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Academic has sky high hopes for balloon challenge

11 Sep 2007

A high-flying academic from the University of Manchester is keeping her feet on the ground - for the time being at least - as she prepares to represent Great Britain in an historic ballooning challenge.


A high-flying academic from the University of Manchester is keeping her feet on the ground - for the time being at least - as she prepares to represent Great Britain in an historic ballooning challenge.

Dr Ann Webb, who works in the Centre for Atmospheric Science in The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (SEAES), is preparing to take off from Brussels in the annual Coupe AĆ©ronautique Gordon Bennett event.

She and her co-pilot from The University of Nottingham are preparing to spend several days and nights in an open wicker basket with less floor space than your average office lift.

Dr Webb regularly pilots the University's small cessna aeroplane, which is equipped with sophisticated instrumentation to make a wide range of atmospheric measurements.

Now she is teaming up with experienced balloon pilot Dr Janet Folkes from the University of Nottingham's School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, in a bid to fly their gas balloon - named 'Pirat' and sponsored by Intel Centrino Duo - as many miles as possible.

The Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett is described as the most prestigious event in aviation and the ultimate challenge for the balloon pilots and equipment.

The goal is simple: to fly the farthest distance from the launch site.

Dr Webb said: "It's a great privilege to be participating in this historic event, and I am viewing it with great excitement, tinged with trepidation, as the time to depart approaches.

"If all goes well we will be spending several days and nights in an open wicker basket with a floor area of just 1.45m by 1.3m, so this is really an endurance event and a new challenge. The longest flight I have had in either my own hot air balloon or the cessna aeroplane is about four hours.

"The competition area includes the air space over western European countries such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and also Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, but the balloons travel with the wind so we have no idea at this point where we might go.

"We will use forecast wind trajectories to 'steer' the balloon by changing altitude to get the most advantageous wind direction, while remaining within the limitations of our oxygen and ballast supplies and personal cold tolerance. From that standpoint, it is highly appropriate the sponsorship we have from Intel is all about mobility.

"Of course we hope to win, as a first for both Great Britain and women, but for me that really would be beginner's luck."

The international balloon competition was initiated by adventurer and newspaper tycoon Gordon Bennett in 1906, when the 16 balloons launched from the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France.

The competition is held once every year and hosted by the country of the most recent winner.

Dr Webb leaves Manchester for Belgium on September 13 and expects to launch any time from September 15 onwards.

She and Dr Folkes comprise one of two British teams taking part in the challenge - and are the only all-female duo taking to the skies.

The remainder of the 14 teams come from Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland Holland and the United States.

The 1,050 cubic metre Intel Centrino Duo-sponsored balloon will be fitted with GPS equipment and people can check its progress by visiting http://gb2007.gasballon.be

Dr Webb is currently working on a University of Manchester-led project called Scorchio, and in the future she will fly the cessna aircraft from its base at Liverpool John Lennon airport over urban Manchester, in a bid to map out the heat generated by features such as buildings and roads.

NOTES TO EDITORS

Dr Webb is available for interview. Photographs are available to accompany this story.

For more information please contact Alex Waddington, Media Relations Officer, The University of Manchester, 0161 306 3983

The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Studies is part of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS). For more information please see http://www.manchester.ac.uk/eps