First Around the World

For balloonists Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, the end of one journey marked the beginning of another.

(Carolyn Russo, NASM)

Fuel Supply

(Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones)

On March 4, at 10,000 feet over the vast emptiness of the Sahara Desert, Jones cut loose four empty auxiliary fuel tanks. The propane gas that fueled the balloon’s six burners was carried in 28 titanium cylinders mounted in two rows along the sides of the gondola. Piccard suggested adding four additional propane tanks prior to take-off in case the balloons track took it down over Africa at the outset. It was a wise decision. The balloon landed in the Egyptian desert almost three weeks after take-off with less than a quarter of a tank of fuel remaining.

The 28 cylinders mounted along the sides of the gondola had automatic release mechanisms, but the four additional tanks mounted in the corners had to be cut free. Although the gondola was equipped with a safety harness, neither pilot felt the need to use it during their time outside. While Jones worked on the auxiliary tanks, Piccard held him by the ankle.

Once a tank was released, Jones wrote later in the co-authored book Around the World in 20 Days, “We watched it all the way to the ground, and in the final few seconds of its descent we saw its black shadow hurtling to meet it at the point of impact. A puff of sand showed where it slammed into the desert.”

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