Balloonists to attempt record-breaking flight from Saga

After weather patterns thwarted his plans seven years ago, an American will attempt to break the world record for distance in a gas balloon by flying from Saga Prefecture to the U.S. East Coast.

Troy Bradley of the United States will be accompanied by co-pilot Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Russia on the journey. They will arrive in Japan on Jan. 2, with the balloon on standby starting on Jan. 7.

The pair will decide when to depart after checking weather conditions. They plan to leave at dawn from the Saga city Bosai Station (Saga city disaster-prevention station), located along the Kasegawa river.

If all goes according to plan, the balloon will fly 9,600 kilometers from Saga over the Pacific Ocean and land on the eastern coast of the United States.

That would shatter the current gas balloon record of 8,382.54 km, set in 1981 by businessman Rocky Aoki and others who flew from Mie Prefecture to California.

The balloon of Bradley and Tiukhtyaev is equipped with a carbon fiber-made gondola that can withstand extremely high altitudes of between 7,000 meters and 8,000 meters.

The balloon measures 46 meters in height and 31 meters in width, with an inner volume of 9,900 cubic meters. It takes about 10 hours to fill the balloon with helium.

Bradley said he chose Saga as the starting point because the many balloon enthusiasts there could cooperate with his project.

In January 2008, Bradley and another American were prepared to make the balloon trip from Saga. However, the La Nina phenomenon, in which sea surface temperatures decline off South America, appeared, leading to frequent storms on the U.S. West Coast where the balloon was scheduled to land.

In addition, jet streams in the northern Pacific Ocean moved northward, raising the risk of the balloon being pushed toward Alaska.

Bradley waited for about two months, but he eventually gave up because the jet streams became unstable when the temperatures rose in spring.

He put the balloon and related equipment in a warehouse in Saga and returned to the United States.

Bradley has since collected sufficient funds to resume the project, and Tiukhtyaev replaced Bradley’s original American co-pilot.

In September, technical staff members visited Saga to check the balloon and related equipment. They gave the green light for the flight.

In 2008, Bradley’s balloon was named “Celestial Eagle.” It was renamed “Two Eagles” because both the United States and Russia use eagles as symbols.




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