And the 2016 Golden Balloon goes to…..

Our annual Golden Balloon Awards recognize the Loon Balloons that have demonstrated epic feats of strength and stamina. They also shine a spotlight on some of the technical progress the team has made behind the scenes to bring us even closer to bringing connectivity to people around the world.

While in past years we’ve highlighted multiple high flyers, this year, one balloon stood out for its combination of endurance, agility and power. We called it The Bolt. The Bolt demonstrated an unmatched combination of navigational accuracy, balloon durability and sheer energetic endurance to set it apart from the flock.

A true all rounder, The Bolt set a new project record for balloon longevity, staying aloft for 190 days.

During its six-month-long adventure, The Bolt sailed more than 122,000 kilometers through the sky and hit top speeds of 162 kilometers per hour. To fuel this marathon effort, the balloon’s solar panels generated 1.72 gigajoules of energy over the course of the flight. If that amount of energy was deployed in seconds instead of months, it would be enough to spark a lightning bolt.

The Bolt’s high altitude tour started in Puerto Rico. From there, it floated over 19 different countries and three continents, sometimes reaching lofty heights of 20,353 meters - that’s the same view you’d have from the top of 65 Eiffel Towers stacked atop one another. Our new navigational algorithms, designed to maximize the time that balloons spend over areas where they can deliver connectivity to people on the ground, helped keep The Bolt on track. Bobbing up and down between the layers of the stratospheric winds, The Bolt made more than 30,000 maneuvers to stay on course during its global adventure.

In addition to the wild winds, The Bolt also endured extreme temperatures. Some nights it got as cold as -83C. That’s just a few degrees away from our record low of -90, and as icy as an Antarctic winter night. The Bolt is one of our “Nighthawk” designs, and its combination of strength and durability ensured that it was well equipped to withstand these extremes. (You can check out how we’ve evolved our balloon designs to make our fleet even stronger over the years here:

After travelling the equivalent of three circumnavigations around the world, we decided it was time to bring our rugged adventurer back home. So we navigated The Bolt back to our landing site in the Nevada desert for a well earned retirement. The lessons we’ve learned from The Bolt’s explorations will help us make future balloons even stronger.
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