In the surprisingly competitive world of long-distance ballooning, the world distance record is the holy grail -- more or less the equivalent of the marathon record. Somewhere just off the San Fransisco coastline, two guys just broke that record -- and they're still flying.
The US-Russian duo of Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev left Japan in their Two Eagles helium balloon on Sunday, and have been drifting inexorably towards North America ever since. The original plan was to land somewhere in Canada or the US, but thanks to the ever-fickle weather, it now looks like they will be putting down over Mexico.
The pair set out to beat a 1981 record for long-distance ballooning: 8381km. As of the moment, they're on 8525km, which should give them the new record. However, to be official, the record has to be verified by officials from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, a process that could take weeks or months. See, I said long-distance ballooning was competitive.
The equipment that's been sustaining the pilots for the last few days is pretty state-of-the-art: a Kevlar/carbon-fibre composite capsule weighing 100kg, suspended under a 9911 cubic metres helium balloon.
The capsule is tiny: 2m long, 1.5m high and wide, with enough space to sleep one of them at a time, and enough supplemental oxygen and heating to keep them alive at 25,000 feet (7620m). It's also cleverly designed: in the event of an unplanned visit to the Pacific, the capsule will turn into a floating rescue capsule, thanks to two auto-filling keels.
For now, you can follow along with real-time tracking of the balloon as it gets tantilisingly close to shore, or just keep watching the stunning photos the pilots occasionally stick onto Instagram. And just be glad you've got a real-sized bed to sleep in tonight. [Two Eagles Balloon]
Picture: Ballooning Bradleys