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36th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Stuttgart (GER) 1992

Start: Stuttgart, Cannstatter Wasen, September 19th 1992   

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

 Following the victory of Volker Kuinke and Jürgen Schubert in the 1991 race, Germany got it’s first chance since 1912 to host a Gordon Bennett Race again. This honour found the ballooning commission of the German Aero-club quite unprepared. In the past years, the dominance of other countries in this race had been too strong, the Austrian team of Starkbaum/Scholz seemed to be unbeatable, so nobody reflected seriously about what may happen if this series of victories would be interrupted one day. Suddenly, this victory happened and now it was time to act.

A launch location was found quickly and the reasons for it were very plausible. Tradition played a minor role, but using the same place as 80 years ago could offer some more advantages. In 1912, it was a highly productive gas factory, which was the deciding factor for the Cannstatter Wasen, but also the long distance to the sea, which would allow long flights to natural boundaries. This also counted in 1992, but the main reason was the active balloon club of Stuttgart, strongly supporting the idea, where everybody fulfilled their duties carefully and accurate. Where else can you find something like this? 70 club members not only worked hard for several months before launch, but also were on duty at the day of the launch. This was aided by the open-minded attitude about sports by the city of Stuttgart, which provided many kinds of assistance. THW (emergency services), Red Cross, Fire brigade, all were present with help. The "Deutsche Freiballon-Sportverband", hosted the race but was obliged to thank the balloon club of Stuttgart, the sports office of the city council and all the other institutions.

The date of the launch, September 19th, created some discussions and was a little mysterious. Most of the previous races had been launched in the fall close to a night of full moon. These nights have advantages; they make navigation easier and a landing at night safer. But in the age of GPS and other electronic equipment, the full moon does no longer play such an important role for navigation. For night landings, to be performed only in extreme emergency, strong beams are on board, to light the landing field. These are also helpful if clouds cover the moon.

In 1992 full moon was on September 12th. Why then the launch a week later? This date came from external forces. The rules of the Gordon Bennett Race only permit the short period of 12 month for the organizing national aero-club. This means, that the dates for other competitions are already fixed. On September 12th, the European hot air balloon championships in Belfort, France had not finished, and when the date had to be fixed in September 1991, nobody could tell, how many pilots would like to compete in both events. For the next night with full moon, October 2nd, the world championships in gas ballooning had already been scheduled.

Looking back, the selection of place and time weren’t bad. The weather and the wind direction were good, but the wind was a little slow. You can’t always request the best.

The press conference on September 10th was very good. Local press were present, but also the TV station of southern Germany and the specialist journals. The "Adler" (eagle), monthly journal of the air sports community of the state of Baden-Württemberg published a picture of the Gordon Bennett Race of 1912 on its front page on that day and the official bulletin of the city of Stuttgart printed an excellent article with picture about the race. However the highlight was 88 year old Stuttgart citizen Eugen Raisch, coming to the press conference to tell his eyewitness experience 80 years ago, when he was on the launch field in his fathers hands and saw the balloons rising towards the sky with a farewell from King Wilhelm II. Of Württemberg.

The day of the launch came closer. Until the Friday before the launch, it was Indian summer; pure sun without a single cloud in the sky. Meteorologist Dr. Hafner of the German Meteorological Service at Offenbach announced the passing of a small front on Saturday morning. Behind that front, good conditions would return. Nobody would believe that on Saturday morning, because of a thunderstorm and heavy rainfall. But the meteorologists were right, as at noon on the sky started to clear up. The time lost created by this tricky weather could be made up due to a generous time schedule. At 6 p.m. all 17 balloons stood on the field inflated. Lewetz/Wagner from Austria were present with a brand new balloon as was Makne/Antkowiak from Poland. Both balloons were nettles, the same construction as the "Polarstern" of Starkbaum/Scholz. Levin/Herschend from the USA also had used the same model for the previous two years.

Aged mister Eugen Raisch also had found his way to the Cannstatter Wasen on the day of the launch. Tears of emotion came to his eyes, when one balloon after the other lifted off from the launch platform to the sounds of their national anthems. It was a moving atmosphere no balloonist or spectator could resist when the music corps of the Baden-Württemberg police played farewell to the balloons.

The low wind speed over the field prevented a quick launch sequence. Several extra minutes had to be made between the balloon launches, to avoid collision. Although these breaks had an advantage, as they increased the solemnly of the whole ceremony.

It became a long flight. First landing reports did not come in before Sunday evening by French Hennequet/Leys and British Harris/Wilkinson. A little later, Heinz Brachtendorf and Helma Sjuts also had finished their flight. All three balloons had landed in the Czech Republic before nightfall of the second night.

The wind now turned a little more south, but slowed down considerably. Nevertheless Poland could be reached. Volker Kuinke/Jürgen Schubert landed there on Monday around 1 p.m. They were the furthest north of all balloons as obviously they wanted to repeat their strategy from the year before, but it didn’t work out so well this year. Usually, 808 kilometres in more than 43 hours was often enough for victory as in previous races. Now, this distance was just good for a 5th place rank. Swiss Karl Spenger/Christian Stoll had finished flying on Monday morning; their fellow citizens Rolf Sutter/Kurt Frieden and Jaques Soukop/Alan Fraenckel from the American Virgin Islands did the same during the next few hours. All of them had used the more northerly drift, comparing times and distances of Kunike, Sutter and Soukop shows that significant progress was no longer possible.

Obviously, it worked a little better for those balloons, which had used a more southerly track. Swiss Signer/Osterwalder stayed in the air just one hour longer than Kuinke/Schubert, but made 43 kilometres more. On the other hand, this trend could not be carried too far as Americans Wallace/Senez struggled in 47 hours to get past the new airport of Munich to Senice in the Czech Republic, with a final distance of "only" 592 kilometres.

On Monday evening the landing reports of six balloons were still missing. Officials still waited for phone calls from the two Austrian teams, the two teams from the USA, the Polish crew and Willi Eimers/Bernd Landsmann. Nobody could draw any conclusions from this. Just to phone out of Poland is a great achievement. Interesting however was the fact, that all missing balloons were of the nettles or lightweight type. Willi Eimers still dreamed of reaching the Baltic Sea near Gdansk, but soon realized that this had become impossible, when his balloon made just two kilometres in one hour.

As it later turned out, all balloons except one had landed. And this was good, because now the wind continued turning and speeded up, but the direction was wrong. Any continuation of the flight would shorten the distances already achieved.

Makne/Antkowiak were the luckless individuals who were blown back. Short before sunset on Monday they were just a few kilometres behind the eventual winner. When the wind turned during the night, they could not land without danger. So they flew to the Northwest, and their distance decreased every minute.

On Tuesday morning they landed at Ogrodnica in the area of Wroklaw, former Breslau, 584 km from Stuttgart as the bird flies and ranked 11. But their misfortune wasn’t over. The new envelope on its second flight was almost 80 to 90 percent empty, when an explosion tore it to thousands of pieces. Obviously, the conductivity of the new fabric was still too poor. And to add to that, on their way back, the chase car went into a skid and ended up on its roof as a write-off. It was good fortune, that none of the passengers were seriously hurt. For the awards ceremony on Saturday, 26th, they were back in Stuttgart. A special performance after such an adventure.

