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Frenchman's pedalo dirigible Channel attempt blown out

Gentle headwinds foil blimp bicyclist

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An attempt to cross the English Channel in a pedal-powered dirigible has failed. French blimp-bike aficionado Stephane Rousson was defeated by headwinds blowing at several miles per hour.

"We were about three-quarters of the way across but the wind was flowing in the wrong direction for me to make it across," the disappointed pedal-gasbag pilot told the BBC.

"Unfortunately there was nothing to suggest from the weather forecasts that there was going to be this change in the direction of the wind."

Rousson's craft, formerly called "Zeppy" but renamed "Louise" after his girlfriend - who has reportedly dumped him - is 16m long and 5m in diameter. It is naturally highly subject to the winds, and the limited thrust offered by the twin pedal-driven props can only propel it against the lightest of breezes.

According to the daring but romantically unfortunate blimpster's website, Rousson can pedal the craft at 15kph sustainably or go at 20kph flat out - just ten knots, for any nautical or aviation types reading this. He had hoped to complete the Channel crossing with very light airs blowing from the west, so as not to gain any assistance from the wind but also not to suffer any hindrance.

Flying the blimp-bike calls for more than just an ability to pedal hard. In order to get the maximum possible lift, the ship's pressure height is very low - cruising height is just 30m, and ascending much higher will cause a dangerous loss of helium. However, many of the large fast-moving merchant ships transiting the crowded Channel have superstructures higher than this, so awareness of traffic and control of altitude are critical.

There's just 5kg of ballast, apparently, and the emergency gas venting system is a big knife. Rousson can't carry a parachute as the extra weight would ground the "Louise" at once. His main method of controlling height is by vectoring the the thrust of his twin 3m props, which can be swivelled to point up or down as required.

Sunday's Channel attempt started off well according to the Beeb, with an 0800 takeoff from Hythe seeing Rousson more than halfway to his goal at lunchtime. But then the breeze shifted southerly while he was still 16km from France, driving the blimp inexorably backwards no matter how hard he pedalled. After a struggle, he was forced to deflate the blimp and take to his safety boat.

The intrepid Frenchman had already suffered a similar failure in June: here's a vid from ITV, courtesy of YouTube.

"I'm not disappointed," Rousson said. "I feel happy because it had nothing to do with any technical failure."

Nonetheless, the hard-grafting balloonpedalo pilot must have felt a twinge of envy for the weekend's other Continental crazytech Channel-crossing contender, Yves Rossy, who zoomed easily across the narrow seas last Friday strapped into his personal backpack jetwing. ®

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