March 29, 2005

Tycoon To Fly Balloon To Edge Of Space

BOMBAY (AFP) -- Indian industrial tycoon and aviator Vijaypat Singhania said he will attempt a new world record by flying a hot air balloon to an altitude of 70,000 feet (over 21,000 metres) later this year.

The flight, entitled "MI 70K" (Mission Impossible 70,000), will take place mid-November in Bombay, India's financial capital, Singhania told a media conference here.

At least 17 aviators have attempted to beat the existing high altitude balloon record of 64,997 feet (19,811 metres) set by Sweden's Per Lindstrand in Texas in 1988.

Singhania said he would use one of the largest balloons ever built, with a 1.6 million cubic feet (45,300 cubic metre) capacity, for the expected five-hour flight.

He plans to set off from Azad Maidan, a large dusty open field in the south Bombay area.

India's civil aviation ministry has cleared the project, which has been put together by British-based aviation experts Andy Elson and Colin Prescot, Singhania said.

"The aviation industry shudders at adventure flights. I chose India because it is my home and I feel (it) needs to be on the world aviation map," he said.

"This flight is both dangerous and demanding," Singhania said.

Most hot-air balloons are powered by propane gas, but propane burners have never been tested at this altitude.

The flight will be tracked and assisted from a control centre in Bombay.

Singhania, with 5,000 hours of flying experience, is the only Indian to have won the aviation sports gold medal from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale for a 24-day world air race covering 34,000 kilometres (21,250 miles) in 1994.