Traditionally, the competitors should report by themselves now at this place, first the report of the winner, David Levin, published in BALLOONING, winter 1992:

See the article by David Levin (USA) about the 1992 Race

So far the pleasantly short and non-pathetic report of the winner. Almost unnoticed a crew pushed to the second place in this race, which would become quite famous within the next few years: German Willi Eimers and Bernd Landsmann. Considering Willi wasn’t a nobody in the German ballooning scene as he had already drawn attention with some spectacular and not always undisputed long distance flights. He also had been the guy, who ranked last with just 68 kilometres but with the longest time (44 h 20 min.) in the air at the Gordon Bennett Race in 1985. The mockers of 1985 had not realized, that this was a sign of stamina and persistence in supposedly hopelessness situations, which now started to bear rich fruit. But let Willi tell by himself, he gave an extensive report of this flight that is published here:

19:25 240m 46 bags - Stuttgart - 180° 4km/h - Take-off

Launch was carried out in a big hurry. Just 60 minutes after, we had left the last briefing. Also, one of the launch masters had mixed the number of our place on the launch field (6) with the drawn sequence of our launch (9). He threatened us, that we would have to launch last, if we would not report ready for launch immediately. This happened, when number 3 was just taking off. Fortunately, he realized his error later and excused himself. This rush for my crew and me kept us away from doing a final check-up. Short before take-off I realized, that the bag with my ICAO maps was missing, including all the new TPC maps. Maps for $300, bought extra for this Gordon Bennett Race, were nearly left in the chase car. Claudia, young and fast, brought them to the balloon in two minutes. Also fateful, even if only of a value of $ 2,50, was leaving behind our toilet. When was the last time you been without a toilet for 50 hours? I don’t want to say more!

The balloon was vented a little, to allow a rapid climb to the ordered altitude of flight level 60. The calculations for this by launch master Gerhard Hurck were good and correct. The balloon climbed steadily without any dropping of ballast and we could look after other things. We even could have vented the balloon much more, for at 850 meters the climbing stopped. Dropping another 8 bags of water ballast was necessary to bring the balloon up to FL 60.

19:48 1000m 44 bags - Untertürkheim - 150° 6km/h - Dumping 2 bags

It was difficult to continue climbing. It’s not easy, to give away so much ballast at the very beginning of such an important and long race. One bag that had been balanced to exactly 10 kilograms, brought us only 100 meters more in altitude.

20:30 1900m 38 bags - Esslingen - 145° 14km/h - good visibility

We are exactly in the departure sector of the airport Stuttgart-Echterdingen. I watched two planes landing. The balloons were far to the East of the field, while the planes landed coming from the West. I could not really understand, why this subject was blown up so much at the briefing. The order to maintain altitude of FL 60 was of no problem at this launch, because only up here a low but useful drift was present.

21:30 2200m 36 bags - Plüdershausen - 065° 18km/h - radio contacts

Due to the many towns, the metropolitan area of Stuttgart can be compared with the Ruhr Region or the Düsseldorf area. From everywhere big cities sent their lights up to us. Visibility was more than 40 kilometres. Down on the roads, there was Saturday evening traffic, but we were not interested in it very much. We were competitors in the Gordon Bennett Race, and had more important things to do than to watch the state of Baden-Württemberg from 2200 meters.

We had radio contacts with D-SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG and D-KARSTADT. Our GPS didn’t work. Klaus Hagl also reported difficulties with it. Thomas Fink however claims he had received four satellites. I was afraid, that our GPS was broken, so I was angry and stored it away. When I tried it again next morning, it worked flawlessly. Later I learned, that in this night, no satellites could be received for a few hours. This position of satellites is very rare, but it may happen. The next 35 hours, my GPS worked without any interruption.

23:00 2300m 32 bags - west of Aalen  - 075° 20km/h  - stable flight

We had temperature measurements during the entire flight. Temperature at this moment inside the envelope 3.6°C, ambient temperature 2.1°C. The basket was coated with polystyrene foam. Due to the failure of our GPS during the first night, navigation was difficult. Stuttgart airport loved to help us by transponder. VOR would also have been possible. The controllers at Stuttgart were very kind and obviously had their fun, guiding the balloons through the night.

00:40 2660m 31 bags - Wallerstein  - 060° 20km/h  - Temp. envelope 3,9°C

02:16 2000m 30 bags - Gunzenhausen - 065° 19km/h - Temp. I. 5,2°C, A. 4,4°C

Below us at an altitude of around 1800 meters, clouds started to form, which would be very wet. Flying into them would mean dumping of ballast. So I had to pay attention. But with a single shovel of sand, the balloon could easily be kept on its present altitude. My co-pilot Bernd Landsmann had gone to sleep. Our bed was a board of 1.8 by 0.65 meters, laid on the edge of one half of the basket between the rig lines. An insulation mat made it soft. For bad dreams, we tied ourselves up with the handling line using a special rescue knot from the fire brigade. I want to say, that this bed performed well. During this first night, both of us slept alternately 3 to 4 hours each.

03:55 2200m 29 bags - south Allersberg  - 075° 20km/h

05:45 1900m 29 bags - Rhine-Danube-channel - 080° 22km/h - Temp. I. 4,2°C

06:55 1700m 28 bags - 8km NW Regensburg - 090° 19km/h - sunrise

Transponder check with Nürnberg, who gave us a warm welcome. Radio contact on frequency 135,725 MHz.

The first night was over. Both of us did not feel cold. But the huge amount of ballast, we had to dump, was frightening. Could this Gordon Bennett Race last long? From 50 bags, 10 kilograms each, we had already used up 22. What effect would the high altitude of the first night have on further flight? Crews flying the races out of Lech always had moaned that they were forced to high altitudes at the beginning of the race because of the mountains. Nevertheless, they still covered times in the air of more than 44 hours. Will my record of 44:22 hours, set up together with Klaus Marienfeld in 1985 at the race from Geneva, be reached or even broken this year?

Even if it became bright now, we sat more on our chairs instead of looking outside. From 2000 meters, the landscape looked similar everywhere. The sorrows about using the high amount of ballast made us forget the beauty of the Bavaria Forest far below.

08:20 2710m 27 bags - airfield Mittenau-Bruch - 090° 22km/h - breakfast

09:00 3140m 26 bags - Cham - 085° 25km/h - radio contact Nürnberg

Because of our good breakfast, Bernd decided to take a nap afterwards. Our board bed had been removed already hours ago. Well warmed up by the sun, the flight was a real delight for both of us. Surprisingly, our GPS worked again flawlessly. We had used almost no ballast within the last three hours. I hoped, this would keep on for a few more hours. Later I found out, that the other crews had had to face the same problems. All had spent a huge amount of ballast during the first night. Our balloon was tight. Temperatures inside 13.8°C, ambient 13.2°C. We had visual contact with two balloons. One of them very far ahead, the other approximately 20 kilometres. Unfortunately, I could not detect, who they were. I had left my binoculars at home, a mistake, as I knew now.

09:30 3200m 26 bags - north of Lam - 090° 22km/h - entering Czech Republic

10:35 3352m 25 bags - 49°16’58’’N;13°08’00’’E 093°   24km/h - GPS o.k.

