News - March 21, 2024

Celebrating 25 Years since Breitling Orbiter 3

Written by Alessandro Gaillard 2 min read

25 years already.

25 years ago today, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones completed the first round-the-world balloon flight. Theirs, of course, but also that of their team, their family and the millions of people who followed their adventure. At the dawn of the internet, at the end of the last century and the age of exploration, this race was one of another time. Reminiscent of the exploits of the great explorers in search of a new sea route or a new territory, and the space race between the USSR and the United States, this time it was the dream of the last Grail of aeronautics. No geopolitical games, but a race that was both ruthless and friendly between American, British, Australian, Dutch and even Swiss teams who, 216 years after the invention of the hot-air balloon, wanted to achieve, like Magellan and his crew, the feat of a lifetime.
So it was the Swiss team that, on 21 March 1999, by landing in the heat of the Egyptian desert, succeeded where so many others had failed. An adventure that most fans experienced in 20 days, but which in reality was the fruit of years of work, sacrifices and failures.

If the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon bears this number, it is proof that after two failures came the final success. From the Swiss mountains to the Nile, via Oman, China, Iwo-Jima, the infinite Pacific, Mexico and finally the Atlantic, this rozière, half gas balloon, half hot-air balloon, crossed the world and the minds of spectators all over the world.

This adventure inspired Solar Impulse, which its founder Bertrand Piccard later described as more useful than the Orbiter, but less romantic. In 2028, these two ambitions will come together in Climate Impulse. Non-stop, emission-free, around the world. That was where the romance of Breitling Orbiter lay, in the very idea of two people propelled by the wind around the planet, trapped for three weeks in a red capsule, in the colours of the Sahara, the long-awaited finish line. Thousands of kilometres up, alone, doing everything they could to stay on course, following the advice of their team, taming a force - the wind - that cannot really be controlled.

This adventure has changed its participants and pilots for good. It has shown them that the wildest dreams can be realised through patience and perseverance. But the emotions are still the same. 25 years later. The memories have been shared for 21 days now on social networks for children, adult men and women and grandparents. Those who discover Breitling Orbiter 3, those who remember it, those who experienced it at school, in Château D'Oex, on TV or on the early days of the web.

While others, in 2024, are looking high above the clouds crossed by the silver ballon and its little red cabin, and towards the infinite blackness of space for the next explorations, shouldn't we be looking above all towards home, where so much remains to be done? Carrying a message, spreading hope and restoring confidence in climate action, in particular, remains the priority of our time.

"This success, after two painful failures, was proof for everyone that it's worth trying. Breitling Orbiter 3 is proof that obstacles cannot stop dreamers. Today, the dream and the ambition have changed, but the same spirit endures in our fight against climate change and to protect the environment. With enthusiasm and determination" 

Bertrand Piccard

The adventure continues, and for Bertrand Piccard, as for so many others, the hope of a better quality of life on this planet that he loved so much to fly over.

Written by Alessandro Gaillard on March 21, 2024

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