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Balloonists becalmed

Rutan, Melton launch delayed by slow winds

Global Hilton
The Global Hilton capsule Monday
January 6, 1998
Web posted at: 3:28 a.m. EST (0828 GMT)

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- Two balloonists hoping to become the first to fly nonstop across the globe postponed their planned Tuesday launch for at least 10 days because winds over the Atlantic Ocean have greatly deteriorated, the adventurers' spokesman said late Monday.

Balloonists Dick Rutan and Dave Melton had planned to launch their balloon, the Global Hilton, early Tuesday from Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque.

"I think the prospects of success would have been diminished," said Patrick Barry, spokesman for the launch effort, referring to the weakening winds needed to carry the balloon over the Atlantic.

Barry said the strong upper air jet stream that was to push the balloon along at speeds of up to 200 mph (320 kph) had broken up in the Atlantic around North Africa.

Dick Rutan and Dave Melton
Rutan, left, and Melton

"There are gaps in the jet stream," he said. "Rather than take off now, it is better to wait for a better day."

Barry said the balloonists would wait about 10 days to 2 weeks before trying to launch again.

Rutan, 59, and Melton, 39, hope theirs is the the third balloon launched since New Year's Eve. Millionaire Steve Fossett failed Monday in his third attempt to fly around the world in a balloon. Kevin Uliassi lifted off from a rock quarry in Illinois last week but had to abort his effort with an emergency landing just three hours later.

National forecasters also advised against the Tuesday launch, saying winter conditions and winds up to 10 knots, about 11.5 mph, could have jeopardized the attempt. Winds under 5 knots are preferred.

"Meteorologically speaking, they are treading on thin ice if they go through with their launch," National Weather service spokesman Ed Polasko told The Associated Press in Albuquerque.

On Monday, forecasters for the Global Hilton team predicted clear skies for Tuesday's launch.

"The track looks excellent. Our weatherman says this is just about as good a global track as we can get, and we're real excited about it," Rutan said at the launch site on Monday afternoon. "We really don't want to let Mr. Hilton down this time."

The Global Hilton is being sponsored by Hilton Hotels Corp. and Pepsi Cola. The team is one of five that have accepted a challenge from Anheuser-Busch Co. The St. Louis-based brewery has promised to pay $500,000 to the first team to complete the flight and donate a matching sum to the charity of the winning team's choice. The flight must be completed by December 31, 1999.

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 around the world.

A former Vietnam combat pilot, Rutan flew 26,000 miles around the world nonstop in the Voyager airplane in 1986. It was the longest flight without refueling; that aircraft was equipped with 17 fuel tanks. Voyager and its two pilots circumnavigated the globe in nine days, three minutes and 44 seconds.

Melton has made two other attempts in 1993 and 1994 to fly nonstop around the world in a balloon.


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