11:20 3282m 25 bags - 49°16’00’’N;13°21’00’’E 094°   22 km/h - T.22°C, - sun

Our GPS receiver now worked flawlessly. This is a miraculous tool. You always know your accurate position, direction and speed. The altitude may be of minor priority. I think, after the introduction of the transponder system 15 years ago, GPS is the most important innovation. Of course, it doesn’t make much sense, to mention only the coordinates in a flight report, even if they indicate the most accurate position. So here is the translation to more comprehensible locations: At 10:35 we were at Nyrsko/Czech Republic, about 10 kilometres behind the border. Besing was the name of the place we were closest to at 11:20. The landscape below was used for agriculture. As already mentioned, from an altitude of 3200 meters it is difficult, to grasp a country and its differences to your own home.

13:50 3110m 25 bags - Pisek - 086° 25km/h - very warm

To avoid being burned by the sun, we had built up our shelter. In its shadow, it was comfortably warm. Your head doesn’t heat up so much. Something which often leads to a feeling of weakness and tiredness in the evening. In a Gordon Bennett Race the crew has to maintain their fitness for two or three days.

14:45 3000m 25 bags - north Bechyne - 082° 23km/h - no use of ballast

15:45 2589m 25 bags - south Tabor  - 072° 21km/h  - 391 km from Stuttgart

16:05 2400m 24 bags - 5km east Chynov - 092° 17km/h - radio contact to chase crew

16:29 800m 22 bags - airfield Vezna - 020° 4km/h - thermals

We brought the balloon into a decent to find out, if there weren’t other, perhaps faster winds in lower layers. There were none! At about 700 meters above sea level or 200 meters above ground I stopped the fall having to fight some medium strength thermals. Stopping the fall and the climb to the previous altitude did cost three bags. Quite a lot, I think. But now we knew, that moving ahead was only possible up here. We could see up to five balloons. One balloon was about 10 to 15 kilometres behind of us. We could only identify Swiss balloon ZIRKUS KNIE, being ahead a little more than 10 kilometres. After our decent and climb manoeuvre our position had worsened. ZIRKUS KNIE increased the distance for another 10 kilometres and was now 20 kilometres away. But I didn’t care about that at the moment as I now knew about the missing winds in the lower layers. During the rest of the flight I would catch up again with ZIRKUS KNIE and finally overtake them by more than 80 kilometres.

17:41 3000m 20 bags - 5km east Pelhrimov - 078° 25km/h - Temp. 26°C

18:53 2200m 16 bags - west Jihlava - 090° 20km/h - radio contact with Prague

19:33 2500m 16 bags - east Jihlava - 090° 22km/h - cool

A tarpaulin against rain, constructed by Klaus Stukovnik, pilot from Düsseldorf, had been mounted to the load ring. I had lowered this tarpaulin at the beginning of the second night. The basket was not completely closed, however this tarpaulin proved perfect. It kept away the humidity coming out of the clouds that formed in that high altitude. So we were able, to keep some of the wearing cold from the basket.

The decision, to fly a second night was easy with our amount of ballast. Difficult was to foresee how much ballast we would need to compensate the cooling of the gas during the night. The balloon had flown the whole day in the hot sun.

Finally, the consumption of ballast created by the cooling of the gas was 4 bags with 10 kilograms each, much less than expected. Who knows the reason? Flying very high during daytime, the gas didn’t heat up so much but stayed quite cold. So the spread of temperatures when the night came wasn’t so large and thus kept the amount of ballast small.

Remark: Low flight in warm air at daytime = high shed of ballast for the night cooling; High flight in cold air at daytime = low shed of ballast for the night cooling.

20:20 3000m 16 bags - south Nad Sazavou - 070° 25km/h - haze

21:40 3200m 15 bags - 15km south Svitavy - 075° 22km/h - board bed

The night has caught up to us. It was very humid outside. Bernd first went to sleep on our board bed. I had both chairs and the complete lower part of the basket for myself. In the beginning, I had settled our altitude alarm on 2800 meters. But it rang frequently because the balloon fell below this altitude again and again. So I changed it to 2500 meters. If we had fallen below this altitude, a loud alarm would have sounded. So I didn’t have to control altimeter and variometer permanently. There would have been crews, flying a longer period of time, in which the pilot on guard had dreamed away. With this altimeter alarm, he would rarely be able to finish his dreams. I think this tool is an important contribution to safety on duration flights. 

00:13 2500m 15 bags - Zabreh - 066° 24km/h - Temp.I:4,7°C;A:2,4°C

We had travelled 557 kilometres until now. Our chase crew tried to keep up with us on the roads in the Czech Republic. It was difficult for them, even if we were not flying faster than 20 to 25 kilometres an hour. Every hour, we radioed the coordinates of our position. That is quite comforting considering our difficulties to pronounce the names of the towns in these countries. On our board bed we had a down filled sleeping bag designed for temperatures down to minus 20°C. It worked well.

02:55 3200m 15 bags - 5km SW Opava - 073° 22km/h - Temp.I:+1,8°C;A:-4°C

04:45 3000m 15 bags - 10km NE Raciborz - 065° 24km/h - entering Poland

06:22 2800m 13 bags - Katowice - 074° 22km/h - stable flight

Below the huge industrial region of Katowice appeared. Blast furnaces and big industrial plants could be recognized. Twilight began, so everything looked very grey. Clouds had formed, covering the sun. A sun, we had waited for eleven hours! Bernd was in good mood and wide awake. We removed our board bed because I wasn’t tired. Our chase crew was quite angry, they had to make a detour of more than 80 kilometres because a border crossing was suddenly declared to be under road construction and closed. We heard and saw nothing from our competitors at that time.

08:03 3440m 12 bags - NE Zawiercie - 060° 30km/h - between cloud layers

09:39 3660m 12 bags - 3km SW VOR Jedow - 065° 25km/h - shimmering of ice

11:47 4600m 10 bags - 15km SW Kielce - 060° 26km/h - sun – warm

We had to climb to avoid an early landing. Speed and direction was still excellent. Between 250 and 300 kilometres were left to the end of the competition area (border of Russia), with 25 – 30 kilometres per hour we had to stay up until evening. Thus we had to handle the ten bags of ballast left very economical. But the balloon collected more and more of light snow from the clouds above. I was afraid, that this snowfall might increase. Allowing the balloon to fall would mean, that the snow would turn to rain, something we had to avoid in this situation of short ballast. So a decision had to be made. I calculated and decided: 7 bags of sand 10 kilograms each, 10 litres of water, life raft 18 kilograms, emergency ballast about 20 kilograms. "That is still quite a lot", old Ferdinand Eimermacher would have said. How often had I read his reports from Gordon Bennett Races! Of course, I still don’t know, how they landed safely from 6000 or 7000 meters without any ballast, but they told, they did. I wanted to keep a reserve anyhow. But I had to reach the sun, another 1000 meters above. How much ballast would I need for that? If I were not successful, the flight would end with the next decent. And this decent will come quick underneath the clouds with snow and rain. So, dump the water, also two bags of sand, and check the content of our food bags. Overboard it went: Canned beer, 4 x 0,5 litres (non-alcoholic); three cans of water, 0.33 litres each; sandwiches; apples; pears; bananas; sausages; and some more smaller items. Everything was cut to pieces and the cans were emptied. The balloon climbed to 4800 meters and reached the sun. We had made it. I was prepared to use one more bag to keep the altitude during daytime.

