Members of the Pacific Rocket Society (PRS) came within 24,000 miles of
making history today. If you watch the news this evening you'll no doubt see
*** Rutan's "'round the world" Global Hilton balloon. Watch for 20,
beautiful gold-insulated propane tanks made by PRS president and TransLunar
Research's Rod Milliron. These gondola tanks were designed to operate at
35,000 feet (and sub-zero temps). Rutan picked Translunar because of their
history of manufacturing high-quality propellant tanks. Plus: I got to make
some of the critical, propane fitting plates.
Here's today's Associated Press story:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Jan. 9) - Two balloonists abandoned their round-the-world
flight today just 100 miles from where they had taken off, parachuting to
safety after discovering a rip. The unmanned balloon touched down but then
bounced back up to 30,000 feet and continued to drift east for hours.
The Federal Aviation Administration ordered all aircraft to stay well clear of
the balloon, which by early afternoon was 60 miles east of Lubbock, Texas,
traveling at a rate of 80 to 110 mph, authorities said.
Dick Rutan, 59, and Dave Melton, 39, parachuted in winds up to 45 mph and
landed a quarter-mile apart in a cattle pasture of grass, snakeweed and cactus
11 miles southeast of Vaughn, N.M., according to state police and a witness.
Melton was in serious but stable condition with hip and leg injuries after
striking a cattle fence as he landed, said Sam Giammo, a spokesman at
University Hospital in Albuquerque. Rutan had a ***y nose from cactus
''We had a serious failure,'' Rutan told KOB-TV in Albuquerque, picking the
needles from his face. He said they had opened a gas valve before parachuting
so that helium would seep out and the balloon would descend.
By early afternoon, the 170-foot balloon was drifting 15,000 to 25,000 feet
above west Texas, some 300 miles from where it had lifted off at 6:17 a.m. and
200 miles east of where the balloonists landed, FAA controller Pete Lewis said
''We don't know if its oscillating or moving up or down,'' Lewis said.
After the balloonists parachuted, the balloon briefly touched down and then
bounced back up to 30,000 feet after losing some of its 20 propane tanks, said
Patrick Barry, a spokesman for the balloonists.
Team project manager Steve Shope said it was unlikely the tanks would explode
The men decided to abort the flight after discovering a rip in the helium cell,
which lifts the balloon from inside, Barry said. He did not know the cause of
the rip, and said they hoped to recover the balloon and use it again.
It was unclear why the two men had to abandon the Global Hilton balloon rather
than ride it to the ground.
The $1 million *** on one of aviation's last frontiers was the third such
attempt by a balloon team since Dec. 31. Two balloonists in Switzerland also
plan to launch soon.
The problem in today's flight was reported at about 7:28 a.m., while the
balloon was 40 miles east of the launch site. It had reached an altitude of
27,500 feet. Shortly thereafter, the balloonists began their descent, looking
for a safe place to land in the rolling desert terrain.
The silver balloon, with its ball-shaped capsule holding Rutan and Melton, had
lifted off at 6:17 a.m., shimmering from spotlights under the clear pre-dawn
As 200 people watched, the balloon then floated skyward over the Sandia
Mountains east of Albuquerque with the temperature about 25 degrees and the
wind roughly 5 mph out of the southeast. The liftoff came three days after
weather conditions forced a delay.
The Global Hilton is a combination hot-air balloon and helium balloon, with 20
48-gallon propane tanks to fuel the flames that warm the gas. The hot air cone
beneath the helium cell enables the pilot to fire burners to duplicate the
sun's effect on the helium after dark. The solar panel*** off the capsule
recharges the craft's batteries.
The plan had been to rise 32,000 feet into the jet stream and ride 200-mph air
currents around the world in about 14 days.
Chicago millionaire Steve Fossett, whose fourth round-the-world bid ended
Monday on the edge of the Black Sea, has speculated that a successful bid might
need a pressurized capsule. His was not.
Another balloonist, Kevin Uliassi, left Loves Park, Ill., on New Year's Eve but
an equipment problem forced him to land a few hours later in Indiana.
Rutan, a former Air Force pilot from Mojave, Calif., helped fly the
experimental plane Voyager around the world nonstop 11 years ago. The Voyager
now hangs in the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum. Melton, a technician at Los
Alamos National Laboratory, has flown balloons for 15 years.