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Thursday, January 1, 1998 Published at 09:37 GMT

World: Americas

Fossett launches balloon record bid
image: [ Steve Fossett smiles and waves as his balloon takes off ]
Steve Fossett smiles and waves as his balloon takes off

The American adventurer Steve Fossett has celebrated the New Year by setting off on his attempt to fly non-stop around the world in a balloon.

Mr Fossett started his third bid for the record in his Solo Spirit balloon from Busch Stadium, St Louis, Missouri.

The 53-year-old stock options broker said: "This is the oldest form of aviation in the world and it hasn't been done yet.

"We've prepared properly and we have a very realistic chance. I'm very excited."

[ image: Into the unknown]
Into the unknown
Air traffic at Lambert Field in St. Louis was diverted around the stadium to give the 350,000 cubic feet Solo Spirit clear sailing.

Mr Fossett, the chairman of Chicago-based Lakota Trading Inc, has come closer than anyone to completing the round-the-world trip by setting time and distance records for ballooning.

The team's systems manager, Bert Padelt, said Mr Fossett could remain aloft for 22 days if needed or complete the journey in as little as 10.

An "ideal" scenario, he said, would have him crossing back into North America in about 15 days with only minimal fuel left for a landing.

Mr Fossett's ground control crew at Washington University in St. Louis said he hoped to cruise at 24,000 feet (7,315 metres) rising to a maximum altitude of 33,000 feet (10,060 metres).

Equipped with an oxygen mask, he also has a separate heating system for the unpressurized capsule to combat upper altitude temperatures that drop as low as -50 Fahrenheit (-45.4 Celsius).

His projected route will take him over north-east England, the Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, southern Japan and over the Pacific to British Columbia, Canada, with a landing north-east of St. Louis.

[ image: Richard Branson's bid was delayed when his balloon broke free from its moorings]
Richard Branson's bid was delayed when his balloon broke free from its moorings
Mr Fossett's best previous effort was in January, 1997, when his balloon stayed in the air for six days and travelled 10,377 miles (16,700 kilometers). He eventually ran out of fuel but landed safely in a mustard field in remote India.

Four other teams are planning the trek:

  • The British tycoon and Virgin airline chief, Richard Branson, has had to delay his bid after his balloon broke free and was damaged.
  • Co-pilots Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Wim Verstraeten of Belgium in their Breitling Orbiter 2 plan to take off during Switzerland's Chateau d'Oex festival.
  • American balloonists Dick Rutan and David Melton are expected to make their attempt from Albuquerque New Mexico in early January in their Global Hilton.
  • American Kevin Uliassi, 34, hopes to fly out of Loves Park, Illinois, near Chicago, at the end of the month in his J. Renee.


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