BAJA, Mexico — They didn’t go around the world, but then again it didn’t take them close to 80 days. Regardless, it’s likely Jules Verne would be very proud of American Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev, who together broke records crossing the Pacific together in a balloon.
The two men left Japan in their gas balloon, dubbed Two Eagles, last Sunday. Six days later, they touched down just off western New Mexico.
“#TwoEagles has LANDED SAFELY just off the coast of Baja Mexico,” the team tweeted:
This happy ending was historic, albeit not entirely surprising: Less than two hours earlier, a post on the 50-year-old New Mexico pilot’s Twitter account said “#TwoEagles has begun their (descent) and turn toward land.” Later messages, as well as a live flight-tracking online, showed the balloon getting nearer and nearer to the beach.
By the time Bradley and Tiukhtyaev hit the ground, they’d made history: having traveled some 6,646 miles (10,696 kilometers) and spending 161 hours and 17 minutes aloft in the air together.
Richard Berry — the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, which Bradley calls home — was in Mexico to greet them and tweeted that the pilots brought the balloon down about two miles offshore, where they were picked up by a fishing boat and brought toward land.
“Success!” read a tweet from the Balloon Federation of America. “…Two world records for gas ballooning and the Pacific crossed!”
Success! #TwoEagles have landed safely off the coast of Baja, Mexico! Two world records for gas ballooning and the Pacific crossed!
— BFA (@BFAballooning) January 31, 2015
Others have gone farther and for longer in airborne balloons before (though not the characters in Verne’s classic book “Around the World in 80 Days”), perhaps most famously late tycoon adventurer Steve Fossett.
But the others rode balloons that used hot air or some combination of hot air and gas. What makes Two Eagles is different in that there is no heat source like a propane burner, only gas — in this case, helium. Pilots control their altitude by releasing some of the gas during the day (when the sun heats up and expands the gas), or throwing off sand or water at night.
“Traditional ‘straight gas’ balloons are the stuff of legend,” according to the project’s website. “…Old-fashioned ‘gas’ balloons, filled with helium and without the benefit of burners, pit man against the elements at a very basic level with just bags of sand and a healthy dash of boldness as the ‘fuel.'”
Even before touching down in western Mexico, Two Eagles had already set two major gas ballooning records.
One was for how long they were in the air — passing the previous mark of 137 hours, 5 minutes, 50 seconds by Double Eagle II on a 1978 transatlantic flight.
According to rules set by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the record must be surpassed by 1% in order to qualify as a new record. The Two Eagles reached that point Friday at 10:51 a.m. ET, though technically it could take months before the U.S. National Aeronautic Association reviews and documents it.
A day earlier, the balloonists broke a 1981 record for distance traveled by a gas balloon. That previous mark of 5,208 miles (8,382.54 kilometers) was way in the rear-view mirror by the time the voyage ended Saturday.