Historic Flight Heads for Another Failure
RENO, Nev. (AP) _ Less than four hours after a nearly perfect launch, the Earthwinds Hilton again failed in its quest to become the first manned balloon to fly nonstop around the world.
The 370-foot, hourglass-shaped craft developed problems in its lower ballast balloon and was slowly descending toward the Nevada desert about 60 miles east of here, according to Earthwinds spokeswoman Pat Godefroy. The craft was launched about 6:45 a.m.
She said the exact problem was not known. The craft cannot fly without the bottom ballast.
Earthwinds consists of a 190-foot helium gas bag, a cramped, crew compartment below that and a 110-foot, air-filled anchor balloon on the bottom to stabilize altitude.
Occasional breezes at the launch site north of Reno scrubbed liftoffs planned for dawn on Thursday and Friday. Earthwinds requires nearly calm wind to inflate its upper balloon and inflation began shortly before midnight.
″Everything was right so they just decided to go,″ said Lynne Newman, wife of Capt. Larry Newman.
The balloon rose at about 500 feet per minute in 20-degree weather. The sun gleaned off the craft as it gracefully headed eastward.
Strong wind scotched the first attempt at launch in February 1992 in Akron, Ohio, and sent the project to the Reno area in search of calmer weather.
A liftoff attempt Jan. 12, 1993, nearly ended in disaster when the bottom balloon brushed a mountain peak and Earthwinds ditched onto a snowy canyon just across the California state line 10 miles west of here.
A third launch attempt failed Nov. 5, 1993, when an anchor bolt snapped as the helium balloon neared full inflation. And in January 1994, the craft soared into the sky but the flight was aborted after a key valve froze and its finger-thin control shaft snapped.
In a successful liftoff, the craft soars about 35,000 feet to link up with the jet stream for an eastward trip around the world that is expected to take 12 to 21 days to complete.
Since it cannot be steered, its flight path and air speed will be at the whims of the jet stream.
Along with monitoring an array of instruments in the cramped crew compartment, Newman and co-captains Dave Melton and George Saad will be conducting experiments on conditions at the lower edge of the stratosphere.
Newman, a 47-year-old airline pilot from Scottsdale, Ariz., is the only original crew member. Melton, 36, of Espanola, N.M., is a veteran balloonist and Saad, 35, of North Olmsted, Ohio, has been involved in experiments with the crew capsule since 1991.