9-Year-Old to Take Solo Balloon Flight Saturday: Impressive or Abusive?

Hot air balloon

Is the reward of setting a record worth the risk?

There’s a new balloon boy in town, and unfortunately the hoopla surrounding this one isn’t much more auspicious than his predecessor.

Bobby Bradley, 9, just finished third grade and tomorrow at dawn he’s scheduled to take a solo balloon flight over the New Mexico desert near Albuquerque.

If all goes well, he will be the youngest pilot every to fly an ultralight hot air balloon. Is that a distinction you’d be willing to risk for your 9-year-old?

He’ll be launching from the open spaces of Tome, N.M., and the flight time will be roughly an hour. The balloon will have 10 gallons of fuel in the burner, thereby limited the length of his trip. He has 30 hours of flight experience and wears a harness and helmet. When he turns 14 he can fly a full-size balloon. Until then, his homemade balloon will have to do, weighing in at 150 pounds and capable of reaching an altitude of 1,500 feet.

While many, including me, will argue there is something wrong with letting a 9-year-old embark on a solo flight, his parents are licensed balloonists and claim their son has “ballooning in his blood.”

“Trust, me, I’m a mom,” said his mom, Tami Bradley, to ABC News. “If it’s not safe, he’s not going.”

“This was his idea,” she added. “He started taking control of the burner when he was 4 years old.”

I admire kids with extraordinary talent who push the limits beyond what those their age were previously thought to be capable of, but when it comes to the safety of a child, I don’t think you can be too cautious. It sounds like he has a lot of experience, but what kind of experience does he have to handle a situation if all doesn’t go well? Is a 9-year-old mature enough to navigate himself to safety in the event of an unforeseen occurrence? Is it worth the risk to find out? Are Bobby’s parents any less exploitative than parents of toddlers in, say, beauty pageants? (Although to be fair, they’re not letting Bobby participate do any interviews until after the flight is complete.)

Of course it’s hard not to recall the other Balloon Boy, Falcon Heene, who in 2009 was believed to be traveling uncontrolled in a flying-sauce-shaped balloon in Colorado. Turns out he wasn’t in the balloon and his parents made it up to try and secure a reality TV show deal. No one was hurt in the end, and the family gained some notoriety, although not in the way they had hoped.

Let’s hope Bobby’s flight tomorrow fares better — in every way — than the one for the Heene family a few years ago.

Do you think Bobby’s parents should let him take flight, or are they pushing the envelope too far? Is the reward of setting a record worth the risk when it involves a child so young?

Image: Wikipedia

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