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Third balloon team to try where others failed

The team will travel in a pressurized capsule with bottled oxygen  

Round-the-world effort set to begin Tuesday in New Mexico

January 5, 1998
Web posted at: 11:56 a.m. EST (1656 GMT)

In this story:

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- With two balloonists out of the running for now in separate bids to be first to circle the globe, attention turned Monday to the challengers expected to try next: Americans Dick Rutan and Dave Melton. They have been cleared to launch their own balloon, the Global Hilton, before dawn on Tuesday from Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque.

The liftoff was pushed back a day after forecasts called for high winds in pre-launch hours as the 170-foot-high balloon was to be inflated. The delay also allowed crew members to repair a broken valve in a high pressure oxygen tank in the balloon's pressurized passenger capsule, according to Global Hilton spokesman Pat Barry.

CNN's Jim Hill reviews Rutan's derring-do
icon 1 min. 45 sec. VXtreme video

Rutan, a Californian, is best known as one of the pilots of the first nonstop airplane flight around the world -- a record he and Jeana Yeager set in 1986 aboard the aircraft Voyager.

Co-pilot Melton, who is from New Mexico, has more than 15 years of ballooning experience and is a licensed pilot of hot air and gas balloons. In 1995, he and fellow pilot Richard Abbruzzo won the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race from Albuquerque to West Virginia.

Rutan flew the Voyager on a record-setting non-stop flight around the world in 1986  

The weather, not the pilot, is in control

Aboard Voyager, Rutan was in control. But this time, the former test pilot will be at the mercy of the weather. "This is the first time I'm going to leave in the morning and have no idea when I'm coming back," he told CNN.

Both men will be tucked inside a carbon-fiber sphere, with equipment that "meets the technical difficulties," but winds will determine the mission's success or failure, Melton says. (94K/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Experts say the best time for such flights is in January and February, when favorable jet-stream winds blow from the Western to Eastern hemispheres. In theory, such conditions could carry a balloon completely around the world.

However, recent attempts by balloonists Kevin Uliassi and Steve Fossett to capitalize on the weather advantage have ended in failure.

The proper altitude to win

The Global Hilton, a combination helium and hot air balloon, is designed to allow Rutan and Melton to stay at the right altitude in the heat of day, or cool of night. The pressurized passenger capsule is insulated to protect them from sub-zero temperatures six miles above the Earth.

They are taking along enough bottled oxygen, food and water to stay aloft for up to three weeks.

Anheuser-Busch, a U.S. brewer, has offered $500,000 to the first balloon team that makes it around the world before December 31, 1999. The company will donate another $500,000 to the charity of the winning team's choice.

The winner, Rutan said, will be the balloon team that manages to maintain the right altitude throughout the voyage.(119K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

At least two other balloon teams also were preparing up to pursue the round-the-world record.

Correspondent Jim Hill contributed to this report.


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