12:45 5100m 7 bags - airfield Kielce - 046° 16km/h - radio contact to Warsaw

Our flight was stable, but slowed down. Via Warsaw Radar we could listen to the radio contacts with the other balloons. From time to time the controller reported the accurate positions of the balloons. So we knew, where they were and who was still in the air. All balloons reported from far in the Northwest, only American balloon D-ASPEN, requested weather information from far behind at Krakow. The balloons in the North mostly flew lower as we did, stood still or flew back with slow speed. Ground wind was reported at 12 – 15 knots from 150°. Had the wind already turned? Here, up at 5000 meters, we moved ahead. Not very fast, but with 15 kilometres an hour to the North-North-East was much better than backwards.

Warsaw Radar had given us a transponder code, so we let our transponder, which was equipped with mode Charlie, run for more than five hours. Our solar panel produced enough electricity and one accumulator of 12 V 10 Ah was still full and unused. So Warsaw did not call and betrayed anything about us. Only once Warsaw called in, surprisingly not with my call sign D-COL, which I had used for Warsaw but with my full name, D-COLUMBUS. How could this happen, we asked ourselves in the basket. The answer was found quick, but was wrong: They had the flight plans. The real reason was, that our launch crew from Stuttgart, being back home, had phoned Berlin AIS to request if Warsaw still had D-COLUMBUS in the air. So they sent out a call with the complete call sign. After that, we had our peace again until the landing. Warsaw did not impose conditions for any of the balloons, no matter where and in which altitude they were.

14:10 4910m 7 bags - South Starachowice - 096° 11km/h - Volker Kuinke has landed

The direction and speed became worse and worse. But as long as we didn’t fly back, we wanted to keep on flying, until 44:20 hours in the air were beaten. That was my time in the Gordon Bennett Race 1985 in Geneva. The balloon flew stable in that altitude. I had to help only twice with one or two little shovels of sand. For a while, we had no clouds underneath, but 20 minutes later it was again very cloudy. From 5000 meters, you couldn’t see much of the unknown country. One field after the other strung together – lots of room for a landing. Our chase crew reported, that the ground wind had increased. Meanwhile, they had caught up with us and waited for our landing. I waited for my crew with a very special need. Within the last hours I tried not to think about food. Amazing, how much a body can suffer.

15:38 5320m 7 bags - north Nowa-Slupia - 140° 4km/h - almost standstill

About two hours before we landed, we saw a balloon rising from the clouds. After a careful observation with our much too small binoculars I recognized the balloon of the Austrian team Starkbaum/Scholz, about 10 – 15 kilometres behind of us. They were in search for the wind, which didn’t exist anymore. Interesting that they didn’t see us, as Gerd Scholz assured me on the awards banquet in Stuttgart. Other balloons were not seen for the whole day.

16:20 4700m 6 bags - 2km north Nowa-Slupia - 160° 10km/h - decision to land

16:35 2600m 6 bags - 1km north Nowa-Slupia - 150° 4km/h - quick fall

When our landing time approached, a cloud was underneath. Considering ATC, the care of Warsaw approach was excellent. We reported our forthcoming landing and got a warm farewell. The transponder was left running. The sun provided enough electricity free of charge.

I started the landing procedure by pulling the vent for about two seconds at 4:27 p.m. The balloon was at an altitude of 4700 meters. Shortly after pulling the vent, our variometer indicated a rate of fall of 0.6 meters per second (112 ft/min.). So there was more than half an hour time for the descent. Now we started calmly, to store away all the equipment. We had different information about the ground wind. Between 5 and 15 knots had been reported before. At 3500 meters we passed the famous hole in the middle of the very humid layer of clouds. At about 3000 meters we had a distant view over Poland. Below, on the ground, was a huge forest area, about 10 by 30 kilometres wide, difficult to land there.

Our variometer indicated a fall of 0.8 meters per second (150 ft/min.). But this did not match with our feeling and the loss of altitude within the last minutes. Shortly before the race I had sent my variometer and barograph to the Winter company for calibration. Reinstalling it, I had equipped it with new hoses, which didn’t fit accurately to the instruments. At normal climbs and falls, this caused no problems. But now the balloon was falling with 5 – 6 meters per second (940 – 1200 ft/min.). The cloud that had been below was very humid; the balloon became wet and heavy. The air searched and found its way past the unsealing hoses to enter the equalizing bottle of the variometer, creating a false indication. At 3000 meters however, this situation was difficult to recognize. First at 1500 meters we realized, that there was a big difference between the reading of our variometer and the true speed of our fall. Ground came closer damn quick, but the variometer reading was just a little more than 1 meter per second (190 ft/min.). For the first time, it became hectic in the basket. We stopped storing more equipment. The first bag off sand went overboard. At 1000 meters the second one. Of course, no change on the variometer. Only two bags and the life raft of 18 kilograms were left. The life raft was prepared and fixed to our handling rope and a "special material rope for mountaineering". This thin rope should be 30 meters in length, but was not because my co-pilot Bernd had cut away meter for meter to tie parts of our equipment to the basket with it. Only 15 – 18 meters were left. We had over flown the forest and were now above agricultural terrain. O course, we approached exactly at a little farmhouse in this little populated area. But that’s the way it always happens. The farmhouse was of Polish style, but for its owner of the same value as one of these beautiful Bavarian farmhouses. For me it remains mysterious, how to destroy something of 3.000.000, German Marks in this part of the world with my balloon. But that was the amount that had to be covered by our third party insurance. Anyhow, we struggled to land without crop damage. At 600 meters, the last but one bag went overboard.

Our chase crew was nearby and had been informed about the imminent landing. Right now, we couldn’t describe further details because we had to concentrate on the landing.

The trail rope was released 150 meters above ground. In the same moment, the last bag of sand went overboard. And at once Bernd slowly lowered the life raft. Due to the shortages in the "special material rope for mountaineering" this last ballast was just 30 meters below the basket, not 50, as it should be normally.

The farmhouse came closer, but was 50 meters away. The next farm was in a distance of about 600 meters. So the balloon could continue its fall to the ground, for in our flight path was a nice field, inviting us to land there. The landing area was a little hilly. On the fields all around, we saw the farmers, laboriously harvesting the potatoes by hand. We provided a welcome interruption of this work, everybody looked up to the monster, which fell from the sky.

And we really fell. The fall was still 3 meters per second (560 ft./min.) First when the trail rope and some seconds later our "last ballast" hit the ground, the fall decreased. At 4:45 p.m., after 45:19 hours and a distance of 883 kilometres we landed very safe with a fall of about 1.5 meters per second (280 ft./min.) in a field downwind of a little row of trees.

16:45 380m ½ bag - NW Slupia – Poland - safe landing

Some wind after the landing pulled us a little uphill. The Polish people working on the fields rushed up in crowds, to marvel at this thing that had fallen from the sky. With some efforts I managed, to persuade some Polish people, to hold on. They didn’t understand me. After some more venting, I could leave the basket to take photos of a gas balloon, having landed directly from 5380 meters. Meanwhile, about 150 Polish people, adults and children had come to the landing place. The wind became a little gustier and grasped the flabby envelope. Held by six strong Polish men, the balloon stood fixed. It was difficult, to explain to the Polish, that we had hydrogen inside the envelope. Of course, we had pulled tight the appendix of the envelope before descending from 5000 meters. As long as it was still standing, there were no problems. But what would happen, if I ripped out the balloon. Fortunately, one man spoke German very good and was able to send the people back.

