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Airborne adventure Record-setting balloon flight marks 20th anniversary

It’s 20 years since the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon circumnavigated the world, piloted by Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard and his English counterpart Brian Jones.

Circling the globe in a balloon was considered one of the great final adventures of the 20th Century. Other wealthy adventurers such as Richard Branson and Steve Fossett had already tried and failed, and they weren't the only ones: 10 teams made 21 attempts in total to try and make it around the planet in this way.

Soaring with Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) was the first aircraft of its kind to circle the globe – flown by two Swiss pilots and making several stops along the way.

It took Bertrand Piccard two failed attempts, in 1997 and 1998, before he found success on his third go, working with Brian Jones.

The balloonists finally touched down in the Egyptian desert on March 21, 1999 after travelling 45,755km (28,4308 miles) in 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes. In terms of both distance and duration, this flight became the longest in the history of aviation.

A hi-tech balloon

Breitling Orbiter 3 stood 55m (180ft) tall when inflated completely and was fuelled by propane gas, contained in titanium cylinders mounted along the sides of the gondola.

The team added four additional propane containers prior to launch, which proved vital to complete the trip. The gondola is now on display at the National Air and Space Museumexternal link at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.

Bertrand Piccard, the son of undersea explorer Jacques Piccard and the grandson of famous balloonist Auguste Piccard, went on to co-pilot with André Borschberg the first successful round-the-world solar powered flight in the Solar Impulse in 2016. He is an outspoken advocate of clean technologies.


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