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Balloonists cross Pacific in bid for distance record

Editor's note: AOPA has updated the story since its original publication date to include the latest progress of the balloon record attempt.

Two veteran balloonists were aloft above the Pacific Ocean in a bid to break the world’s distance record for a gas balloon flight.

Troy Bradley, 50, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Leonid Tiukhtyaev, 58, of Moscow, lifted off in their helium-filled balloon Two Eagles from Saga, Japan, on Jan. 24 in their quest to top a record established in 1981. They were expected to cross into North America the evening of Jan. 29.

The team’s objective was to cross the Pacific in the Kevlar and carbon-fiber-capsuled craft, and make landfall in the United States or Canada—or even Mexico under some conditions. The ocean crossing was expected to take five or six days in the balloon that can stay aloft for up to 10 days, the team said on its website.

Early on Jan. 29, after 118 hours aloft, the balloon had traveled about 5,155 miles. The distance record would be broken at 5,208 miles, said a flight-status page on the Project Two Eagles website.

The likelihood as it approached the U.S. West Coast had been for a landing in one of the northwestern states. But as the craft approached an area of high pressure, it confronted an obstacle. “Think of it as hitting a wall: It will have to go left or right,” the team reported at midday.

That scenario prompted a change in plans: “In the next hours, the balloon will change altitude and begin tracking south (right) towards a landing anticipated for Baja California on Saturday. This southern track has been present for some time and was considered as an option earlier in the flight, but was ruled out because of concerns about convective activity (storms) in that area.”

Fortunately, the balloon’s “detour” to the north would allow it to return south and miss the bad weather, the team reported.

Wherever the landing occurs, the pilots will seek conditions of calm winds and an open area for the 350,000-cubic-foot balloon.

Bradley is the owner of Star Trail Inc. a commercial balloon enterprise in Albuquerque, and holds a number of ballooning records and titles.

Tiukhtyaev, a businessman and bank chairman, is president of the Balloon Federation of Russia. He has flown and raced hot air balloons and gas balloons since 1996, according to the Two Eagles Project.

The pilots were communicating with their ground support team in Albuquerque with satellite phones, satellite-based flight trackers, radios, and two aviation transponders.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Hot Air Balloon, Aviation Industry, Travel

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