In 2019, Leticia Noemi Marqués of Argentina flew the Aerocene Pacha, a hot air ballon that ran entirely without fuel. It is now considered the most sustainable flight in human history, and one of the most important experiments in the history of aviation.
Rather than being powered by batteries or gas, the hot air balloon only uses sunlight and air to lift riders into the sky — a feat that has allowed the Aerocene Pacha to set 32 world records, all recognized by the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).
The lighter-than-air balloon, designed by Tomás Saraceno, took off in the Salinas Grandes salt plain region of Argentina, located at an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,155 feet) above sea level. The solar balloon flew at a height of 272 meters (893 feet) above the ground lifted using only the heat of the sun and the air and traveled a distance of 668 meters (2,190 feet).
Leticia Noemi Marques’ flight earned 32 spots in the book of world records within the short time frame of only 16 minutes. The records included the inaugural entries into both female and general categories for ballooning in the FAI sub-class of AT: “A free balloon which obtains its buoyancy as a result of heating air using solar and/or external radiation sources only.”
As noted by designboom, although the record-setting Aerocene Pacha balloon weighs 190 pounds (86 kilograms), it can carry up to 522 pounds (237 kilograms). Tapping into lighter-than-air technology, the balloon transforms solar radiation into heat by means of its dark-colored membrane. The flight at Salinas Grandes was also aided by the effect of white salt flats covering the region, which reflected light upward from below.
Image source: Studio Tomás Saraceno