Young Balloonist Takes Flight
Nine-year-old Albuquerque boy plans to make history
Nine-year-old Bobby Bradley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is preparing to become the youngest trained pilot to fly solo in an ultra-light hot air balloon.
Bobby plans to set his first record in the sport of ballooning this weekend when he takes off into the skies by himself from the desert near Las Lunas, New Mexico. Bobby plans to land the balloon wherever the wind direction carries him. The flight will take 15 minutes to one hour depending upon the wind conditions.
Bobby explains that he feels confident about his ability to fly solo. He has flown in hot air balloons since he was 11 months old, and he has assisted as a ballooning pilot since he was four years old. He has logged more than 26 hours piloting in a balloon, in addition to spending thousands of hours flying in a hot air balloon.
"I feel prepared and am not really worried about it," Bobby says about his historic flight.
To prepare, the Bradley family, members of the ballooning community, and spectators gathered at the Manzano Day School gymnasium in Old Town Albuquerque to partially inflate the balloon to see if the lines were correctly aligned. The inflated balloon allowed Bobby to walk inside to check the lines and cables, and to play with his friends inside the colorful bubble.
Creating Bobby's ultra-light balloon involved many Bradley family members and their friends from the ballooning community. The inflated ultra-light balloon displayed a bright tie dyed wave pattern designed by Jonathan Wolfe, known in Albuquerque as "the Fractal man" because he is the Executive Director of the Fractal Foundation. Bobby's grandmother sewed the balloon for her grandson.
Despite support from family and friends, some people are worried about Bobby's high-flying odyssey because he is so young.
"I think a lot of kids at school are scared for Bobby because they don't want him to get hurt," Savannah Bradley, Bobby's 11-year-old sister, says. "I'm not worried about him because I know he can do it."
Bobby's record-breaking balloonist dad, Troy Bradley, also has confidence in his son's abilities.
"I'm very excited about Bobby flying solo," Troy says. "He's got the abilities, he has the desire, and we're just providing him with the opportunity, so I think he will do a marvelous job."
Troy Bradley, who has helped his son prepare for this weekend's solo flight, was the winner of the 1998 America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, one of the country's biggest events in ballooning. Troy has numerous ballooning awards and is known for having piloted the first balloon to fly from North America to Africa. Troy has set nearly five dozen world records in ballooning and has logged thousands of hours of pilot time. He is also the president of the Balloon Federation of America.
Troy's accomplishments inspired Bobby, who was raised around balloons.
"I had the idea for a solo flight because I've been around ballooning for all my life," Bobby says. "I had heard about people flying solo and how I couldn't do that until I was 14. So we [his family] were trying to think of a way that I could fly by myself."
Flying an ultra-light aircraft is the only way Bobby could fly solo due to underage flying regulations. So the Bradley family decided to make him his own ultra-light balloon in which he could set a record and make history.
In order to qualify as an ultra-light aircraft, they had to design it as a one-person balloon that weighed 155 pounds or less. The weight includes the basket, balloon, burners, and propane bottles.
After checking the lines in the balloon, Bobby is now one step closer to taking off on his solo flight. If the weather is appropriate for ballooning on June 4th, Bobby will be able to fly. If the weather is bad, he will wait until the next day of good weather.
"The only thing I would worry about is bad weather," Bobby says. "But we won't fly if the weather isn't good enough for a safe flight."
In case of emergencies, Bobby will have a phone on board, two radios, GPS, a helmet, and a fire extinguisher. But Bobby doesn't expect to run into trouble.
"Hopefully it won't be a day where I run into a congested area or have bad weather unexpectedly," Bobby says. "We're just going to pick the best weather day so there won't be anything to worry about!"
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Jacob Schroeder is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps,