Balloon Pilots Compete For Longest Winter Flight

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The Balloon Federation of America has invited balloonists across the country to take part in its annual Long Jump Challenge, an opportunity for pilots to use their skills and equipment beyond the usual treetops-and-champagne flight. The competition, which has been held every year since 1990, is open from November through March, and the idea is to fly as far as possible using no more than 40 gallons of propane fuel. The current all-time record is 693 miles, set by Alvin Hansen in 2003. So far this year, the longest recorded flight was made by Troy Bradley, who took off in New Mexico and landed 175 miles away, in Texas. This year for the first time, pilots can use their flights to help raise money for charity; this year's beneficiary is the American Cancer Society.

The Long Jump rules stipulate that the pilots must land before sunset of the day they launch, said Mark Caviezel, who oversees the event for the BFA. The pilots also must stay beneath 18,000 feet MSL and adhere to all FARs. Most flights last about four to six hours, although some pilots have stretched their fuel to last up to eight hours, Caviezel said. Factors such as ambient air temperature and the size, shape and color of the balloon envelope will affect the duration of the flight. Fast and steady winds are key in achieving distance. AVweb's Mary Grady spoke with Caviezel to learn more about the Long Jump competition; click here to listen to that podcast.