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At first, it was an impossible dream. The public and the media saw it as the final great adventure of the Century - to make a flight surpassing all others, a complete circumnavigation of the globe with no engine or steering mechanism, simply drifting along with the wind. Several billionaires such as Richard Branson and Steve Fossett had made unsuccessful attempts. After two failures, Bertrand Piccard, accompanied this time - in March 1999 - by Brian Jones from England, finally achieved the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight. At one stroke, their Breitling Orbiter 3 flew further, and for longer than any other aircraft in aviation history, thereby setting seven World Records. The gondola is now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, alongside the Apollo 11 capsule and the airplanes of the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager.

A MuLTi-FACETED ChALLEngE

© Archives Piccard

« To cross oceans drifting with the wind - what could possibly be more marvelous, more precarious, more sophisticated? Poetry and technology are in harmony here….In the immortal footsteps of his grandfather and his father, Bertrand Piccard has added a splendid and moving page to his great family saga. »

Nicolas Hulot

The Saga Of The Breitling Orbiters 1, 2 And 3

12 January 1997 : Bertrand had announced a 15-day flight in the jet-streams. After only 6 hours in the air, his gondola was floating miserably in the Mediterranean ! A massive fuel leak and consequent risk of explosion had forced him and his fellow crew-member, Wim Verstraeten, to make an emergency ditching. February 1998 : Second Breitling Orbiter attempt. After a nine-day flight, another disappointment, despite breaking the absolute world endurance record. The detour made necessary by the ban on flying over China forced Bertrand and his two fellow crew-members, Andy Elson and Wim Verstraeten, to land in Burma. End of winter, 1999 – and all his competitors had failed. Bertrand, accompanied this time by the Englishman Brian Jones, took off on 1st March 1999 from the village of Châteaux-d’Oex in the Swiss Alps on board Breitling Orbiter 3. The first problem was to fly south to below the 26°N parallel to comply with Chinese restrictions. For Pierre Eckert and Luc Trullemans, the two weather wizards, it was like threading a needle at a distance of 15,000 kilometers ! But they brought it off. A voyage around the world is also a world tour of nations, people and regional politics. Air-traffic controllers and Swiss diplomats were constantly being called upon to help open the routes across Egypt, Yemen, India, China and Japan. Strategic decision-making was often painful. Was it better to fly further north in a fast airstream or stay south in slower winds ? Approaching the Pacific, the question became even more critical, as the southerly route added 4,000 kilometers to the journey! But this was the option the meteorologists favored, because storms were raging in the North. In winds of 30 km/h, surrounded by storm-clouds and out of contact with mission-control because of satellite antenna problems, Bertrand and Brian watched helplessly as their prospects of success receded with the diminishing reserves of propane gas. The vast ocean below made them homesick for the reassuring splendor of the African desert and the Indian plains that the balloon had flown over. After six agonizing days, the meteorologists’ gamble paid off. The balloon at last entered a powerful jet stream that carried it towards Mexico at 180km/h. But then the speed slumped once again and the jet stream spat the pilots out in the direction of Venezuela, just as it had dumped Richard Branson several months earlier, forcing him to ditch south of Hawaii. On 20th March, Bertrand and Brian stormed across the final meridian in their dream adventure at 200 km/h, landing the following day in Egypt and entering the annals with the longest flight in aviation history, both for distance and duration. But more important than their seven world records, they were left with the feeling that they had succeeded in forging a more intimate and respectful relationship with our planet.
Considered to be the final adventure of the 20th Century, the flight around the world by balloon gives us a glimpse of the importance of forging a new alliance between human beings, technology and nature.

© Archives Piccard © Archives Piccard

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The poles, the continents, mountains, space, the ocean depths – all had been explored. But even though the balloon had been invented back in 1783, none had ever flown around the world! Several balloonists had already made attempts to convert Jules Verne’s fantasy into reality (the first dates back to 1981), but the real race only began in the early 1990s. The FAI (World Air Sports Federation) laid down the rules: to fly at least 25,000 km, crossing all the meridians whilst remaining between two caps of radius 3,335.85 km centered on each of the Poles.

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Like balloons, human beings have to change altitude if they wish to change direction in the winds of life.

Bertrand Piccard

© Breitling

Eleven days to reach the Pacific, concentrating 100% on accurately maintaining the precise altitudes calculated by the meteorologists, sometimes flying in jet-streams, but often also in much slower winds, playing with areas of low pressure over the Mediterranean and high pressure over India.

