On October 26, the Aerocene Foundation gave a seminar during Tomás Saraceno’s exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. With the promise of a solar-powered balloon flight as a future means of human transportation, the team literally rose to the challenge at dawn near Fontainebleau. Report in photos.
Fontainebleau, special report
Aerocene, a foundation initiated by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno, imagines a new era that would finally recognize the protection of our atmosphere as a fundamental priority. The “On Air live with… Aerocene” seminar, coordinated by the geographer Sasha Engelmann, gathered activists, contributors and Aerocene Foundation members whose expertise included environmental justice, open source and distributed culture, philosophy, stories and problems around air.
One of the major themes of the exhibition showing at Palais de Tokyo in Paris is imagining new types of transportation and utopic aerial habitats. Aerocene democratizes hot air balloon rides powered exclusively by “aerosolar” energy, a thermodynamic principle that has been tested by a few pioneers since the 1970s, and which Saraceno has been exploring in his art for the past 15 years. More recently, the artist decided to promote this ideology through a nonprofit organization in order to confront the contemporary urgencies of climate change.
The Aerocene Foundation’s aerosolar balloons are based purely on the heat from sunrays captured by their black fabric. They can take off without burning fossil fuel energy, require no solar panels or batteries, helium, hydrogen or other rare gases. Only the difference in temperature between the inside and outside of the balloon causes it to rise. As truly beautiful floating sculptures, these aerosolar balloons are also Trojan horses in air space, manifesting the necessity for a transnational law that would challenge the monopoly of current aviation laws. They also call attention to prioritizing the protection of the atmosphere and ecological freedom of mobility, especially in light of the ever-increasing carbon-emitting vehicles in our soot-filled skies.
World’s first registered solar-powered hot air balloon
For a long time, solar-powered balloons remained as prototypes, which nobody wanted to register and insure as recreational balloons. Tomás Saraceno and the Aerocene Foundation’s pioneering feat consisted of officially registering the first solar-powered hot air balloon (as D-OAEC) in 2015. Following its maiden flight that same year during COP21 above the White Sands desert in New Mexico (which Makery covered in detail), the big black balloon took off in France on October 27, 2018 near Fontainebleau. “235 years after the first piloted flight by the Montgolfier brothers,” Tomás reminded us after the experience.
At 7:30 a.m., the first team members arrive in the mist on the lawn of the Moret-Episy aerodrome south of the Fontainebleau forest. The Aerocene team is lucky to find an open window of sunshine and no wind for a few hours. The pilot, Igor Miklousic from the Balon Klub Zagreb in Croatia, examines the field and establishes anchor points for the captive flight of the D-OAEC aerosolar balloon.
By 8 a.m., dawn slowly breaks. We inflate the first Aerocene Explorers, black tetrahedral balloons measuring 3-4 meters wide. An aerodrome surveillance worker greets the team as he passes by. The flight was authorized thanks to the France Montgolfières association, Aéro-club de la Vallée du Loing and the certified pilot.
The other members of the Aerocene community converge little by little to discover three Explorers deployed like UFOs on the aerodrome lawn. This event was coordinated thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Aerocene Foundation’s French and international communities, Palais de Tokyo and Studio Tomás Saraceno.
As the sun starts to shine through the mist, the teams lay out reflective surfaces that will concentrate the light and infrared radiations.
Hot air balloon D-OAEC is deployed at the center of the reflective surfaces and gradually inflated.
The pilot checks the parachute ropes (or valve) that will allow hot air to escape and deflate the balloon post-flight.
The balloon begins to take shape in the fog, creating an increasingly ethereal scene.
As the fog dissipates and the sun takes over, the Explorers begin to rise. Tomás Saraceno shares his enthusiasm with the on-site community.
After 9 a.m., the fog has completely disappeared. The black tetrahedrons take off, and the big black balloon starts to stand.
The D-OAEC is now in a vertical position and begins to rise above the ground.
It’s time to harness Sasha Engelmann, the first candidate for D-OAEC’s human pilot and cargo. Conditions are still optimal by mid-morning.
Tetrahedron Aerocene Explorer rises in altitude. However, available air space remains limited, as small planes take off and land nearby.
Pilot change. This time, Cédric Carles from Solar Sound System puts on the harness.
Despite the slightly cloudy sky, all four balloons float joyfully in the air. Still captive, the D-OAEC now carries Argentinian anthropologist Débora Swistun, who participated in yesterday’s seminar.
By noon, the wind starts to pick up. Igor Miklousic attempts a short free flight. The balloon moves toward the nearby runway where planes are taking off.
Like a kite balloon, one Explorer slowly guides its pilot toward the hangar for gliders in the distance. It’s time to end the experiment.
More about the flight on Aerocene Foundation website.