American, Russian Burst Ballooning Records in Pacific Crossing – Wall Street Journal

The Two Eagles Balloon Team consisted of Troy Bradley of Albuquerque, N.M., and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Moscow, Russia, shown above on Jan. 8 before they lifted off in their gas balloon from Saga, Japan.
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A helium-filled balloon piloted by an American and a Russian landed safely off the coast of Mexico early Saturday after an audacious trip across the Pacific Ocean that shattered two long-standing records for ballooning.

The pilots landed 4 miles offshore Baja California about 300 miles north of the popular beach destination of Cabo San Lucas, greeted by a team of balloon enthusiasts who assisted with the landing. The pilots came in low and dropped thick trailing ropes into the ocean to help slow the balloon before setting down in a controlled water landing.

Mission Control in Albuquerque was packed with balloon team members and the pilots’ families, as all eyes focused on a giant screen showing a map of the coast and the balloon’s location as it descended. They exchanged hugs and smiled with relief after it touched down.

“We’re really pleased with the distance numbers we have here and very pleased with the duration numbers,” said

Steve Shope,

mission control director. “These are significant improvements over the existing records. We didn’t break them by just a little bit. They were broken by a significant amount.”

Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and

Leonid Tiukhtyaev

of Moscow lifted off from Japan on Sunday morning, and by Friday, they had beaten what is considered the Holy Grail of ballooning achievements, the 137-hour duration record set in 1978 by the Double Eagle crew of

Ben Abruzzo,

Maxie Anderson

and

Larry Newman

in the first balloon flight across the Atlantic. They also easily exceeded the distance record of 5,209 miles set by the Double Eagle V team during the first trans-Pacific flight in 1981.

The pilots were said to be in good spirits at various times during the trip, but it was a grueling ordeal. The balloon’s capsule is about the size of a large tent—7 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall. They were flying at an altitude of at least 15,000 feet, requiring them to wear oxygen masks and bundle up against the 50-degree temperature inside the capsule. They had sleeping bags, a small onboard heater and a simple toilet.

The technology has improved so much in the last couple of years. I don’t think there’s going to be any question about the records.

—Katie Griggs, regional director of the Balloon Federation of America, on the Two Eagles’ accomplishments, which must be verified by ballooning authorities.

The original route took the pilots on a path from Japan, across the Pacific Ocean and toward the U.S. Pacific Northwest before they encountered shifting weather patterns. They then made a sweeping right turn and headed south along the California coast for the Mexico landing.

By Saturday morning, the Two Eagles team had been in the air more than 160 hours and was smashing the distance record, having traveled nearly 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.

“The technology has improved so much in the last couple of years. I don’t think there’s going to be any question about the records,” said Katie Griggs, a regional director with the nonprofit Balloon Federation of America.

The world has been tracking their progress online and through social media sites. Still, the official distance and time of the Two Eagles flight must be confirmed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, which requires staying aloft 1% longer and farther than the previous record.

The 'Two Eagles' Mission Control center at the Albuquerque Balloon Museum, on Thursday.
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The balloon was outfitted with an array of monitors and other instruments that tracked its course and compiling the data, using technology that didn’t exist in decades past, leaving some claims unproven.

The journey has been tough on the pilots, who have been on oxygen for days; high altitude can take a physical toll. But they had been managing to crack jokes when checking in with mission control and their families.

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