© Archives Piccard

In a desperate last move to find better winds approaching the Caribbean, Bertrand increased the stakes, using up a huge amount of propane to gain as much altitude as possible. At 10,500 meters, the airflow miraculously started blowing them back on track. But they still had 10,000 kilometers to go and were down to the last eighth of their fuel reserves. Success was possible only if the wind strengthened four-fold… And that’s precisely what happened !

SuCCESS OF The Round-The-WORLD FLighT

Breitling Orbiter 3 found a final resting place in the main hall of Washington’s prestigious Smithsonian Air and Space Museum alongside the Apollo 11 capsule and the legendary airplanes of the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Chuck Yeager.
The pilots were feted all around the world and received by several monarchs and heads of state. Bertrand was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the Olympic Order, the French Youth and Sport and Aeronautical Medals, as well as the highest distinctions of the FAI (World Air Sports Federation), the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club, the American Academy of Achievement and several other aeronautical, scientific and sporting bodies. Nominated Honorary Professor, and awarded honorary doctorates in Science and Letters, Bertrand also received the Grand Prix of the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences and was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations (UNFPA). His name appeared alongside those of his father and grandfather in the Larousse encyclopedia.
In his twin roles as doctor and explorer, Bertrand became much in demand as a speaker for large companies and international organizations. They are interested in his vision, career path, and heritage combining science with human values.

The two pilots, together with their sponsor Breitling, fulfilled the promise they had made on landing to dedicate their achievement to the world’s children and to help neglected suffering people. They launched the Winds of Hope foundation, using their celebrity to support the struggle against Noma, a horrifying disease that disfigures the faces of hundreds of thousands of children in the poorest regions of Africa and Asia.

© Archives Piccard

© Archives Piccard / Breitling

« A balloon lifting off into the icy winter sky, soaring up above the mountain tops, and then disappearing. We all gazed childlike as Piccard and his colleague rose into the air searching for the winds that should carry them round the world. As simple as Icarus’ dream. Like a page from a Jules Verne novel. Like some fabric of madness, volatile and elegant, clinging to the tatters of our gravity. Piccard’s adventure isn’t a technical one, or at least not only that. First and foremost, it’s a spiritual adventure. Piccard is not some Jules Verne charac-ter, not a Passepartout, nor even a Phileas Fogg. He’s more like St. Exupéry flying over the desert. His vision of the world is that of the Little Prince…

I’d almost say that whether he succeeds or not is of secondary importance. Unlike the rest of us Earthlings, at least he will have been to have a look. “Men are not like me,” said one of Malraux’s heroes. “They stare at me and judge me. My fellow creatures are those who love me and don’t watch my every move. One would like to think of Piccard as Chang’s scarf, lost among the rocks, which draws Hergé’s hero Tintin to embark on a quest for the absolute. Not for the adventure in itself, but for brotherhood amongst men…

Let us wish fair winds for Bertrand Piccard. Let us wish for the Heavens, in all meanings of the term, to be on his side. »

Pascal Décaillet

© Chas Breton © Archives Piccard
© Archives Piccard

Countries over-flown : Switzerland, Italy, France, Monaco, Spain, Mo- rocco, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Libya, Egypt. Landed on 21 March 1999 at Dakhla (Egypt) Total Distance : 45

© Burki

THE 3 ATTEMPTS CAPTURED BY CARTOONISTS
Breitling Orbiter 1

12 January 1997: forced ditching in the Mediterranean six hours into the flight, following a fuel leak in the cabin.

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Breitling Orbiter 2

28 January to 7 February 1998 : absolute world endurance record for all categories of flight. Landed in Burma because of the ban on overflying China. Distance :8,473 km - Flight time : 233 h 55

© Archives Piccard
Breitling Orbiter 3

1st to 21st March 1999 : First non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, longest flight in aviation history for both distance and duration. Took off on 1st March 1999 from Château-d’Oex (Swiss Alps)

© Archives Piccard
video

HELVETICUS: BERTRAND PICCARD AND HIS ROUND-THE-WORLD BALLON FLIGHT


Helveticus is an animated series created by RTS for children, telling the story of Switzerland and its heros. This episodes retraces the adventures of the Piccard family, and explains the feat accomplished by Bertrand Piccard during his round-the-world ballon flight!

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articles

wind-surfers
WIND SURFERS
wind-surfers
a-record
a record

setting flight

a-record
triumphant-balloonists
triumphant balloonists

plucked fRom deseRt

triumphant-balloonists
im-ballon
im ballon

um die welt

im-ballon
balloonist-bask
balloonist bask

on cloud nine

balloonist-bask
autour-de-la-terre
autour de la terre
autour-de-la-terre
ballon-history
ballon history,

and in only 20 days

ballon-history
atterrissage
atterrissage

en douceur

atterrissage
around-the-world
around the world!
around-the-world
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