A solar-powered hot-air balloon – the first ever certified to take passengers – took to the skies over England recently, though its flight was cut short by a Stuart-the-Minion balloon after the one-eyed Despicable Me character got in the way of the sun.
Created by Bristol-based Cameron Balloons, the unique balloon can float in the sky without using propane burners, instead harnessing the power of the sun to heat the air inside.
The solar balloon took more than 200 hours to build, with numerous extra-thin fabrics and techniques tried out to achieve the best possible result. One side of the balloon is black to absorb the sun’s heat while the other is silver to reflect and insulate that heat. To adjust altitude, the pilot simply rotates the balloon to control the amount of heat inside.
Friday’s maiden flight had been going well until one of the festival favorites, a giant Stuart-the-Minion balloon, sidled up to the solar balloon and blocked out the sun, causing it to gradually descend. To keep his balloon in the air, pilot Pete Dalby gave a short burst of its back-up safety burners.
The fuel burner was also used briefly to ensure a soft landing, according to the Telegraph. However, during the 25-minute flight, only 1.3 gallons (5 liters) of propane was used – less than 10 percent of what a regular hot-air balloon would’ve used.
Despite the fleeting face-off with Stuart the Minion, pilot Pete was happy enough with his solar balloon’s first flight.
“To actually leave the ground in front of everybody here without using the burners….demonstrates the principle immediately to everyone,” he told the BBC. Now, if they can only find a way of dealing with troublemakers like Stuart…..