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Breitling Orbiter 3: Round the world balloon flight complete

Tuesday 16 March, 1999


The Breitling Orbiter 3 completed the first round the world balloon flight in 1999. It took 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes from take off to landing

Cross Country magazine followed the Breitling Orbiter 3 as it made its way around the world in 1999

11:00 GMT: The Breitling Orbiter 3, at 09h54 (GMT) hours passed the ‘finishing line’ of 9.27° over Mauritania, North Africa, completing their round the world balloon trip.

Bertrand Piccard and Brian jones have now become the first balloonists to circumnavigate the globe with a non-stop, non-refuelled flight.

It has taken the Breitling team 19 days, 1 hour and 49 minutes to travel the 42,810 km. They are now on route towards Egypt, where they plan to land tomorrow morning.

18:30 GMT: The Breitling Orbiter 3 is now flying over the Atlantic, with the finishing line firmly in site. Pending any last minute unforeseen difficulties, it will be crossing over the East African coast Saturday morning at about 09:00 GMT.

The line of longitude the balloon will have to cross in order to complete the round the world trip is 9.27°W, over Mauritania, North Africa.

The estimated time of crossing over this line at present is approximately 12.00 GMT. Due to the fast speeds of 155 km/h over the Atlantic, Egypt, as well as Mali, could now be a distinct possibility for landing.

The final decision will be made by the pilots Saturday, depending on the fuel. The pilots are currently totally focused upon their flight for the last remaining hours, calculating their fuel consumption in order to avoid any last minute difficulties.

They will then be picked up and brought back to Geneva airport as quickly as possible for a press conference.

This morning, the Breitling Orbiter 3 has taken the duration record of Andy Elson and Colin Prescott, of 17 days 18 hours and 25 minutes.

A further press release will be sent out tomorrow with updated information regarding the landing and press conferences.

Friday: 17:00 GMT: Having passed over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, this afternoon, Breitling Orbiter 3 is heading towards the African coast at an altitude of 11,000 m and a speed of 64 knots. It will progressively enter the jet stream over the Atlantic and should cross the finish line over Mauritania Saturday by midnight.

Unfortunately, team meteorologists are still unable to predict the exact landing spot. However, Mali seems to be the most likely option at the moment, with the possibility of landing on Sunday morning, though the team still wishes to go all the way to Egypt. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria now seem less likely.

Breitling Orbiter 3 took much longer to cross central America (Mexico, Guatemala and Belize in 17 hours) than originally expected. This was due in part to slower winds and because of a poor southerly direction (towards Venezuela) taken by the balloon.

Pilots reported minor breathing problems shortly before crossing the Caribbean coast. All life support systems on board showed normal readings, and following medical consultations, they were advised to take additional oxygen for a short period using constant flow masks.

After 15 minutes of this treatment, the symptoms disappeared. Bertrand slept for two hours and awoke feeling completely refreshed. Apparently, the heater system is working perfectly.

Tension is building in the control centre at Geneva Airport, as staff realise that the completion of the first round-the-world flight is now more than a possibility. Everyone has adopted a policy of “one day at a time “, when thinking about the future.

This post was edited on 13 January 2011

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