The ripped out balloon still wriggled well in the gusty wind and for the first time, I started to sweat. After eight minutes it was all done. The envelope was empty. We had to keep an eye on our equipment; the Polish kids had fun trying to steal something. Our chase crew was soon on the field and together we started packing, to leave the landing field for a hotel after a little more than 1 ½ hours.

We found a very good hotel. For 1.500.000 Zlotys we had dinner. The next day, we mailed 467 letters balloon mail from the county capital Kielce. After 27 hours of driving back we arrived well in Duisburg. This was followed by a superb awards ceremony in Stuttgart on Saturday, when almost all crews were present again.

Result: Unfortunately, the flight was too high right from the beginning. New countries were crossed, without seeing much of the landscape and the people, as it would be possible in an altitude of 300 or 500 meters. But it was a Gordon Bennett Race. It’s not the beauty of the flight, but the ranking that counts. With 883 kilometres, we had fought for the second place. We still have to improve our equipment. A lighter basket, a lighter net, a little less tools on board supply the ballast, necessary to fly the third night. The USA, this year’s winner, will host the next Gordon Bennett Race. And this country is of a nearly unlimited size. A very special kind of a challenge.

What I was missing in this race: Time, to share experiences with my ballooning friends from foreign countries. It would have been nice, if all crews would have been accommodated in the same hotel or if there had been a tent on the launch field, where common meals could have been used to meet each other.

Of what I dream: That a German crew, such as mine, would win in America, followed by a great Gordon Bennett Race from my launch field "Schwarze Heide" at Dinslaken/Hünxe, with westerly winds around 40 kilometres an hour in higher altitudes and a free flight to the Ural. A dream.

What I learned from the landing:

  • We had made the descend in about 22 minutes. The advantage of it was, that we did not fly backwards much with the unfavourable wind direction in the lower 2000 meters and did not loose much distance.
  • Before you begin the descent, everything should be stored away. A landing may happen, as it did in our case, much faster than expected.
  • We had underestimated the enormous humidity in the clouds; a faulty variometer was another handicap.
  • After the landing, about half a bag of sand was left inside the drawer. We had not needed our emergency ballast. The appendix was, of course, pulled tight before we started the descent.
  • A descent from an altitude of 5000 meters with 6 bags of sand, 10 kilograms each and a smooth landing can be done without problems, even if unpredicted humidity from the clouds comes to the envelope.

In old reports you can read, that they made safe descents from 7000 or 8000 meters with no or almost no ballast. For me, it remains a mystery, how this would work. And I don’t want to try it.

At last, a sad postscript remains: The Polish team with pilot Stefan Makne flew a superb time of 62 hours. At the landing, their brand new gas balloon, type Thunder, was dragged across a field by the very gusty wind. Even with the valve ripped out and 80 percent empty, the remaining gas inflamed and destroyed the balloon. The value of $25.000 USD is something the Polish will not be able to collect in the next years. The club at Poznan may need our solidarity.

Willi Eimers

38th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Lech am Arlberg (AUT) 1994

Start: Lech am Arlberg – Schmelzhofwiesen on September 18th from 05:00 a.m.   

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

With the victory of the team Starkbaum/Röhsler in 1993 the hosting of the race 1994 had returned to Austria. The municipality of Lech am Arlberg, venue already in 1989, 1990 and 1991 and thus equipped with enough experience, had spontaneously declared also to be prepared for 1994. Lech am Arlberg is in a high mountain region, starts at night in the high mountains are not without their problems, which often leads to the fact, that nations with little experience in gas ballooning like France, Australia, Sweden, Japan, Canada or Great Britain do not take part in the race for safety reasons. But nothing can be done. The rules lay down the hosting in the country of last year’s winner and Austria simply is a country in the mountains with little alternatives.

From the beginning, the race was ill starred, it really didn’t look nice. Already when traveling there on Thursday, the competitors had to fight with thunderstorms, hail and torrential rain. During the night to Friday, Lech am Arlberg experienced the first snowfall that autumn. Not heavy enough, to open the ski lifts, but the mountains all around were quite "sugared". The mood was correspondingly lousy. The meteorologist, Dr. Herbert Pümpel, later stated, that he had been close to cancel the race. Occasional brightening was observed, but all in all Saturday also brought no significant improvement of the weather.

Had there been a cancellation of the race before? – No, but twice a postponement, but only one for weather reasons. – What would happen, if a race was cancelled? Or, to be more precise: Would the winner of the last year keep the cup for another year? – Yes, according to the rules of 1905, but old Gordon Bennett had only declared acts of God as reasons for cancellation.

Whatever he may have meant with that, bad weather was not an act of God in those years, when balloons flew at any kind of weather. Otherwise, there would not have been five people killed in the race of the year 1923. So should the year 1994 enter the history of the races as the first year of a cancellation for weather reasons?

When studying the charts and prognoses, Dr. Pümpel discovered a "window". Just very small and at an impossible moment, but it should come for sure. In a word, launch began Sunday morning at 5 a.m. The last balloon just took off at dawn break. So in this connection, the 38th Gordon Bennett Race is something new. Never before a race was launched at this time of the day. The national anthems played for the fire brigade and the Red Cross as the only spectators did not create a solemn atmosphere. Those who remained on the field waved a quick "good flight and soft landings" to the crews and rushed back to the hotel to warm up. At the launch field at that time, several degrees below the freezing point were measured.

The theory for the flight, as created by the meteorologist, was quite clear, but unfortunately did not come true: Snow covered hill slopes make the air sinking, this air meets the warmer river Lech in the valley, who will take it with him pushing the balloons out of the mountains at Füssen. Here, they will meet the gradient winds of the low pressure area "Iphigenie", which there, supported by the Alps as buffer, turn from northwest via west to southeast, driving the balloons across Germany to Poland. Terminal station then would have been the Baltic Sea.

The first half of this theory came true. About five hours after launch, all balloons were at the upper end of the valley of river Lech, but already there, they were no longer on the north side of the valley, but much farther south. Obviously, St. Peter had opened the "window" a little too wide, no cold airflow moved to the valley any longer, the slopes were in bright sunlight, and now it became accordingly thermal. The ridge of the North-Tyrolean Chalk-Alps was crossed, now they were in the much more narrow valley of the Inn, and further on in their heading to the east, higher obstacles were threatening. In the lee of the mountains, the balloons proceeded very slowly. One pilot even reported: "Stand up party over Innsbruck".

Logically the first landing reports came in from the valley of the Inn at about 2 p.m. During the afternoon, four other crews also landed. Their landing spots were all still in Austria, the longer they flew, the more to the south. The gradient winds did not think of turning.

Another four competitors preferred to land before midnight, already being across the border to Italy. For the rest of the balloons, the real first night began, and the higher they climbed, the farther they proceeded south. It moved quite quickly up there, and soon they could see the Gulf of Genoa and the Mediterranean Sea ahead of them. The more easterly the balloons were, the more the could proceed into the upper leg of the "Italian boot." But the sea itself was a barrier difficult to cross.

Two balloons had given up to decreasingly slow flight quite early: Joschi Starkbaum, the serial winner and Karl Spenger, taciturn experienced war-horse. Both soon had gained altitude, entering the southerly drift quickly, and already approaching the sea when all the others were still in the mountains. Joschi Starkbaum and his son Roland as co-pilot stood in front of the shore at 4 a.m. and landed at this time near Genoa.

