It has always puzzled me that the manufacturers, and it does seem to include all of them to one degree or another, seldom promote their new, or existing come to that, products in a meaningful way. Ballooning I grant you is a pretty close-knit community so perhaps they feel there is no need, word of mouth and all that, but why take an advert out then show or describe nothing of any real value to potential customers and why, oh why do they not send stuff out for evaluation? Very occasionally you’ll get a seemingly independent review of something in Aerostat and probably in the US mags as well but it is far from the norm. Maybe they fear bad feedback but I’m sure the magazine publishers wouldn’t mind the odd press release, and that’s another thing, why is it so hard to find out the price of the burner, basket or whatever. If you ever needed proof then check out the adverts in the last Aerostat (February 2020). Ultramagic’s full page congratulated Stefan Zeberli for winning the FAI European Championship in “The Racer” and that their Racers took third, fourth, seventh and eighth places. Well jolly good but unless I was a hard core competition pilot would that tempt me to buy one? Clearly they want to sell more “Racers” as they have a stockpile? Not a huge market I suspect? Kubicek also had a full page and were promoting the E series and doing it quite well actually with a nice advert but despite claiming that it is the most affordable balloon on the market did it give ‘prices from’? Nope. Cameron Balloons took the back cover. Not very inspiring. I’m not sure there is much else to say only that it appears they will be building seven special shapes in 2020. The diddly lifeless pictures of the eight shapes at the top half of the ad were therefore presumably the ones they built in 2019. Lindstrand Technologies Limited didn’t have an advert so best check out their website.
Now I must be honest and say that websites do drive me nuts and if I can’t find what I want pretty smartish like I usually abandon ship early on, yes and I am sure ours is no different but when you are a manufacturer of balloons you do need to really promote your products with decent pictures, facts and figures. I personally use them primarily in the ‘Support’ department as in manuals, service bulletins and the like but I also usually have a scoot round to find out about their latest products.
Lindstrand Technologies site may be clean crisp and new and show a range of things they make from potato storage inflatable stores to blimps for parachuting out of but its proper representations of their hot air balloon envelopes, equipment and performance details that are scant. So I spent time and thoroughly read their website. Well now, and I may have had to have had a review of me thoughts on account of their website actually having a well developed and nearly up to date News section and 40 page brochure devoted to their hot air balloons. To find out when they first promoted the Vortech burner off I went to page five of the News and on 17 May 2017 they had a bit about the new Vortech burner. Did it have any details about it like weight? Nope but just below a very trendy close-up of the pilot light valve was this….
'Have you got your Vortech Burner yet? Check out the Vortech range via link below. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also click here for more information on our Burners'. So verily I did click and…nothing featured that you wouldn’t expect to find on a modern burner and of course its ‘one of the most reliable and beautiful burners available on the market today’, and ‘Anodized monobloc and handle available in a variety of colours’. I did rummage around the site but that was it on the Vortech and not a hint of its weight or a price. I then went back to a previous page to double check I hadn’t missed something in the small print but couldn’t find again!
I still held out hope of hopes that the 40 page brochure would come up trumps. More lovely trendy close ups and nice pictures of balloons all accompanied by ethereal quotes by persons various, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work – Aristotle”, to accompany them. On performance, fuel consumption, price and weight? Nothing. In ‘News’ there was a heading called ‘For Sale page Now Open’ offering stuff that was for sale including Balloon Envelopes, Baskets, Burners, and Ex-demonstrator Balloon Envelopes. ‘The items are either on the shelf ready-to-go, or currently in-production and soon to be available’. Tried that but pictures of stock envelopes and no prices. In desperation I clicked on ‘Shop’ but that only turned up shelf stuff like Quick Releases (£350), Pilot Bag (best on the market at a reasonable £130) and Mugs at £7. Best then that you heed their advice and call them for further details. The 40 page brochure? Nice artwork, sort of coffee table photo study exhibition luvvie catalogue.
