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14th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Brussels (BEL) 1925

Start: Bruxelles (Solbosch), June 7th         

From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen
(The Gordon Bennett Races) by Ulrich Hohmann Sr

The fight for the second Gordon Bennett Cup had begun. Would it take another 18 years until one nation could notch up three victories in a row? Belgian sculptor Van de Kerchove had created a masterpiece. Intertwined, rising figures, resting on each other, symbolising the wish of mankind to rise free above the earth.

The field at the gasworks in Solbosch was decided for the launch of the race for the fourth time now. Close to the sea surely not an ideal field, but where in this country can a place with much more distance be found. And till then the ocean had not set a limit to the races. Armbruster (1921) and Demuyter (1923 and 1924) had risked to cross the Channel or the Sund and gained victory in spite of the waters under their baskets.

At least 18 balloons must have launched on this summer Sunday, but there are only 16 in the official lists of results. In the reports about the race, a French balloon GRAND CHARLES and a Spanish ESPERTO showed up, which can't be discovered in the lists. We will hear from them later.

This summer was extremely hot in Europe. Some days after the launch the citizens of Berlin were ordered to save water, for there was an extreme shortage due to the continuing heat, also at the soccer final for the German championship on the same day spectators and players suffered from the dreadful climate (1.FC Nürnberg won 1 : 0 against FSV Frankfurt in the extra time).

The political situation in Germany had become a little more normal, the inflation was over, people got used to the new "Rentenmark" and in the towns one soon started to talk of the "Golden Twenties" which now started. In April, Hindenburg had been elected to the Reich's-President in the second ballot with a short majority against Wilhelm Marx, who had been nominated by the Centrum-party. In May the "Deutsche Museum" in Munich was solemnly opened (it was under construction since 1906), and one started to be worried about the fate of Roald Amundsen, who was lost since May 23rd and did not return from his failed attempt to fly to the North Pole before June 18th.

Another important event in aviation in 1925 was the accident of the American airship SHENANDOAH, which broke up on September 3rd, causing 13 deaths. On November 21st German motor pilot Amelie Beese-Boutard dies, at only 39 years of age, she had set up the world female record for duration with 2 hours and 9 minutes in 1911 and later headed the BOUTARD airplane factory together with her husband.

Let's go to the Gordon Bennett Race. Ernest Demuyter and his proven co-pilot Leon Coeckelberg were considered hot favourites. Still young American Ward T. van Orman, 14th in the year before, had a burning ambition to fly his GOODYEAR III to victory. But also the Italian Major Grassi, Englishman Percival Spencer, the Belgium's Labrousse and Veenstra were experienced Gordon Bennett warriors. So there as a lot of tension for sure. Only the wind direction created problems. Wind came from the northeast, and turned north far out on the Atlantic, so there was almost no chance to reach the south coast of England by crossing the Channel. Spanish pilot Suesena and American Flood had gone for this direction at the beginning, but then accepted that they would only scratch along the south coast, but not reach it. Spanish La Llave and Englishman Johnson had flown too much south for a channel crossing from the beginning.. After 130 to 200 km their flights ended in the most northerly part of France between Calais, Boulogne and the mouth of the Somme, where the English balloon ELSIE was completely destroyed at the landing by crashing into a train.

A lot farther went Ilari (ITA), Dunville (GBR), Bienaime (FRA), Bachmann (SUI), Spencer (GBR) and Labrousse (BEL). They stood in sight of the coast until they reached the Normandy. On this peninsula they tried to gather some more kilometres, until they were in front of the huge Atlantic in the area of Granville. The Italians Valle and Grassi had tried from the beginning on, to fly a heading as much south as possible. In the Bretagne they found out, that this would offer no more further distance to them, at least 550 or 598 kilometres were good for rank 3 and 4. Ernest Demuyter was still more resolutely. He kept his heading of SSW until he reached the south coast of the Bretagne, where he finally finished his flight in front of the sea at Quimper.

They all has preferred the safe landing on hard surface, and looking back, it proved, that any flying on was a big risk. French balloon GRAND CHARLES was fished out of the sea, Spanish ESPERTO came too close to the chimney of a steamer when trying to land on the ship and burned. Ward T. van Orman had lots of luck. At Brest he had flown out to the sea, in the second night he discovered the Dutch steamer VATERLAND below him. With a flashlight he signalled his emergency and around midnight he managed a safe landing on the deck of the ship. He left the basket with dry feet and continued his journey on the VATERLAND. This was an excellent performance, but according to the rules it had to lead to disqualification. (See remarks to the race of 1908).

Alexander Veenstra and Philippe Quersin wanted to win it in this year. In the year before they had flown to the last rank in 33 hours. Their ambition was to prove to the world and their fellow citizens that Ernest Demuyter was not the only excellent pilot in Belgium. His victories had made ballooning popular, now young and ambitious men had joined, who emulated him. For 47 hours Veenstra and Quersin stood in the basket of the PRINCE LEOPOLD, most of the time above the Bay of Biscay. They had flown far out to the sea until the wind turned more north. They prayed for Spain to come, this country was the last opportunity for a safe landing ahead of the insurmountable expanse of the Atlantic.

Dear reader, have a look at a good map of Spain and try to find Cabo Torinana on it. It is about 80 km west southwest of the town of La Coruna, or more simple, if you look to the extreme north western part of this peninsula. South of Cabo Torinana is Cabo Finisterre, and in England a quite similar point is called "Landsend". Exactly that is it! The two pilots hit this little tip, right on the steep cliffs they reached the ground. To the south, west and north nothing more than the wide sea. This place was not suitable to pack the balloon. So Quersin left the basket, to carry the inflated balloon more towards the land. He might have thought, that enough gas had been released to leave without danger. The disaster feared by all balloonists now happened: The balloon is caught by a gust of wind, rips off, climbs due to the lack of weight to a high altitude, only to return in a quick fall, without sufficient ballast left, to the ground, which means the ocean here. Veenstra was now alone in the basket, the ballast was used up in the 47-hours flight. Feeling safe on the ground after an almost eternal flight over the Biscay just a moment ago, he was now back over the sea with even worse chances. There was only one possibility to survive, to climb from the basket to the load-ring. He knew, the basket would immerse, but its weight would reduce the fall, so the envelope, net and load-ring would be kept away from diving in for some time. For 6 1/2 hours Veenstra stood in this situation, then he was discovered by the Spanish steamer FERNANDO-CARDONA and taken on board.

According to the rules, this was a correct landing, for they had touched hard surface first. With 1380 kilometres, twice as much as Demuyter, they were declared to be the winners. Belgium had won the race for the fourth time in a series, but this time the winners name was Alexander Veenstra, not Ernest Demuyter. We will meet Veenstra in another two races (in total he participated in seven races), but he could not repeat his success.

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