7 records that took flying endurance to the limit

Powered by engine, solar or wind, these flying feats will leave you in awe of aerial adventures.
By Alison Mann

The Red Bull Paper Wings World Final, held at the glittering Hangar-7 venue in Austria on May 8–9, 2015, pits men and women from around the world against each other in tests of skill and endurance… with their paper aeroplanes, these pilots attempt to break distance and airtime world records with every throw. You can find out more about the event at RedBullPaperWings.com.

But how does this compare to the extreme lengths the guys below have gone to smash records? From spending time orbiting planet earth, to hang-gliding over volcanic cliffs, here are some of the most amazing flight endurance records in the world.

More: Meet 7 humans dedicated to ridiculous speeds

1. Travelling around the world by balloon


Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones flew around the world in the Breitling Orbiter 3
The Breitling Orbiter 3 circumnavigated the globe © Nicolas Le Corre/Getty Images

What: Farthest distance flown in a balloon
Details: March 1 – 21, 1999 for 477h 47m, a distance of 40,814km
Where: Circumnavigation of the earth, starting in Switzerland
Pilot skill: 8

It was a lofty ambition in 1999 when Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon. Flying in the Breitling Orbiter 3, the pair managed to achieve the longest ever balloon flight for distance and duration. The flight was also the first ever non-stop-around-the-world-flight 


2. Epic space orbit

Valery Polyakov looks out the window of the Russian space station during his flight
Valery Polyakov during his flight © NASA/Getty Images

What: Longest manned spaceflight
Details: January 8, 1994 – March 22, 1995 for 437 days 17h 58m 17s
Where: Outer space
Pilot skill: 6

When it comes to endurance, try orbiting space for more than 437 days. Russian astronaut Valeri Polyakov gained the accolade of carrying out the longest manned spaceflight. He orbited the earth 7,075 times and had travelled 300,765,472km before landing. Bet he was sick of freeze-dried food by the end of that flight!

3. Hang-gliding world record

Cruising over the cliffs. © Thomas Weissenberger

What: Hang-gliding out-and-back world record
Details: November 3, 2013 travelling 353km
Where: Chile
Pilot skill: 8

After an eight-hour round-trip flight in which he flew 353km, Tom Weissenberger smashed the hang-gliding out-and-back world record. He flew over the awe-inspiring mountain ridges of Chile's Cordillera coast in November 2013. The mission was four years in the making and was incredibly risky as no one had flown along that volcanic cliff before.


4. Around the world in nine days

The Voyager circumnavigated the globe without re-fuelling in 1986
The Voyager circumnavigated the globe © Apic/Getty Images

What: Non-refuelled, manned airplane endurance world record
Details: December 14 – 23, 1986 for 216h 3m 44s
Where: Circumnavigation of the earth starting in California, USA
Pilot skill: 7

With such an epic name there is no way the Voyager could not achieve the goal of flying around the world without stopping and without refuelling. The aircraft set off from Edwards airforce base California, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, landing back again nine days later.


5. Paper wings reaching new heights

© John Collins/You Tube

What: Paper plane distance world record
Details: February 26, 2012 with a distance of 69.14m
Where: California, USA
Pilot skill: 9

Ever thought you could break an endurance flight record with an aircraft launched by your own hand? Well that's what Joe Ayoob did when he broke the distance record for a paper plane flight. The former Californian quarterback used a craft designed by John Collins.

John will be a judge at Red Bull Paper Wings on May 8-9 in Austria, and Joe will be a guest. 


6. The record-breaking futuristic aircraft

The Airbus Zephyr flew for 14 days without re-fuelling
The futuristic Airbus Zephyr © Airbus Defence and Space

What: World endurance record for an unmanned plane
Details: July 9 – 23, 2010 for 336h 22m 8s
Where: Arizona, USA
Pilot skill: 0

The Airbus Zephyr is a pretty nifty bit of kit and holds the record for the longest flight duration without refuelling at 14 days. The record was claimed in July 2010 in Arizona. It's solar-powered and the mighty machine has also broken the record for reaching the highest altitude at 21,561.5m.


7. Distance paragliding

Nevil Hulett broke the world paragliding distance record
Nevil Hulett broke the paragliding distance record © Bruce Goldsmith

What: World paragliding distance record
Details: December 14, 2008 with a 507km flight
Where: South Africa
Pilot skill: 9

South Africa played host to Nevil Hulett's almost unbelievable flight of 507km, currently the outright world record for the furthest distance flown in a paraglider. It took an insane amount of skill to complete and is something most pilots could only dream of!

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