I’m not sure now that the order of events in this is quite correct or even meaningful but it stems from actually fulfilling a former wish. That was to see and have a chance to try out the new Lindstrand Swirly Vortech burner. We went to the Icicle after it was launched (loose term) in 2017, if memory serves, but it wasn’t there nor was there anyone who could discuss it, talk prices or when you may be able to actually buy one. Shame really as the odd lovely picture showed promise. We asked if we could try one out. No response. Then, late last year, we had one turn up as part of an annual inspection. Brilliant. So this isn’t a true review, we’ll try and blag it later in the year for a go in real life but we were able at last to get our hands on one and see if it was all it appeared to be and how it related to the arty farty pictures along with the Flight and Maintenance Manual descriptions. As it was an inspection, we weren’t expecting it and the owner was on a bit of a deadline plus we had another inspection later so we were caught a bit on the hop so’s to speak but at least we could have a good look at it.
We’ve been thinking about this Vortex malarky and reckon its possibly a nice idea if we are getting it right. Getting an efficient flame to heat up the air is a bit of an art form and in the end a bit of a compromise. Ask any ride balloon pilot and they’ll tell you that once drifting along straight and level you only need one burner and even a whisper burner will keep any behemoth up there. In an ideal world the heat ball that forms in the top of the envelope just needs to be heated gently from the bottom during normal flight to maintain your chosen or required temperature. Even when descending or climbing once the desired heat is reached then only small amounts of additional heat are required to maintain it. Its called controlling the balloon. What is happening is that the heat ball isn’t disturbed, merely kept at temperature or gently warmed. To achieve this you need a burner with a short gentle flame but decent power. Traditional burners have traditional long pointy-type flames to produce the power and maintain efficiency. The downside is that using gob loads of long burns disrupts the heat ball so when multiple burners or prolonged burning from a powerful burner producing a long flame occurs the heat ball is disturbed the heat punching into it and smashing the hot core to the outside of the envelope, especially on smaller balloons. This isn’t necessarily good. At best you are now out of control and conducting the classic yo-yo flight pattern and at worst you have seriously overheated the fabric. The art of flying is thus little and often. The trick then is to get a flame that has penetration to at least get inside the envelope slightly above the nomex, is powerful, doesn’t have a concentrated cone like an oxy-acetylene torch but doesn’t burn inefficiently or produce loads of water!
If you introduce a vortex, or rather cause the flame to spin, then the flame will stabilise, mix with air more thoroughly lower down and produce a much more powerful, efficient burn and a shorter flame. Its not quite that easy but that’s the essence of it. This is known as a toroidal vortex flame. Generally such flames have a markedly higher output than a standard purely jetted flame pattern. The Bonanno developed Tekno burner partly does this by squirting a jet of liquid propane up the inside of the flame pattern which causes horizontal vortexes to develop and pulls the flame up when extra output is required hence the reason it is so powerful for its size.
In the case of the squirly whirly Lindstrand Vortex the strong and powerful initial flame draws plenty of air up the middle through additional holes in the block and the angled slots in the can create a slight induced spin producing the vortex shortening the flame and increasing the power and efficiency with far less radial heat being produced. It thus produces all the power you need with the top the pattern softer and less likely to disturb the heat ball. Now if you think I’m rambling all non-sensical does it do what it says?
This one came in a fine Lindstrand padded bag and was minted. It had very low hours on it and was clearly extremely well looked after like all this customers kit. It is colourful, it is a rather stunning design in a sort of Pininfarina cross Barbarella way. According to the blurb on the LTL website the anodised block comes in a variety of colours. No doubt you can mix the colours of the handles and crossbar just to make it even more wine gum. Took me back, maybe shades of alien. I like the design, not sure why, or if it is rugged enough but it does look like a computer had a lot to do with it. Its certainly not blokey but then again not strictly a burner that you would call feminine. Maybe its lipsticks. It does seem to have bits that are male and bits that are female. Very cross dresser Edsel. Whatever, it is a fine thing to behold and does make you stop and look. Thing is that underneath it all, although the block is re-styled, updated and rethought and possibly lightened the mechanical bits all appear Jetstream. Cans and coils? Well we didn’t have time to line it up with our Jetstream but I’d hazard a guess that the dimensions are the same and the coils and jet ring pretty similar. The can has the novel diagonal slots that are the key to its name. Rather natterly the cross tube and whisper handles reflect the Vortex name. I expect Mr Lindstrand will tell you its a stylised lightening exercise.
