Two Silicon Valley high-altitude ballooning groups vie for record


By Lisa Fernandez

Publication: San Jose Mercury News (California)

Date: Wednesday, December 14 2011



Silicon Valley’s record-setting balloon aficionado has set another world record.

Experts say San Jose pool service repairman Ron Meadows latest weather balloon traveled across the country, then across the Atlantic Ocean before splashing down near Spain. On Sunday, Meadows and his son, Lee, 32, released a balloon from Almaden Expressway and Highway 85 that soared past New Jersey, then landed in the Mediterranean Sea, where it sank.

Meadows and other amateur balloon experts, who tracked the flight by ham radio, say this is the first time such an amateur balloon has made a trans-Atlantic trip. The flight, they say, also set the world record in terms of distance, traveling 6,236 miles, and the world record for duration of flight — 57 hours.

“Several balloon groups have been working for years toward the dream of sending an unmanned high-altitude balloon across the Atlantic,” said Bill Brown of the High Altitude Research Corp. in Huntsville, Ala., who is considered the national pioneer in the field.

Brown said he had six balloon payloads that splashed down in the Atlantic. “This flight is an inspiration to follow your dreams and to know that sometimes the impossible may indeed be possible.”

Meanwhile, students at Menlo School, inspired by Meadows’ accomplishments, launched their homemade weather balloon from Vacaville on Dec. 6. They say their balloon reached an altitude of 137,000, which, if true, would have beaten Meadows’  altitude mark of 136,545 feet.

Menlo School teacher James Dann said he used altitude pressure to gauge the height of the balloon because his GPS tracker didn’t work the whole time.

Meadows, who reviewed Dann’s data, said world records are only approved if a GPS tracker confirms it. The students’ findings have yet to be approved and vetted by the Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning site,, where Meadows is still listed as the record holder.

“The Menlo School students — Micah Rosales, Martin Keyt, Brad Haaland, Rebecca Hao and Emily Siegel — worked under Dann, who has a doctorate in particle physics and worked on a NASA balloon experiment.