Two pilots guided a helium-filled balloon nearly 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean,landing safely off the coast of Mexico early last Saturday. Balloonists Troy Bradley of the U.S. and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia landed four miles from Mexico’s Baja California coast near La Poza Grande,which happens to be less than 300 miles north of downtown Cabo San Lucas,after lifting off from the city of Saga in Japan just six days earlier.
“The trip shattered two long-standing records for ballooning,what the AP described as the ‘holy grail’ of ballooning achievements — the distance record of 5,209 miles and the 137-hour duration record,” writes NPR.
All told,the pilots traveled 6,646 miles and the trip took exactly six days,16 hours and 38 minutes. The previous distance record was set more than 30 years ago during the only other Trans-Pacific balloon crossing,which was completed by Ben Abruzzo,Larry Newman,Ron Clark and Rock Aoki aboard the Double Eagle V in 1981,while the previous duration record was set by the Double Eagle II following a historic Trans-Atlantic crossing in 1978. It’s important to note,however,that the existing records will remain officially intact until the U.S. National Aeronautic Association,as well as the Federation Aeronautique Internationale,has a chance to validate the new data.
The pilots performed an eye-catching landing for onlookers,skimming the ocean’s surface on their approach and trailing thick ropes to slow them down before coming to rest in a controlled manner. Upon landing,Bradley and Tiukhtyaev were greeted by supporters and a team of balloon enthusiasts who helped tow the balloon to the coast.
“We’re really pleased with the distance numbers we have here and very pleased with the duration numbers,” shared Steve Shope,director of mission control. “These are significant improvements over the existing records.”
Although the two men reportedly remained in good spirits throughout the trip,the journey was arduous at times. For one thing,the balloon’s living area – known as the capsule – was 50 degrees at its warmest and is only seven feet long,five feet wide and five feet tall. Also,the pilots were flying at a minimum altitude of 15,000 feet,which required them to wear oxygen masks and protective gear. Amenities were sparse,amounting to sleeping bags,a small heater and a rudimentary toilet.
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune,this epic flight was more than 15 years in the making and is the result of countless hours spent by Bradley,Tiukhtyaev and Bradley’s wife Tami,who is also a balloon pilot.
“For Troy,it’s a personal thing to do something better than anyone else in the world has done it before and to push himself,” she shared. “It’s also his way of paying homage to those who came before him by attempting to go after their records.