It does have the feel of the old Lindstrand but appears lighter. We didn’t weigh it but me money’s on 20kg or so. The igniter is familiar, the whisper valve assembly pretty much identical and the rotary pilot light is the same as the Jetstream but horizontal. There is no crossover valve and the squeeze action levers on the main burner have a rather curvy organic look. Before we go any further we tested the burner on the deck at about 45 degrees. I did wonder how much water it produced and if the four openings in the block would be a source of dripping water or, in the event of a flame out, dripping propane. We didn’t try but will next time however having a gander down the coils it does have a very neat looking slurper tube arrangement that surrounds a plain jet so provided the tube is set correctly and doesn’t get blocked up then it ought to work pretty well. The pilot valve is a ninety degree turn and is no different to the Jetstream one. It came on instantly and lit first click. Good ho. Turn it off and it went out dead smartish. Lovely job. The toggle lever operated whisper valve is identical in feel and use to the old Lindstrand. The squeeze action main burner is comfortable and light to use and they are close enough together to make double use easy unless you are ET. What is good that, despite its ‘I’m not sure how meaty beefy this is’, the crosstube mounting where it meets the blast valve ought to be less likely to twist as the Allen bolts seem bigger than the old Jetstream and are set at forty five degrees to the horizontal so more able to absorb side loadings without twisting, a major problem on the later Jetstream design. Not so sure about the hanger mounting for the burners though. It looks very nice but the arms that attach it to the cans don’t seem any thicker than anyone else’s and that has always been a problem on centre gimballed burners often leading pretty quickly to them getting bent. The centre block is the same as the old Lindstrand style and adjusts in the same way. The locking ring for the igniter and pressure gauge is the same style as on the Jetstream which, in that context, are prone to coming loose. Probably similar then on the Vortex.
Crux of the matter was though, what happens when you open the main burner? The flame ignites instantly and sort of climbs and forms into a tower and then goes all slightly tapered about three quarters of the way up developing a noticeable twist. It is turning rather than spinning but the flame is strong and stable and clearly powerful but at the same time gentle. Its also relatively quiet and radiant heat is low. Perhaps more development in jet angles or style will come but clearly, for now, the combination of the angled slots and the additional drawing of air directly through the base and up the centre of the jet ring does the trick. Release the squeeze handle and its gone. This flame is not balls to the wall Jetstream, Stratus or C3. It’s a Vortex.
As for the small print? The Maintenance Manual has nothing in it about repairing or stripping the burner. LTL state that ‘For detailed Service Instructions contact Lindstrand Technologies Ltd’. Hoses are lifed to 10 years and for cleaning the coils Blue Away or Semi-Chrome is recommended. That’s that then. So, on the face of it, I reckon there is very little difference between this and its earlier cousin in the assembly and disassembly of the components and all appear straightforward to service, repair or replace. If you are familiar with a Jetstream you’ll be fine with the Vortex. Skitting through the Flight Manual we discovered that a double Vortex is approved for use with LTL envelopes from a ’56 to a ‘180 and weighs……19kg. This makes it around 3 or 4kg lighter than a Jetstream Double. Hey Ho that’s pretty good. There is also a bit about using the main burner or the whisper burner as a pilot light. With the valve fully open the flame length needs adjusting by use of the cylinder valve. Must try that next time. Cross checking with the other manufacturers’ Flight Manuals it would appear that none of them yet have it as approved equipment so at present (02.2020) you can only use it with Lindstrand Technology baskets and envelopes.
Initial take on the Vortex is that although it maybe a reworked and redesigned Jetstream in the block it does develop a toroidal vortex. What we have seen is certainly a break from tradition as far as styling is concerned and, in my opinion, it is quite refreshing, but how it will stand up to hard use remains to be seen. I can see no immediate problems with servicing and repairing it. It is noticeably lighter but we didn’t get a chance to weigh it to check on the claimed weight. I did think, somewhere on their website, I saw something about a Vortex single or a hopper-type burner but I may have just reached the point that I had lost the will or simply dreampt it. If such things exist we look forward to seeing one. Would I trade my Jetstream for a Vortex. Probably, if it was compatible with a Cameron O-type.