By Joseph J. Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Jan 30 (Reuters) - A pair of balloonists trying to fly to North America from Japan passed a major milestone on Friday that could soon be declared a world record for the length of time spent in the air by a gas-filled balloon, a spokeswoman said.
The feat came a day after the team of Troy Bradley, an American, and Leonid Tiukhtyaev, a Russian, logged what they also believe to be the distance record for such flights, flying more than 5,260 miles (8,465 km) by Thursday afternoon, according to a tracking website (http://www.pacificballoon.com/) set up for their journey.
The existing distance record, set in 1981, also came on a transpacific flight, of 5,209 miles (8,383 km). The existing record for time spent in the air is 137 hours, set in 1978 by a team crossing the Atlantic.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev, who call their team and balloon Two Eagles, hope to land on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico on Saturday morning, spokeswoman Kim Vesely said. The pair took off for their trip on Jan. 24.
"The team is now fully focused on the final and most important task: landing the balloon safely after a successful crossing of the Pacific Ocean," she said.
Vesely said she did not formally call the team's feats a record because that designation will be decided by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and the Fédèration Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the international air sports federation.
(Reporting by Joseph J. Kolb; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Eric Beech)