Start: Antwerp, May 30th 1926
From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen
(The Gordon Bennett Races) by Ulrich Hohmann Sr
This year not Solbosch at Bruxelles, but Antwerp was selected as launch place. This town is not more distant from the sea, but that's something which cannot be a topic for discussion in Belgium. More surprising is the early date, the end of May. Also in the two years before, the Belgians had put the date to June, but all the other races had been held in autumn. There are mainly meteorological reasons for this, there is less tendency for heavy thunderstorms in autumn. Besides this, only the moon's phase has an influence on the date. Because the balloons fly through the night after the launch, it should be a full moon for better navigation. So we can be sure, that on May 30th 1926 the moon was shining, but the weather must have been quite awful. Already at inflation during the night from 29th to 30th of May there was pouring rain and a sharp wind. On the day of the launch at 4 p.m. the hydrogen balloon LILIPUT of only 170 cu m should fly ahead of the field with the French balloon pilot Charles Dollfus as a special attraction, but it was cancelled due to the weather. All the balloons launched completely soaked and had to be levelled out very light. After a few minutes they were out of sight for the spectators. This weather of course had influence on the results.
If such an experienced Gordon Bennett pilot like Maurice Bienaime, having already done 8 races, lands after 102 km, on the other side Ernest Demuyter covers 438 km in 4 hours (average speed about 88 km/h), it shows, that the flight was not a lazy one. So only a few competitors had the courage (or better: high-spirits?), to fly to the unknown and probably find themselves moving over the North Sea towards the Arctic next morning.
Already before launch failures happened. French balloons VIELLE TIGES and ANJOU were so severely damaged, that they had to be deflated. American Maxson was thrown overboard at the first try to land, his pilot Boettner flew on for a short distance, before he finally managed to bring to balloon to the ground. From rank 5 downwards, all pilots seem to have taken the first suitable field for landing.
Of no other Gordon Bennett Race there are such a few records as of the one in 1926. Also other collectors and experts of Gordon Bennett Races, living today, have discovered little. Not even the accurate duration of the three best balloons is known. The hours figured in the list of results seem to be rounded up or down. Probably the pilots did not have the time to record their exact landing time at a fast landing. The list of results seems "to be sewn in a great hurry". A pilot with the name "Capilari" is mentioned, who had never seen before and will never be seen again later. No pilot had ever heard from him. This mystery is solved by comparing some lists: Italian lieutenant Ilari, already flown in 1924 and 1925, had been promoted to Captain of cavalry thus becoming a Cap.Ilari. Belgian pilots Matton and Charmant appear on the lists without any nationality and the total entry of 18 balloons can only be read from the schedule of events. Our list of results therefore was completed with this information.
The race was won by the Americans Ward T. van Orman/Walter W. Morton, the same Van Orman, who managed the landing on the steamer VATERLAND the year before, after he had flown out to the Atlantic near Brest. The landing this year he performed at Sölvesborg, on the south coast of Sweden. With this he began a series of American victories which lasted for seven years and did almost again lead to a final end of the races. Second rank was achieved by his fellow -citizens Captain Gray/Johnson, who found their way back to earth in Mecklenburgia. Ernest Demuyter finished at Cuxhaven and last years winner Veenstra with his co-pilot Quersin found their landing-filed in East-Frisia.
There were other big performances recorded in the newspapers of these days: On May 9th the Americans Richard Evelyn Byrd and Floyd Bennet (with only one "t" and no relative to our James) managed the first human flight over the North Pole with a three engine Fokker from Spitzbergen in 15 1/2 hours. Roald Amundsen and Italian general Umberto Nobile followed only three days later with the airship NORGE. And another news, considering speed: On May 24th Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi sets up a new world record over 3000 meters in 8:24,4 minutes.
It was not in the newspapers that two days after the launch of the Gordon Bennett Race Marilyn Monroe was born. No one could have a presumed what this baby would become. But we see, we are approaching present times, for the glamorous days of Marilyn Monroe are not so far behind.