Jones, Brian, and Piccard, Bertrand
▪ 2000

      At midday on March 20, 1999, a balloon carrying Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones 11,000 m (36,000 ft) above Mauritania floated past an imaginary finish line at longitude 9° 27′ W. At that moment, Piccard and Jones became the first balloonists ever to travel nonstop around the world. The trip in the Breitling Orbiter 3, begun March 1 in the Swiss Alps, took 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes to complete and took the balloonists over Europe, Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

      Piccard, the captain of the Breitling Orbiter 3, was born on March 1, 1958, in Switzerland. The grandson of Auguste Piccard, who invented the pressurized balloon gondola and was the first person to reach the stratosphere by balloon, he was exposed to aviation at a young age. He became an expert hang-gliding pilot as a child and later piloted ultralight planes and hot-air balloons. Although he trained as a psychiatrist and set up medical practice in Lausanne, he continued to devote a large part of his time to ballooning. In 1992 Piccard and Wim Verstraeten crossed the Atlantic Ocean, winning the Chrysler Transatlantic Challenge. The pair made two unsuccessful attempts to circle the globe. An attempt in 1997 ended with a fuel leak that released toxic fumes into their cabin, and a 1998 flight in the Breitling Orbiter 2 ended in a rice paddy in Myanmar (Burma).

      Born on March 27, 1947, in Bristol, Eng., Jones learned to fly at the age of 16 and left school early for a 13-year stint in the Royal Air Force, but he did not get involved in ballooning until 1986. By 1989 he had acquired a balloon-flying license and had become an instructor. He served as project manager of a number of Breitling missions, overseeing construction of the craft. He was originally designated as a third co-pilot of Breitling Orbiter 3 but became Piccard's sole co-pilot after Verstraeten and another pilot backed out of the flight. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1999.

      Several high-profile attempts to circumnavigate the globe via balloon failed in the months leading up to Piccard and Jones's successful flight. American adventurer Steve Fossett failed in two highly publicized solo attempts, and British billionaire Richard Branson made an attempt, accompanied by Fossett and others, that started in Morocco and ended near Hawaii on Christmas Day 1998. Weather posed the most consistent threat to the attempts, but hostile governments also played a part. In 1995 two American balloonists whose craft drifted over Belarus were shot down and killed. Although Piccard and Jones had to skirt a number of no-fly zones, they received permission to fly over southern China and thus were able to catch a key jet stream over the Pacific. They ended their historic flight on March 21 in Egypt with a safe landing near the Pyramids of Giza.

Anthony G. Craine

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Universalium. 2010.

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