthwhile achievement, but I wouldn't want to take on a solo around the world flight in the same yr. That someone else had made the first overall around the world flight. 20:41


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