A British couple is hoping to break through a glass ceiling with a balloon flight from Canada to Europe this summer.
If the trip is successful, Deborah Day would become the first woman in command of a transatlantic balloon crossing, while Mike Scholes would become the first blind crewmember on such a trip.
The two plan to fly from Sussex, N.B., to France some time between mid-June and early August, depending on air currents and weather.
Day and Scholes of Sussex, U.K., have been planning the trip for six years and hope summer 2020 will see their dream come true.
"It's a challenge. We wanted to do something that hadn't been done before and this is what we came up with," Day, 56, said in an interview from the couple's home in England.
The couple will be using an 27-metre Roziere balloon that uses helium in a cell at the top, and hot air below.
Day is one of few women to ever pilot a Roziere balloon. She also has her commercial balloon licence, gas balloon licence and night rating.
The attempt was originally set for last year, but a worldwide shortage of helium sent prices sky high. Those prices have since begun to descend — a good thing, since the couple will need about 2,000 cubic metres of the gas for their flight.
Day said friends and family have been cautiously supportive.
"You get the comments — 'You're crazy' or 'What do you want to do that for?' — but nothing worthwhile is straightforward or easy, is it? There's always going to be a risk. In ballooning in general, there's always a risk. It's something we're very excited to be doing," she said.
Scholes, 66, learned to fly balloons with Britain's Royal Air Force Reserve and did more flying with the Royal Navy. He then went on to set up his own balloon company and set five British ballooning duration records.
However, a hereditary condition caused Scholes to lose his sight in 2007 and he was forced to give up his business of taking passengers on balloon flights.
"Passengers felt more comfortable when they knew the pilot could see where he was going," he joked.
Soon after losing his sight, Scholes got a friend to take him and Day on a flight — Day's first time in a balloon — and after that she was hooked and got her own licence.
Ballooning experts have recommended the pair fly in a capsule under the balloon, but instead they'll be using a traditional basket, Day said, because that will be easier to get out of should they have to ditch in the ocean.
The couple will have a life raft and they have done training with the Royal Navy in case something goes wrong.
Any profits from the couple's transatlantic flight will be going to the group Blind Veterans U.K., which has provided Scholes with rehabilitation and training.
The flight will begin at low altitudes but could reach as high as 5,000 metres or more during the journey.
The plan to depart from Sussex, N.B., is not just because the town is the namesake of their own hometown, but also because of the number of people with ballooning expertise there. The New Brunswick town hosts the annual Atlantic Balloon Fiesta, and has been the departure point for other transatlantic attempts in the past.
"I'm sure we'll be able to give them plenty of help for a proper send-off. There's a deep appreciation for balloons and balloonists in our community," said Mayor Marc Thorne.
The trip is expected to take between three and seven days depending on the weather and wind currents.
"Records are lovely, but the main thing will be to get across safely," Day said.
Details on the flight and updated tracking information will be available at www.transatlanticballoonchallenge.com and on social media via the hashtag #balloonthepond.
Source: Canadian Press
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