Last of Their Kind

Airplanes without equal at the National Air and Space Museum

(Library of Congress)

Breitling Orbiter 3 Gondola

(Eric Long)

In March 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones piloted the Rozier-design Breitling Orbiter 3 to the first nonstop world circumnavigation by free balloon, covering 29,000 miles in under 20 days. During the Breitling Orbiter flight in 1997 and Orbiter 2 in 1998, crews learned that an altitude of 30,000 feet, where the jet stream would drive the balloon across the Pacific Ocean at 100 mph, was likely key to success. Since 1980, 16 balloons had been launched on globe-circling efforts, all of which failed. NASM credits the acquisition of the gondola to the Museum’s previous director, the late Donald Engen, citing “his superb negotiating skills and wide contacts in aviation and business.” Donated by the Breitling Watch Company in 1999; one built.


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