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.
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
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.