The Story of the First-Ever Round-the-World Balloon Flight As Told by the Pilots "Both of us were being driven on by a colossal charge of hope, which sometimes became so strong that we had to take deep breaths and physically choke it down. The important thing, now, was to concentrate and not make any mistakes." — Brian Jones, March 4, flying over the Sahara Desert "This is exactly my definition of adventure...a point at which you cannot avoid confronting the unknown, so that you have to dig inside yourself to find the courage and resources to deal with what may lie ahead, and to succeed." — Bertrand Piccard, diary entry March 10, heading out over the Pacific
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On the 9th of March, 1999, eight days into their flight, Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard were approaching Myanmar's air space. They had the following exchange with an air-traffic controller:
Air traffic control: Hotel Bravo-Bravo Romeo Alpha, what is your departure point and destination?
Brian Jones: Departure point, Château d'Oex, Switzerland. Destination, somewhere in northern Africa.
Air traffic control, after several seconds' silence: If you're going from Switzerland to northern Africa, what in hell are you doing in Myanmar?
Twelve days later the Breitling Orbiter 3 made a hard but safe landing in the Egyptian desert. Their successful circumnavigation, the first, put Piccard and Jones into the record books for distance (25,361 miles) and duration (477.47 hours aloft). Around the World in 20 Days tells the story of their flight, and the obstacles--both natural and manmade--they had to overcome. Struggling to get the balloon back into the jet stream when they had strayed too far south was one thing, but negotiating with dozens of countries for the right to fly in their air space was just as challenging. Even choosing a landing site was problematic: "Mali is mainly desert, and has lions, leopards etc.," while the Nigerians were hesitant, the Libyans wouldn't allow rescue planes to be brought in, and Egypt gave the balloon permission to overfly its borders but not to land. On the ground, the team's support system spelled out the situation to the Egyptians: "Listen--the balloon is running out of fuel. If the pilot doesn't have permission to land, he'll have to declare a full emergency, and you'll be obliged by the international rules to deal with it." The Egyptian controller replied, "In that case, I give you permission."
Readers looking for edge-of-their-seats adventure may be disappointed; the authors tend to downplay the amount of danger they were often in. Indeed, the good humor in the cramped gondola camouflaged much of the scrambling taking place on the ground as the support crews worked to ensure the safety of the pilots. Sometimes the narrative, told in alternating passages by Piccard and Jones, descends into technical detail about flight levels, wind speeds, and directions. ("The required flight level will be between 260 and 280, with tracks between 093 and 098, and speed around 35 knots until 00:00 Z.") More often, however, the book glides along as smoothly as these two men who, in Piccard's words, "took off as pilots, flew as friends, and landed as brothers." --Sunny DelaneyFrom the Inside Flap:
In this dramatic and inspiring account, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, the pilots of the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon’, tell the remarkable story of their record-breaking, first-ever around-the-world balloon flight in March 1999, one of the great feats of human endurance. By the time Piccard and Jones took off from Switzerland on March 1, they had already faced many problems and delays, and the prospects of winning the race around the world looked dim—a rival balloon was many days ahead of them. Then, just as they were about to cancel their attempt, a perfect weather window opened up, and they were off. As their rivals faltered and ditched in the ocean, Piccard and Jones caught the jet-stream winds for an exciting and perilous ride. During their 30,000-mile voyage, they survived many crises: for two days they lost all communication with the world below; during one terrifying day, gasping to catch their breath, they were told they were being poisoned by unidentified fumes; at 35,000 feet up—with the outside temperature at -58° F—their heating failed and water froze inside their tiny gondola, no bigger than a minivan. Most harrowing of all was their six-and-a-half-day journey across the Pacific on a daring southern route that took them so far from land that had they ditched, there would have been almost no chance of rescue. By the time they reached the Gulf of Mexico, their fuel was desperately low, and their decision to carry on across the Atlantic was driven by their sense of what they describe as an "invisible hand" that brought them repeated strokes of good fortune. Using their logbook and journals, as well as photographs taken on board, Piccard and Jones have brought their marathon flight vividly to life. capturing the emotion of their many moments of high tension, as well as the uplifting humor and camaraderie, both between the pilots and with their ground crew. which helped them persevere. Their account tells the story of a great adventure, and shows how two very different characters forged a unique relationship in the most challenging circumstances of their lives.
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