Karl Spenger and Christian Stoll flew on in the direction to Corsica. 69-year-old Karl Spenger wanted to know it once again, 10 years after his victory in Zurich. With an experience from 12 Gordon Bennett Races and many other long distance flights, he could assess the risk. He scratched the island of Corsica, direction Sardinia. (He might also have accepted Sicily or North Africa). At Monday noon, he had reached the west coast of the island in the North, over flew the island until the Thyrrenic Sea in the east became visible. At 3:20 p.m. (local) the balloon touched ground at Jerzu on Sardinia, 825.14 kilometers from Lech am Arlberg as the bee flies, nearly 450 kilometers more that rank second, who had covered 375.74 kilometers and landed just 5 hours before.

At the awards banquet next Friday, Karl Spenger confessed, that crossing the sea had been discussed and agreed between the two crewmembers already before take-off. A brand new envelope and a lightweight net of the balloon created the conditions for that. Those two pilots would not have cared, if the water ahead to fly over would be the Baltic or the Mediterranean Sea.

You have to recall far back in the history of these races, to find a similar superior victory with more than double the distance between rank 1 and 2: Theo Schaeck/Emil Messner from Switzerland in 1908 and in 1925 Belgians Alexander Veenstra/Philippe Quersin. In both cases, the enormous distance was created by a flight across the sea. In 1908 it was the North Sea, in 1925 the Gulf of Biscay, and now in 1994 the Mediterranean Sea.

And there is another curiosity: Switzerland gains its fourth victory in a Gordon Bennett Race this year. Three of them (1908, 1922 and 1994) came into being with after flights across the sea, only Karl Spenger's first victory in 1984 (with Martin Messner as co-pilot) ended without a crossing, but on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

What had happened to the other crews? The coast of the province Liguria in Italy is not very rich with landing fields. You have to take, what you may get. Silvia Wagner/Thomas Lewetz considered a hill slope full of trees to be adequate. The trees swallowed the balloon, but without a single tear, the envelope came to the ground. But it was impossible, to pick it up there, even with an off-road vehicle. So one part of the chase crew organized a helicopter mission, while the rest sat down next to the balloon for a picnic. There was enough left to eat and drink. During the flight, Silvia is responsible in the basket for preparing the meals, but she herself is unable to eat a single mouthful.

After three hours, the helicopter came and found the balloon guided by radio from the ground. Carefully the helicopter then pulled the whole stuff past the treetops to a free place.

Joschi Starkbaum and his son Roland did not need help from the air, but had to use a heavyweight Caterpillar tractor. So the chase crew presented to Joschi a toy model of the same type as a souvenir, which now shall get a dignified place in his collection of cups. Some excitement was created by a rashly triggered search and rescue action, caused by the upcoming rumour, that the crew Fürstner/Huber was seen over the Gulf of Genoa. Even if "too soon and unnecessary" is always better as "too late and without success", such actions should better be coordinated with the competition officials.

So finally, everybody came back to the ground safe and unhurt, the race of 1994 ended without further problems.

In 1995 the 39th Gordon Bennett Race will therefore be held in Switzerland, country of the actual winner, perhaps in Wil on September 9th. All races in this country had always been perfectly organized and outstandingly performed. It will be the 6th race from Switzerland, after Zurich 1909, Geneva 1922, Basel 1932, Zurich 1984 and again Geneva in 1985. Something, stormy low pressure area "Iphigenie" had almost prevented ended with an unusual success.

Before we let the winners report from their flight by themselves, they should be introduced. Erwin A. Sautter answers the question: "Who are the balloonists Spenger/Stoll"?

Today pretending to be "retired", Karl Spenger from Wil (SG), born December 26th, 1925 is a successful businessman in electrics, who became involved in ballooning by Alfred Nater (Bazenheide SG). With more than 3300 hours in the willow basket, the aeronaut from the "Fürstenland" region, who there established his own filling station for gas balloons at Bronschhofen and started developing lighter envelopes and baskets, is one of the captains in gas ballooning with literally most of experience.

For his researches on improving the technique of building balloons, the FAI rewarded Spenger with the Tissandier Diploma in 1970. Since 1983 he wasn’t missing at any Gordon Bennett Race, winning in 1984 (co Martin Messner) and 1994 (with Christian Stoll); also the Spenger team was rewarded with the silver medal (1986; 1987) and bronze (1985; 1990) twice each.

Before the flight from Lech, "inventor" Spenger tested his new HB-BZH on a night flight of 19 hours and more than 780 kilometers between Bronschhofen near Wil (SG) and Kulcs/Dunaujvaros in Hungary on August 16th and 17th, from where the crew then returned "relieved" of their instruments, radios, boots and jackets.

This was followed by two flights within the 33rd International High Alpine Ballooning Week at Mürren (Grand Prix Schilthorn) from Stechelberg (August 30th and September 5th) with landings at Kleinreifling in Austria and near Arbizzano in Italy. The new "Model Spenger" of 1050 m³ had stood its tests and captain K.S. was well prepared for a big race from Lech am Arlberg.

Gardener, balloonist and doctor of natural sciences Christian Stoll from Münchenstein in the Basel area, born may 8th, 1945, started in his first Gordon Bennett Race as co pilot of Fröhlin from Bregenz in 1988, to change to the basket of Karl Spenger in 1990 to win the cup in 1994 with the flight to Jerzu on Sardinia.

The bio-technologist from Basel came to ballooning by Dr. Rolf Gross (1921 – 1994) and won the Grand Prix Schilthorn several times. In 1994 Stoll was elected successor to retired hotel manager Ruedi Meyer from Mürren as president of the international Spelterini-society.

Here now is an extract from the flight report of Spenger/Stoll about the "Altitude safari from Lech (Austria) to Jerzu (Sardinia)", summarized and commented by Erwin A. Sautter.

When Karl Spenger, aged 69, and Christian Stoll, aged 49, prepared for a rip-out landing after a flight of 31 hours in the carefully equipped gondola of new HB-BZH (1050m³) above Jerzu (690 m above sea level) on the afternoon of September 19th, 1994 and then got stuck 30 meters beside a road on a row of rocks, they "were very happy to have landed on Sardinia". They had covered a detour from Lech am Arlberg to the east coast of this island in the Tyrrenic Sea with the north wind, which to use was urgently advised against before launch: "Stay clear of the South; no wind in the Alps, bad weather on their south slopes."

Perhaps Spenger/Stoll remembered the forecasts of the Swiss meteorologists: "The weekend will be gray north of the Alps. Occasional rain, more on Saturday than on Sunday and more on the north slope of the Alps than in the plains. Only in the Valise and on the south slope of the Alps weather starts already improving on Saturday and also on Sunday it will be dry and at least occasional sunny there. On Monday a high-pressure ridge will cross our country to the east. (Tages-Anzeiger September 17th 1994)

Anyhow, after a good breakfast and a marvel at the freshly snow covered mountains at the valley of Bischabel, co-pilot Stoll remarked a turn of winds of nearly 80 degrees: "We turn into the mountains, not bad, the South seems better as forecasted". Zurich ACC-supervisor Roland Altenburger knew the position of HB-BZH at 15:30 over Val Venosta north of the Stilfserjochs. Spenger/Stoll on their way to Rome?

