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CNN Today

Veteran Hot-Air Balloonist Kevin Uliassi Discusses Attempt to Fly Solo Around the World

Aired February 22, 2000 - 2:27 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, 20,000 feet above West Virginia -- Parkersburg, West Virginia to be specific, a lone man is attempting to do what no one has done before, and that's make a nonstop solo flight around the world in a hot-air balloon. Veteran balloonist Kevin Uliassi lifted off from a quarry in Rockford, Illinois early this morning. Uliassi's made several prior attempts. Two men successfully sailed nonstop around the world last year, but Mr. Uliassi is confident this time he will be the first to make the journey alone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN ULIASSI, SOLO BALLOONIST: I'd measure success this way: When this balloon stands, and if it's successfully rigged and it stands all right, then that's one level of success. The second area we'll succeed is when the balloon leaves the quarry with no problems. The third way we'll succeed is if -- when the balloon gets to 20,000 feet and stays there for a few hours, that's a real success because it didn't happen that way in 1997.

Another success we'll gauge by, as I said many times before, when we get over Ohio -- that's our motto, "Ohio or Bust."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: "Ohio or Bust." And through the miracle of modern technology, we've managed to connect up with Kevin Uliassi who's in his hot-air balloon.

Where are you?

ULIASSI: You know, I haven't looked on the chart recently, but I think I'm somewhere on the way to West Virginia right now.

WATERS: Really? I'm getting conflicting results. Some say Ohio, some say West Virginia. Somebody must have the right answer. But are things going already, though?

ULIASSI: We're definitely heading for West Virginia. I just haven't updated my chart in the last half hour, so I'm not sure exactly where I am.

WATERS: All right, you're trying to get around the world by yourself. Now, you've tried this twice before. The first time, as I understand it, you got a no-go from China; second time it was an equipment problem. Do you figure this time's the charm?

ULIASSI: Actually, if I could correct, the first time was the equipment problem. The second time we just didn't -- weren't able to do it. We were ready. And this year we just -- we considered this part of the second time. We kept all the equipment and we flew it this year.

I think -- I'm in the air and things are going well. We think that we'll get at least to Puerto Rico. That's what it looks like right now.

WATERS: OK, well I was misinformed about the China problem. But you are sailing over many countries, one of which is China, I believe. Are you at all concerned that any of these countries, or a couple of these countries, might tell you you can't do this?

ULIASSI: No, I don't think you were misinformed about China. They did deny us clearance, and that was part of the decision making why we didn't fly last year.

WATERS: I see.

ULIASSI: We actually do have clearance from virtually all the countries we're going to cross over, including written clearance from Libya, which no one's ever been able to get before.

WATERS: All right, now there's one other thing that intrigued me. I understand you're about 6 feet 3 inches tall, and you say this capsule that you're in today is like living in an ice chest.

ULIASSI: It's four feet wide and fight feet tall and 68 inches long, so that gives me four inches extra room when I lay down.

WATERS: And you have to spend how long in there you figure?

ULIASSI: It could be as long as 21 days, the way things are looking. We're moving fairly slowly.

WATERS: And I understand that the capsule is not pressurized. Does that mean you're on oxygen much of the time?

ULIASSI: That's right. As I speak to you right now, I'm breathing through an oxygen can, you know, to keep me from passing out.

WATERS: Well, I hope we're not interrupting your conscious period. I understand the name of the balloon is J. Renee. Is that your wife's name?

ULIASSI: That's my wife's name. I married Renee -- we got married three years ago and she's been so supportive. I call her my best sponsor, so I named the balloon after her.

WATERS: So she's in full support here. She's not saying, Kevin, I'll stay here, cleanup; you go have -- you go around the world?

WATERS: No, in fact, there were many times in this project when I probably would have quit if it wasn't for Renee.

WATERS: So you figure this is going to take you a couple of weeks, Kevin?

ULIASSI: Probably almost three weeks, yes.

WATERS: Almost three weeks. Is this a new kind of balloon, new kind of technology you're in here?

ULIASSI: Well, it's a new -- it's a relatively new design. It was new last year and we redesigned the balloon, and we improved it, improved its efficiency, improved its strength, changed things so we wouldn't have the kind of failure we had the first time. And we had a manufacturer manufacture part of it and we finished the rest of it.

There's nothing very high-tech about balloons in general. I mean, the the technology's been around for more than 200 years. It's just that we haven't known how to use the technology.

WATERS: And how are you keeping warm? We understand about 50 degrees below zero outside the capsule. You're not pressurized, so how are you keeping warm inside the capsule?

ULIASSI: Well, the capsule's very well-insulated. For instance, today I'm only at 10,000 feet...

WATERS: There goes that -- all right, Kevin, if you can hear me, we thank you so much, wish you good luck.

You heard the digital things that you hear every time you turn onto AOL so I guess we're disconnected here. But you can keep track of Mr. Uliassi's adventure over the next three weeks at this Illinois Institute of Technology Web site, if you want to copy down the address. It's J. Renee -- that's Mr. Uliassi's wife -- .iitdo -- wait a minute here. What is this? It's j.renee.iit.edu. OK. We'll be giving you that address from time, I hope, because I really blew it, and it's all over the page.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's because they spelled out dot on your page and it was confusing: it -- iit.edu I think is it.

WATERS: Easy for you to do.

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