A Toyota HiLux SR extra cab is on duty as official chase car, supporting intrepid Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov as he crosses Australia at the start of his bid to set a new world record for a non-stop solo hot-air balloon flight around the globe.
Northam, a world-recognised hub for ballooning around 50km north-east of Perth, was the launching point for Konyukhov's Around-the-World-On-A-Rozière-Balloon expedition.
The HiLux chase vehicle has already performed a critical role in support of this unique journey, transporting the gondola carrying gas burners and tanks for pre-launch tests and delivering equipment arriving from various countries.
The Russian started his round-the-world air balloon flight on July 12 and, despite low wind speed, the Toyota protected the balloon from premature lift-off courtesy of a direct wire-rope connection.
While preparing for the 'round-the-world flight, the Toyota HiLux was transformed into a full-on travelling base for testing the equipment installed on the world's largest balloon, made especially for Konyukhov's record attempt.
Its generous load capacity allowed the HiLux to transport the gondola with burners on the roof in its trailer simultaneously with gas tanks for bed tests to the airfield.
When free from testing, the Toyota HiLux delivered additional equipment that arrived continuously at the expedition camp from supply partners around the world.
A 48 to 72-hour flight across Australia - the first stage of the around-the-world journey - is even more difficult due to the heavy air traffic over the continent.
In case of an unexpected change in the wind direction or speed, Konyukhov will have to make quick decisions on flight direction and level in order to stay away from major air routes.
The Toyota HiLux's unparalleled off-road performance will be critical for the land support team if they have to change the route on-the-fly, or follow the balloon over rough terrain.
The Morton air balloon, equipped with a navigation system and an autopilot, will fly over New Zealand, the Pacific Ocean, South America, the Atlantic Ocean, the southernmost tip of Africa and the Indian Ocean before returning to the west coast of Australia.
During the journey, the gondola with the famous Russian traveller on board will cover 33,000km at a height of five to 10 kilometres.
Considering the speed and enormous height of the flight, no one can predict exactly what distance the HiLux will have to cover off-road to carry out its mission.
The flight around the globe will be a true challenge for Konyukhov and all equipment used in the expedition.
The pilot will spend two weeks in the enclosed space of the gondola where the mercury will not budge above four degrees compared with an ambient temperature as low as minus 60C.
Konyukhov will wear an oxygen mask and eat freeze-dried rations for the entire flight. Restrictions on the airborne weight are so severe that even water supply is limited to 50 litres.
Safety requirements preclude open flame inside the gondola, meaning the only heat source will be warm water heated on an electric cooker.
Tatiana Khalyavskaya, Marketing Manager, Toyota Motor Russia - "After the take-off, Fedor will have to do the usual work: set a new world record on his own. Perhaps the most important thing to achieve success here is understanding that help is always near. On land he will be supported by friends, allies and the Toyota HiLux, a loyal partner that has been doing the usual work - giving confidence in all situations - for over a year now as well. We wish the legendary traveller luck and look forward to his successful return."
HISTORY OF PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN TWO LEGENDARY ADVENTURERS
June 2015 - Toyota and Fedor Konyukhov's expedition crew signed the partnership agreement. The iconic Toyota HiLux became the official vehicle of the unique Russian solo traveller's new project - Around-The-World-On-A-Rozière-Balloon.
Unrivalled off-road performance, excellent capacity and legendary reliability determined the choice of the official expedition vehicle, and the tasks for the Toyota HiLux included:
• transporting the basket and the balloon to the launch site
• following the hot-air balloon with the land support team on roads of any type of surface and soil
• helping collect used gas tanks during runs of many kilometres, and
• meeting the pilots at the landing place, providing transfer from the launch site and to the camp after landing.
June 2015 - January 2016 - The Toyota HiLux was actively involved in the drills of Konyukhov's team in Russia.
January 24, 2016 - Fedor Konyukhov and Ivan Menyaylo set the new world record for the longest hot-air balloon non-stop flight. The HiLux delivered the hot-air balloon and its crew to the launch site, followed the balloonists all the way during the flight, helped collect used gas tanks in the most remote places, and met the travellers at the landing spot.
April 2016 - The Toyota HiLux participated in the official handover ceremony of a new Cameron Balloons air balloon in Bristol, UK. It is the world's largest Rozière balloon, an aerostat that gains its lift through the use of two chambers filled with gas with specific weight lower than air, and hot air.
June 2016 - The main preparatory stage is completed exactly a year after the partnership has begun: Fedor Konyukhov and his team arrived in Australia.
July 12, 2016 - Start of the around-the-world flight.
July 2016 - The land support team headed by Oskar Konyukhov will follow Konyukhov's air balloon across Australia in order to assist if an unforeseen situation arises, including an emergency landing.