First Ever Live Web Cam on the Pyramids 24/7
(by SU9AM 2003 - 2008)
PyramidCam - Giza
SU9AM - Maadi, Cairo
Carin II - Hurghada, Red Sea
Recovery of the Breitling Orbiter 3 (Egypt - 1999)
First manned circumnavigation of the globe by balloon
Jim Sorenson (W3BH/SU9AM)) at the landing site prior to joining Mel James (Brietling), Rami Siag (Siag Travel) and Sandra Simpson (K3DKA) to dismante the Breitling Orbiter 3 in preparation for shipment to Cairo by air. My particular task was to navigate to the landing site from GPS coordinates given to us the previous day by Breitling. We had less than a day's notice before leaving by car from Cairo. There was one full intervening day between the time the balloon landed and the time we arrived on site. We were told the night before we were to leave by car for Dakhla Oasis, a 500 km drive.
Brian Jones (right) with Swiss pilot, Bertrand Piccard, circumnavigated the globe in the balloon, “Breitling Orbiter 3″, starting from Chateau d’oex in Switzerland and landing in Egypt, finally completing the journey in 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes. This picture was taken the day before we arrived to carry out the recovery.
Landing location on high plateau 520 kms as the crow files from Cairo.
I made this map from GPS points and labled it according to what I had put in my waypoint labels at the time.
Here we have just arrived in the morning approimately 48 hours after the balloon touched down and the crew had been lifted off by helicopter and flown to Cairo. The location is about 500 kms from Cairo deep in the desert near Dahkla Oasis. Our convoy consisted of 4 Siag Hotel Toyota landcruisers.
Me with Cameron R650 balloon fabric for the envelope. .
Jim looking out. The primary radio for all communications was an IC-706. It was the perfect radio for this application. They also had a variety of sat comms and state of the art ground sensing radar.
Lunch at recovery site with Sandra Simpson (K3DKA), Ramy Siag (President of Siag Travel and Hotels, and another Siag employee. By the time the 4 vehicles reached the landing site, there were no spare tires left due to the sharp limestone surface we econuntered. That afternoon spares were flown in by chopper from Cairo.
Sandra Simpson and Mel James (Breitling Representative). Notice "Rally of Egypt 1999" on the SUV behind. Siag hotels was that year's sponser for this major international offroad rally.
This is the point where the drag rope first hit the sand. I later drove an iron stake deep in the hard sand here marking the location with my GPS. Notice the track from the circle out to where the gondola finally touched down. As you can see after it touched down it was dragged a bit to the left of center by the wind. The desert here appears appears flat, but they in fact they had landed on a high plateau which is completely surrounded by one steep escarpment over another. Even the Egyptian Army Reconaissance Department was unable to find a way up here and had to turn back after the first escarpment. The balloon pilots had been lifted off 48 hours earlier by helicopter and we were the only group to reach the landing site by off road access. Had they not landed here as they did, the consequences would have been disastrous. The entire area outside of this flat plateau, which is only a few miles across, consists of deep wadis, blind canyons and impassable sand dunes.
Sandra emerging from the top hatch of the gondola
This gives you some idea of surface over which we drove which destroyed one tire after another. We started from Dahkla Oasis on the desert floor and followed the old Long Range Desert Group trail up the first escarpment. The kilometer stone markers were still in place from WWII. To reach the top of the 2nd escarpment where the balloon landed, we made our way up slowly by trial and error. It is probable that no motorized vehicle had ever been there before and there were no tracks of any kind indicating so.
Yet another flat.
Ah, but we were able to resort to a wise old beduin desert trick of filling our tires with sand in order to get rolling again. Our Egpyptian drivers actually sat down and filled tire after tire with sand through the tire valves. They take a small sheet of paper and construct a funnel and then simply sit in the sand for hours until the tire is full. They earned a lot of extra bakshish for it of course.
Here is Sandra helping Egyptian Air Force techs to bleed off the gas canisters to make them safe for transport back to Cairo by helicopter. She's wearing her Padi Instructor diving shirt for the task, being quite familar with pressurized air tanks from her duties as the first ever woman Padi diving instructor to be certified in Egypt. There were also a number of large pressurized air tanks to be emptied as well.
After we arrived by SUV, Cameron Balloon personnel and Egyptian military technicicans showed up by helicopter to dismantle the gondola's 'roof rack' and to bleed off the pressurized tanks prior to transporting the gondola itself. We transported much of the gear on our roof racks back to Cairo before turning it over to the Swiss Embassy for export.
We set up the first night's camp below the second escarpment. It was March and still freezing, but we were prepared for it. As is the custom here, Rami's cook came along and we had a sumptuous outdoor meal riveling any that one might order in a first class hotel.
Sandra at sunset on the first day just before we set up camp.
In Dahkla we inquired at a local hotel if they knew of anybody who could lead us to the beginning of the track used by the Long Range Desert Group during WWII to reach the top of the first escaprment to the north. This little guy was on the steps of the hotel. No, he didn't take us there, but there was an old guy there who did.
We had to turn the gondola on its side to get at the equipment that was to be dismantled.
Intrepid Breitling recovery team Mel James, Sandra Simpson and Jim Sorenson
Sandra shows where the gondola first landed before it was dragged a few meters to the right.
Sandra taking a break
Mel starts to sort out lines while I try and figure out where to start on top without getting myself in big trouble. Eventually. after the Army arrived we had to turn the gondola on its side to make any headway with this mess.
Finally late in the afternoon a second helicopter arrives to lift the gondola to a local Egyptian airbase prior to its being carried by truck to Cairo. The copter also delivered enough new tires to get us back down the escarmpents and into Dhakla Oasis.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC
The missing oxygen bottles are still up on the plateau at the landing site and it may be some time before a desert explorer finds them and recovers them. As far as I know, outside of Breitling, I am probably the only person that has the exact GPS location of the landing site.
As a side note, we later learned that the balloon's computer had been removed from the gondola at some point after the pilots had been picked up and when we arrived about 48 hours later. The assumption was that Egyptian intelligence made a second trip to the site after the pilots had been recovered and confiscated it because they believed that it was in the interest of national security to do so. As we all know, governments are all very touchy about their air space and there was no time for Breitling to apply for and obtain the many many permits that would have been required to land such a vehicle and its pilots in Egyptian territory. We also heard that Brian Jones later quipped (after arriving back home) that it was tougher getting out of Egypt than it was circumnaviging the globe. Only the Swiss could have probably gotten away so clean as it was.