Purpose of the flight and payload description

The SKY-CAR system was a special gondola developed during 1956 by Otto Winzen to support low-altitude scientific research and ballooning instruction. The Sky-Car comprised a cylindrical frame gondola made from steel tubing suspended from a polyethylene balloon. Depending on the desired altitude, balloon size varied from 31.5 feet (13,500 cubic-foot capacity) to 39.34 feet (27,000 cubic-foot capacity). The balloon train included a 40.4-foot diameter parachute like the one being used for the Manhigh capsule as a backup in case the balloon malfunctioned.

The gondola had seats for two people, but had enough room to accommodate a third person. It was 56 inches in diameter and 40 inches tall. For flight, a canvas cover was laced around its exterior and it had a plywood floor. Onboard instrumentation included an altimeter, a rate of climb indicator, 8-Day Aircraft Clock with Sweep Second Hand, magnetic compass, drift meter and controls for Balloon cutaway.

The radio gear was packaged separately in a box that could be dumped overboard as ballast if necessary. For shipping, the balloon, parachute, and other necessary equipment could be packed into the gondola.

During the development of the MANHIGH manned program, Sky-Car was used by pilots and candidates to earn their Civil Aeronautics Agency balloonist's license. To earn a lighter-than-air Pilot's Certificate, a candidate had to complete six instructional flights of not less than two hours' duration, one controlled flight to an altitude of 10,000 feet, and a solo flight lasting at least an hour.

Although they were at relatively low altitudes, flights in the Sky-Car posed a certain element of risk.

Details of the balloon flight

Balloon launched on: 5/20/1959 at 1:30 local
Launch site: White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, US  
Balloon launched by: Balloon Branch, Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB)
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Zero Pressure Balloon Winzen - 30 foot diameter
End of flight (L for landing time, W for last contact, otherwise termination time): 5/20/1959 at ~ 06:30 local
Balloon flight duration (F: time at float only, otherwise total flight time in d:days / h:hours or m:minutes - ): 5 h
Landing site: NW of El Paso, Texas, US

The objective of the flight was to exercise gas valving and ballasting techniques necessary for balloon control and to practice landings. The pilots were Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger, Capt. Dan. D. Fulgham and capt. William Kaufman. The SKY-CAR flights were launched by the Holloman AFB Balloon Branch. To satisfy safety requirements, the flights were closely monitored by medical personnel at all times. A helicopter with medical personnel followed the flights during daylight hours, a C-131 aircraft followed during hours of darkness, and at all times medical personnel followed in an ambulance. Balloon recovery and communications technicians also followed the missions on the ground in a communications vehicle and a balloon recovery vehicle. The safety requirements were a result of several recent balloon mishaps that resulted in serious injuries to the pilots.

This was the first training mission of the series. It was scheduled for May 19, 1959 but was canceled due to equipment problems. Problems overcome, the next day May 20 at 1:30 a.m. the balloon was launched from White Sands Proving Ground. After a five-hour flight, the balloon landed without incident just after sunrise northwest of El Paso, Texas.

External references

If you consider this website interesting or useful, you can help me to keep it up and running with a small donation to cover the operational costs. Just the equivalent of the price of a cup of coffee helps a lot.