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New Mexico boy, 9, prepares for solo flight in balloon

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Bobby Bradley is ready. He has been training for about five years and learned from some of the most experienced and decorated pilots in the sport of ballooning.

But he'll be making his own mark on the sport when he lifts off from a desolate patch of New Mexico desert in about seven weeks: At 9 years old, Bobby will become the youngest trained pilot to fly solo in an ultra-light hot air balloon.

So is he excited? "Definitely," he says.

Worried? "Not at all," he says.

"I've been flying since I was 4, so I've had a lot of time to train and I've always wanted to solo," Bobby said during an interview with The Associated Press.

For some, the feat may conjure up the dramatic televised images from 2009, when a runaway silver balloon flew uncontrollably over Colorado amid fears that a little boy was inside. That boy was actually hiding in the family's garage; his parents were later accused of staging a hoax.

Bobby is the real deal. He's the son of well-known balloonists Troy and Tami Bradley of Albuquerque. Both have been licensed pilots since they were teenagers and come from families immersed in the ballooning community for decades.

In 1998, Troy and Tami Bradley won the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, one of the county's biggest events in balloon racing. Six years earlier, Troy Bradley and Richard Abruzzo piloted the first balloon to fly from North America to Africa.

In all, Troy Bradley has set nearly five dozen world records in ballooning and has logged thousands of hours of pilot time. He's also the president of the Balloon Federation of America.

So is it in Bobby's blood? His parents think so, but they have been careful not to pressure him or his 11-year-old sister, Savannah, who would rather leave the piloting to Bobby.

"Truthfully, this is his idea," Troy Bradley said. "He's just so gung-ho about flying and everything. It's kind of funny because when he was real little, he was like every other kid, the burners scared him."