by Maddie Abene
New year, new heights, and new records: on Jan. 30, 2015, pilots Troy Bradley, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Leonid Tiukhtyae of Moscow, Russia, set the world record for duration and longest distance ever traveled across the Pacific Ocean in a helium-filled balloon. The journey was a tremendous success with the pilots reaching the coast of Mexico in just a little over six days after launching from Saga, Japan.
Bradley, 50, and Tiukhtyaev pronounced “two-kh-TIE-yev”, 58, spent the duration of the journey in a space smaller than that of a king-size bed and with a ceiling only five feet tall. Described as “the holy grail of gas ballooning,” this achievement stunned the world by breaking previous records that had stood for over 30 years. Taking them 160 hours and 37 minutes to complete the distance of 6,646 miles, the trip beat records of distance and duration by 27 percent and 17 percent respectively.
Initial plans for landing included a majestic wrap-up on the beach. Unfortunately, strong wind currents blowing parallel to the Mexican coast forced Bradley and Tiukhtyae to dump helium to drop the balloon to a safer altitude right above the water. They then released two 150-foot hemp trail ropes from the sides of the balloon to slow down their speed to two knots for landing at 9AM Saturday morning. The team did not declare success until they received confirmation that the two pilots had been found and rescued by a fishing boat. The Two Eagles were then assisted by Mexican authorities to secure the balloon, capsule, and important equipment aboard, including cameras that were used to document the excursion. Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque, the ballooning capital of the world, was present upon their return in Baja for congratulations and celebration.
At this point, the only thing standing between The Two Eagles and the official record books is the Fédèration Aéronautique Internationale, an international regulating organization, where both of the records made must go through review before they are made legitimate. It is without question, however, that the two adventurers are far past getting the world-record-setting jitters.
These world records are another accolade to the pilots’ already renowned reputation. Troy Bradley is the heart of this achievement, as he has been anticipating his own trans-Pacific flight for over seven years now. Eager to commence the trip in 2008, he had all of his supplies sent to Japan to stage the flight, but was stopped by poor weather. Bradley is one of the world’s most successful balloonists, possessing more than 60 world ballooning records and around 6,200 piloting hours of experience. In addition to being a retired president of the Balloon Federation of America, he is also a recipient of the Montgolfier Diploma which recognizes his exceptional skills as a balloonist. The second eagle, Leonid Tiukhtyaev, is a chairman at a major Russian bank and the current president of Russia’s balloon federation. Tiukhtyaev and Bradley would often converse at international ballooning meets, which led to Bradley inviting Tiukhtyaev on his journey. With many piloting hours, awards to his name, and eight world records, Tiukhtyaev fit the job description perfectly.
This mission accomplished even more than just the two records. “The Two Eagles has partnered with Spidertracks, a company dedicated to increasing safety and tracking in aviation, and is working to improve the technology behind tracking flights.” Both pilots helped contribute to scientific studies by allowing scientists to examine the human body and how it responds to living at altitudes higher than 30,000 feet and in an unpressurized capsule. The Two Eagles set a precedent for what we can accomplish with today’s innovations, and more importantly, what we can accomplish when we embrace adventure.
(Source: National Geographic)