At midnight the crew is in 12.000 feet above Milan: "We cross the brightly illuminated city of Milano, directly above the central station, wonderful, from time to time fireworks and a laser-show". At witching hour the gardener from Münchenstein quotes the folk song "Dear moon, you move so quiet..." Magic of ballooning. But then the question of the navigator: "Direction of southern France or Spain? " Later, at 3:50 a.m.: Corsica?"

At 4:00 a.m. it sounds: "Every hand on deck": HB-BZH falls with 3 meters per second towards the coast at the Gulf of Genoa down to 870 meters above sea and has to make see reason by sacrifices of sand. Three hours later the two aeronauts know: "We will fly to Corsica, Sardinia or even Africa." At 9:05 a.m. this entering can be found: "Runway in sight, Ajaccio? We navigate using the great scale Jeppsen-map, no problem." At 11:00 a.m.: We fly directly in the direction of Sardinia. Who else may still be in the air and where are they?" (At that time, Austrian mixed-crew Wagner/Lewetz and German Eimers/Landsmann had not landed).

On 5.800 meters above the independent region of Sardinia – half as big as Switzerland – first observations about possible landing spots on this island, already visited by Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, are made, like: "Sardinia is unique and wonderful, very barren, rocky and almost uninhabited in the higher regions." The aeronauts would become right. Meanwhile, the controller at Cagliari insists in a quick descent. On 2.700 meters, they manage to stabilize and looking for green, harvested meadows start.

Then everything comes quick: "The wind pushes us towards a little row of rocks, where we stand safely about 30 meters from the road. The rip-out panel is on the wrong side and the flying wires get caught in the rocks. But soon spectators and helpers are in this abandoned area, they had seen us from the little town of Jerzu. We are extremely happy, that we landed on Sardinia."

Jerzu (422 m) is about 10 kilometers south of Lanusei, agricultural center of the region of Ogliastra, and not far from the ferry harbor of Arbatax, from where boats leave for Olbia und Genoa. Jerzu, a little village on the slopes of the Pizzo Corongiu (1008 m) was mentioned in no guidebook till today; by the landing of HB-BZH on September 19th 1994 in this deserted area, "where silence talks" (dove parla il silenzio) the village became a focal point in aeronautics.

  • Jerzu will enter the history of the Gordon Bennett Races like all the other landing spots of winning balloons – from Flying-Dales to Campbellsport. In the aeronautic society in Switzerland Jerzu will stand besides Bergset (Norway), Lambay Island (Ireland) and La Rochelle (France) as a new sign of outstanding craftsmanship in ballooning, which is not yet honored.

37th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Albuquerque (USA) 1993

Start: Albuquerque/New Mexico, October 4th 1993   

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

After 60 years absence the race has returned to the United States of America. A country, in which so much Gordon Bennett history had been written. Let’s remember the victories of Oscar Erbslöh (1907) and Hans Gehricke (1911), or the American winners Frank Lahm (1906), Edgar W. Mix (1909), Alan Hawley (1910), Ralph Upson (1913), Edward Hill (1927), William Kepner (1928) or T.G.W. Settle (1932). Of course, legendary Ward T. van Orman, winner in 1926, 1929 and 1930 must not be missing. Outstanding pilots and superior technology have made those victories possible in those days. Now Gordon Bennett Race Gordon Bennett Races have existed again for 10 years, but outstanding performance or even victories of American teams could not have been achieved until 1992. Why? Gas ballooning in the USA never really awoke from its long sleep after World War II. The use of hydrogen was forbidden after the catastrophe of the "Hindenburg" at Lakehurst on May 6th, 1937. Helium was very expensive, as long as it was not produced commercially in a large scale Coal gas never played the same role as in Europe since the USA had large deposits of natural gas. Also, in the 1960's, researched at the Pentagon and NASA resulted in the modern hot air balloon which soon became a new sport. The hot air balloon had more flexibility than the placid and easy going gas balloon, so somehow it fit better to the fast moving mentality of the "American way of life". So it took until the 1980's for some people to remember a nostalgic mood, that flying balloons could mean more than hanging under (at that time still very) loud burners for a maximum of two hours. But, the advantage in technology and experience, once possessed by American pilots was gone. It was the toughness of a David Levin, Mike Wallace and others, to catch up again. They were not discouraged by setbacks and competed in Europe years after years despite the high expenses. Now their efforts would bear fruit. Erwin A. Sautter, tireless "Swiss correspondent" of German balloon magazines, writes:

In America Gordon Bennett Race Gordon Bennett Races are always different to those in good old Europe. When the last Gordon Bennett Race in the USA was launched 60 years ago, it was embedded in the world exhibition at Chicago. Now it was a dinosaur in a hot-air event. It was clear, everything was focussed on the more than 600 hot air balloons. Twenty gas balloon were just an additional to the program.

In fact, 20 balloons at a Gordon Bennett Race is almost a record. Only in 1908 at Berlin, 23 balloons were in the field. At Stuttgart 1912, 20 balloons were enrolled, but the balloon of an American team already burst before launch so John Watts and Arthur Atherholt flew out of competition with borrowed Düsseldorf II. Now, 1993, 21 balloons were registered, but the British team did not show up and the Canadians did not take off, because their balloon was leaking. So on October 4th, 1993 between 7:45 and 9:03 p.m. 19 balloons raised to the sky to the sounds of their national anthems. Well, these national anthems also should not be taken too serious in the United States. Already in 1927, as Ferdinand Eimermacher reports, the farewell for the German balloon was: "Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall", in 1993 a Swiss balloon was honoured with "God save the Queen" when they were sent to the sky.

Already at the briefings some competitors had a sense of foreboding. Albuquerque lies on not less than 1600 meters above sea level; temperature at this time of the year is still like summer and helium weights more that hydrogen. Bob Rice, responsible for the weather, informed the pilots about the expected vagaries of the weather for the coming days. According to him, hardly a cloud should cross the Rio Grande. Tropical storm "Norma" became apparent only over California. After sunset, further decrease of the south-westerly winds could be expected. Not before 2 a.m. they would increase again. Freezing level was announced at 14.000 feet, thunderstorms were not expected in the next days, but "Thermal Cumulus" and wind-speeds around 15 to 25 knots. Those forecasts, valid for Wednesday morning, showed a clear track out of Albuquerque, crossing the US states of Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa into Minnesota and the lake region between Wisconsin, Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario.

Those fears came true. Crews that could lift off with more than 20 bags of sand and 60 litres of water on the evening of October 4th were lucky. In fact, the balloons had more bags on board, but they had been filled with the light desert sands from the area and did not weight more than at least 7 or 8 kilograms. Wind was not more than 5 to 7 knots, reaching 3000 meters or more meant a sacrifice of valuable ballast. Those, who came into these "Thermal Cumulus" in the area of Santa Fee had to fight with up and downdrafts of 4 meters per second and had very soon used up this little amount of ballast.

On Tuesday morning (October 5th) several balloons were still within sight of Albuquerque and for some of them, this would not change for the whole day. The balloon from the American Virgin Islands piloted by Soukoup/Stuart-Jervis gave up first. With the rest of their ballast they did not manage to cross the mountains and to leave the "box". After 11 hours and 7 minutes of flight they landed at 7:35 a.m. only 10.5 kilometres from the launch field. To comfort the two Virgin Island men: This was not the shortest distance of somebody in last place of a Gordon Bennett Race. In 1922 Magdalena/La Llave from Spain made only 4.3 kilometres and in the race 1908 any distance for the Americans Forbes/Holland is missing in the lists, they landed their burst balloon 5 minutes after launch on a roof top just a few blocks away from the launch-field.

