ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev received a grand heroes’ welcome Sunday afternoon, as they walked through the Albuquerque Sunport and were greeted by a throng of people with congratulatory signs, a mariachi band, anxious family members, and an Old English bulldog wearing a T-shirt and a party hat.
The record-shattering Two Eagles gas balloon pilots were accompanied by members of their support team and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, who was among the chase crew that went to Baja California, Mexico, where the balloon set down Saturday morning.
Berry presented the balloonists with proclamations that declared Sunday as Two Eagles Day.
The balloonists set a tentative distance record of 6,646 statute miles flown, and a duration record of 160 hours, 38 minutes. The new gas balloon distance and duration records shatter the old ones that had been in place for 34 and 37 years, respectively.
Berry told the crowd of about 100 excited people that “Albuquerque is the ballooning capital of the world because we have a lineage of adventurers here like no other place at any time in history.”
Bradley, of Albuquerque, thanked the crowd for coming to welcome him back, particularly because it was Super Bowl Sunday.
“Our goal was to break the distance and duration records,” he said. “These records were very close to my heart because Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson were my heroes growing up, and I looked at those National Geographic magazines and hoped that I could do something like that some day. It takes nothing away from their accomplishment, because they were the first and they really showed the way.”
Albuquerque balloonists Abruzzo and Anderson were on the crew of 1978 Double Eagle II gas balloon that set the previous long-standing duration record of 137 hours and 6 minutes, and the previous 1981 Double Eagle V gas balloon that set the distance record of 5,208 miles.
“A big greeting from Russia and the other side of the Pacific,” Tiukhtyaev told the crowd. “During our flight we broke distance and duration records, but also records of cooperation and friendship.”
He thanked the support team at mission control, located in Albuquerque’s balloon museum, for all its help in analyzing weather data and keeping them safe.
Tiukhtyaev said that he was “dreaming about this flight since I was a child growing up in Russia,” but that he never imagined it would be in the company of an American.
Bradley said the balloon’s capsule, which was built in Albuquerque, was “very comfortable. “The heater ran magnificently and we actually got hot up there and would have to shut it off on occasion.”
The busiest time, he said, was mornings, “when the sun heated the gas and took us up to a higher altitude, and if we wanted to stay lower we had to valve off quite a bit of gas.”
As night fell, “gas would cool and contract,” and they’d have to “dump off ballast to control our descent.”
In between, he said, “we had nice meals together, hung out, enjoyed the views and took some great pictures.”
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev launched from Saga, Japan, at 6:23 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 25 – which because of the time difference was 2:23 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, in Albuquerque. The launch had been scrubbed twice because of unsuitable weather in the weeks leading up to the successful lift off.
They made a controlled water landing about four miles off the west coast of Baja California near the town of La Poza Grande.
Bradley’s wife, Tami Bradley, said she was “relieved, overjoyed with happiness and just so proud of him.” Tiukhtyaev’s daughter, Margarita Shmidt, said, “I’m very, very glad that my father is back because now I can sleep.”