NOAA 2000-R507
Contact: Jana Goldman


The pilot attempting the first solo around the world balloon flight of 2000 is using information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Air Resources Laboratory to guide him on his journey.

Kevin Uliassi, a professional balloon pilot and instructor, left Illinois aloft the J. Renee on Feb. 22 for his third attempt at a solo global flight. The 20,000 mile trip around the world is expected to take from ten to 20 days.

Since 1981, the Air Resources Laboratory, one of NOAA's research laboratories, has provided trajectory and wind information to balloonists attempting manned long-distance flights. In 1997, the information went on-line through the Real-time Environmental Applications and Display System (READY) web site, providing essential data electronically.

READY was also used during the record-breaking around the world flight of Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in March 1999. The meteorologists for the Piccard-Jones flight, Luc Trullemans and Pierre Eckert of the Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium, monitored the READY data and used it to determine the balloon's flight path.

"In one case, as they were getting ready to cross the Pacific, the balloonists wanted to go north for the faster winds, but our model, which uses data from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, showed slower winds to the south, but were forecast to become stronger over the next few days," said Jeff McQueen, ARL meteorologist.

The decision was sound, because if the balloonists had kept to the northern route they would have flown into violent thunderstorms that "could have torn the balloon apart and sent us hurtling into the sea," Piccard and Jones wrote in their account of the trip, "Around the World in 20 Days."

The Piccard-Jones flight lasted 15 days, ten hours, and 24 minutes, breaking four world records. In a letter to ARL Director Bruce Hicks, Trullemans expressed "delight and gratitude concerning the availability and excellent performance of ARL's READY-site," adding that "it is simply the best there is."

The READY project was awarded the NOAA Administrator's Award in 1998.

"We provide forecasts that predict where the balloon will go for the next three to ten days," said Barbara J.B. Stunder, ARL meteorologist.. "Every 6 hours, NCEP provides us with updated forecast data. At one time, balloonists would formally ask us for help, but they don't anymore since the information is on the web."

While some flights use a combination of trajectory forecasts, many rely solely on ARL's forecasts. READY was created to provide users with an easier way to access ARL's emergency response models, including the volcanic ash model (VAFTAD), which provides ash transport forecasts to the aviation community, said Glenn Rolph, ARL meteorologist and READY developer.

ARL has followed more than two dozen manned balloon flights since 1981, many of them attempting to fly non-stop around the world. Not all were successful. In a chart prepared by ARL, events such as "hit hill," "Himalaya barrier," "ballast failure," and "participation terminated" give a brief analysis of the result.