Sunday 21st March 1999 proved quite a shock to me when I was trawling for snippets to write. Why? Because it was on this day that the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight was completed. It was a two-man balloon and one was Bertrand Piccard – no real surprise there. It was the other that amazed me because his name was Brian Jones! I just do not remember doing this flight – and I certainly would remember it because I just have NO head for heights! I think I need learn more about this man with my name – and I have.
This Brian Jones is younger than me, was born in Bristol and served in the RAF for 13 years. The balloon in question was ‘Breitling Orbiter 3’ which had been built by Cameron Balloons of Bristol and stood 180ft tall when fully inflated. It was powered by propane gas that fuelled six burners containing 28 titanium cylinders mounted in two rows along the sides of the gondola. There was some concern about fuel consumption so the team added four additional propane containers prior to take-off. As it turned out these additions proved necessary to complete the trip! The two set off on Monday 1st March from Château d’Oex in Switzerland.
The daily routine called for each man to spend eight hours alone at the controls, eight hours working with his crewmate, and eight hours in the single bunk. There was a unique pressure-operated toilet curtained off area at the rear of the craft. Despite the use of heaters designed to maintain a cabin temperature of 59 °F (15 °C), temperatures occasionally fell so low at night that drinking water froze and the ice had to be carefully chipped away from delicate electronic circuitry on the interior walls.
They landed on this day in Egypt after a 45,755 kilometre flight lasting 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes.
For his achievement, Brian Jones received awards including the Hamon Trophy, the Hubbard Medal, the FAI Gold Air Medal and the Charles Green Salver.
The gondola is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Dulles Airport outside Washington D.C.