A COUPLE aim to make ballooning history when they set out on a record-breaking flight across the Atlantic.

Mike Scholes and Deborah Jane Day have been regular flying partners since Mike, a former military and commercial airman, lost his sight 11 years ago.

Before he went blind he had helped Deborah gain her pilot’s licence.

Now the 54-year-old aims to be the first woman to captain a balloon across the Atlantic and, if successful, will smash world distance and duration records.

Mike, 64, will also be the first registered blind person to crew on such a flight.

The couple, from Lindfield, near Haywards Heath, will make the 2,800-mile fundraising trip from Dartmouth in Canada to Dartmouth in Devon in aid of Blind Veterans UK in Ovingdean.

It is expected to take between five and ten days, during which their 85ft Rozière balloon will be lifted by a combination of helium and hot air to altitudes of more than 18,000ft.

“The balloon will fly between 500 and 16,000 feet depending on weather,” said Mike, who is one of only seven British pilots to have flown at three times that height.

He said: “Snow is our biggest concern but above 10,000ft you’re also short of oxygen.

“I’ve experienced oxygen deprivation on balloon flights before. When you reach 10,000ft it’s like having your first gin and tonic when you get in from work… it hits you but then the body adjusts.”

The cramped, 1.8m by 1.4m super-light, British-made basket will carry oxygen cylinders and masks and natural wool clothing and a sleeping bag to insulate them from the cold. Mike said: “We will avoid static by wearing wool and cotton.”

The couple will keep in touch with home primarily via smartphone and a solar-powered iPad, loaded with a unique app that allows Mike to monitor the flight while Deborah is asleep.

They will share the rest of the living space with helium cylinders for the balloon, survival and rescue equipment to be used in the event of a marine landing, together with back-up communication equipment and food.

Mike, a veteran of five duration record-breaking hot air balloon flights, lost his sight at the age of 53 to Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a rare condition affecting mostly young men in the UK.

He said: “Until then I was running a successful commercial passenger balloon company but I gave it up because passengers felt more comfortable with a pilot who could see,”

He took up long distance running with a local club, where he met Deborah, an endurance athlete, and went on to set himself increasingly demanding physical challenges, including a trek to the North Pole. But the #BalloonthePond flight will be his toughest yet.