June 2, 2011 -- Bobby Bradley just finished third grade, something that would leave most nine-year-olds on top of the world. Bobby will go much higher: on Saturday at dawn he is scheduled to make his first solo balloon flight over the New Mexico desert near Albuquerque.
The plan is for him to take off from the open spaces of Tome, N.M., and fly for about an hour, say his parents. He will have just 10 gallons of fuel for the burner that heats the air in the balloon, limiting the length of his trip. He already has 30 hours of flight experience with his mother and father, and has been practicing with the balloon tethered to the ground or a truck. He wears a harness and a helmet. On Saturday he will go where the wind takes him.
"This was his idea," said Tami Bradley, his mother, in an interview with ABC News. "He started taking control of the burner when he was 4 years old."
Unless there's another youngster out there who's gone unnoticed, Bobby, say his parents, is likely to become the youngest trained pilot ever to fly an ultralight hot air balloon. Under FAA regulations, he would be too young to fly a full-size balloon until he turns 14. His homemade airship, the Heavenly Dream, weighs less than 150 pounds and may reach an altitude of 1,000 feet.
The Shadow of 'Balloon Boy'
Shades of "Balloon Boy" from 2009? You may recall Falcon Heene, the Colorado 6-year-old whose parents created a national uproar when their flying-saucer-shaped balloon went soaring across the sky north of Denver -- and the parents called police, wrongly reporting their son was inside. Richard and Mayumi Heene eventually pleaded guilty to charges of trying to mislead public safety officers. They were reported to be short on cash and hoping a reality show would take notice of them.
The Bradley family says Bobby's case is different. Troy and Tami Bradley are both licensed balloonists, well known in the world of lighter-than-air fliers. Troy Bradley, a pilot and flight instructor, helped fly the first balloon from North America to Africa, and lays claim to 58 world records in ballooning. Young Bobby has watched his parents' exploits. (And, by the way, they say they don't want him doing any interviews until the flight is over.)
"He's got ballooning in his blood," said Troy Bradley. "He's heard us talking about it and has been in balloons his entire life."
"Trust, me, I'm a mom," said Tami Bradley. "If it's not safe, he's not going."
When Does 'the Youngest' Become 'Too Young'?
There have been other young adventurers: Last year 13-year-old Jordan Romero of California became the youngest person to climb Mount Everest. And Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Australian, became the youngest person to sail solo around the world.
Is it necessarily a bad thing for a young person to go on a big trip? Is there a level at which being the youngest is just too young?
Ken Kamler, who has climbed Mount Everest six times and written "Surviving the Extremes" -- which includes his account of the 1996 Everest storm in which eight climbers died -- said Jordan Romero's climb was too risky.
"I would not send my son up there at the age of 13," said Kamler. "I don't think it needs to be done. I think he can wait until he is older."
Nadine Kaslow, a clinical psychologist who is also a professor at Emory University School of Medicine, said there is a balancing act.
"If we don't allow this kind of thing, we never push the limits," she said. "We don't get great pianists and child stars. And that's sad.
"On the other hand, how do we push the limits without pushing the child?"
Tami Bradley said her son has the desire and the aptitude to fly.
"He's a really great kid," she said, "and he loves ballooning."
ABC News' Russell Goldman contributed to this report. Additional information from The Associated Press.