13 from the remaining 18 did not perform much better. They wore themselves out during the day in the strong thermals, did not leave the state of New Mexico and made between 79.6 and 234.8 kilometres – not much for a long distance race with balloons. But here it becomes interesting, to compare times and distances. 100 kilometres were reached after approximately 19 hours, those who flew just two or three hours more, could already write more than 200 kilometres to their flight report.

But don’t believe, that the balloons had hurried to their landing positions on a direct way. This becomes apparent in the story of the German balloon with Volker Kuinke and Jörg Schellhove, who managed somehow to make the second night and finally ended up ranked 5th. In 32 hours and 50 minutes they made more than 300 kilometres as the bee flies, but their total track should have been more than 500 kilometres. Circle and zigzag flying between the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was hard work for all who still remained in the air. Also other experienced old hands spoke of the most turbulent flight of their life. About Volker and Jörg rumours already spoken that they were lost, a sigh of relief when their landing report finally came in.

Four balloons really went for distance. Obviously, they had integrated the meteorological data to their strategy and were able, to navigate aside from the thermals. But they had a huge difference in their speed. You can see this, comparing the co-ordinates of the landing places. The landing places of the balloons on rank 2 (Eimers/Landsmann) and rank 4 (Lewetz/Wagner) are each 2° more North than those of rank 1 and 3, but they needed another six hours more to get there. Let’s compare for example Starkbaum/Röhsler with Eimers/Landsmann: Assuming that both teams had covered 300 kilometres from the launch-field after 33 hours, for Starkbaum/Röhsler another 1530 kilometres had to be covered in 26 ½ hours, which means an average speed of 58 kilometres an hour. At Eimers/Landsmann 1250 kilometres in 33 hours remain, meaning an average speed of 38 kilometres an hour. Comparing the figures of rank 3 and 4 leads to similar results. This shows: the more South the track, the higher the speed was. Did the pilots realize that in advance?

This thesis is backed up by the fact, that both Joschi Starkbaum and Alan Fraenckel are airliner captains, so for sure they have a better knowledge of meteorology from their profession and know, how to use this. Joschi Starkbaum also had his own meteorologist brought with him. Dr. Pümpel, best known to all GBR competitors from Lech am Arlberg, provided the latest information to Joschi prior to launch. This doesn’t reduce the performance of the winner at all, quite the reverse. At a Gordon Bennett Race, almost every help is allowed, you only have to know, how to use it. Here, this help contributed its part to the outstanding victory.

The duration and distances of those on rank 1 to 4 assure, that the 37th Gordon Bennett Race will become one of the most remarkable in its history. 1832 kilometres for the winner, that’s rank three in the eternal list of distances in a Gordon Bennett Race. Only in 1912 Bienaimé/Rumpelmeyer with 2191 kilometres and in 1910 Hawley/Post with 1887.6 kilometres had flown further. 66 hours 2 minutes shine even brighter: Only Schaeck/Messner in 1908 had stood longer in the basket with 73 hours 1 minute.

The landing place of the winner, Campbellsport in Wisconsin, is only 50 kilometres away from the shore of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is number three in width of the five Great Lakes on the border between the USA and Canada and is the grave of famous American balloon pioneers like Washington Donaldson and John Wise, who did never return from flights across this lake in the years 1875 and 1879. When the Austrians approached this eerie lake, did voices from far away warn them, not to cross and encouraged them to land at Campbellsport? Perhaps we should look for a patron saint for balloonists some time.

Something else special: With Jackie Robertson a woman was on the winners’ rostrum for the first time in a Gordon Bennett Race, which will also go down in the annals of the race. Second female pilot in the field, Austrian Silvia Wagner, reached unrewarding fourth place. A medal rank for her also, everybody would have been very pleased for.

Joschi Starkbaum had proved by his victory, that he is "the best pilot of the world", as James Gordon Bennett had stated this in the rules of 1905. No other pilot had achieved seven victories in this race. Winning in Albuquerque, Joschi Starkbaum had surpassed Belgium Ernest Demuyter, who won six times between 1920 and 1937. Third in this ranking is American Ward T. van Orman with three golden medals.

Already before the official awards ceremony took place, Joschi Starkbaum made the first request from Albuquerque to Lech am Arlberg: "Is the municipality prepared, to host the Gordon Bennett Race in 1994 for the fourth time?" – The answer came spontaneously and with no restrictions: "Yes, of course!" With September 17th, 1994, the date was also already fixed. It was found quick, for September 19th, 1994 is full moon. Next full moon would be on October 22nd, but then, at night in the mountains, it’s already pretty cold.

Except a sprained ankle of Polish Waldemar Ozga, co-pilot of irrepressible daredevil Stefan Makne, the 37th Gordon Bennett Race ended without accidents. Though none of the three teams from the US had a good placing (the balloons from the American Virgin Islands flew under their own flag) and no record in distance or time was broken, American media exercised distinguished restraint in reporting about this event. The fact, that Joschi Starkbaum had performed a personal best with seven victories offered little reason for US media for an adequate honouring. A report of 60 lines from Associated Press in the local pages of the Sunday Journal ("New Mexico’s leading newspaper") the day after the awards ceremony in the Southwest Ballroom of the Hilton hotel on October 9th did not offer a list of results. But at least one learned the names of the three pilots – but not the co-pilots – who had become medallists and something about the early disappearance of the American pilots before they had reached the boundary between New Mexico and Colorado.
E.A.Sautter

The winners of the race, Joschi Starkbaum and Rainer Röhsler, had both written about their impressions during the flight, here is Joschi Starkbaum first:

"Because American David Levin and James Herschend had won the Gordon Bennett Race the previous year, the race this year was to be launched from Albuquerque, New Mexico, embedded in the annual hot-air balloon fiesta.

Our team consisted of Dr. Herbert Pümpel, Hansruedi and Christine Walther as ground crew and Rainer Röhsler and me as pilots.

Albuquerque is not frequented by wide-body aircraft, so the journey there with our special basket was a bit difficult. We flew to Los Angeles and then drove about 1400 kilometres to Albuquerque with a rented chase car.

The Albuquerque Fiesta is a mass meeting with more than 600 hot-air balloons. The balloons take off in three waves, while thousands of spectators walk free on the launch field between the balloons. For an uninvolved spectator, it was fascinating, but at 5 – 8 knots, for a pilot keen on safety, it was hair rising.

For the launch of the Gordon Bennett Race, the place was closed from noon and not reopened for the spectators before the balloons were inflated and the gas transports had driven off. Despite the distant travel to Albuquerque, 20 balloons were there to compete, among them for the first time three from Austria. Besides us flew the teams Johann Fürstner/Sepp Huber and Thomas Lewetz/Silvia Wagner.

The weather situation: Albuquerque was near to the axis of a high pressure wedge running northeast. In the Northwest was a low pressure area, guiding a dragging front system in a north-easterly direction. East of the Rockies, "low level jet" to the Northeast was forecast, which should later be broken up by the frontal system.

My strategy, was the same as of most of the other pilots, which follows: By flying low we wanted to try to come closer to the low pressure area, to reach the faster winds to enter the "low level let" later.

At the drawing of the launch sequence we had got number 13. Did this mean something? On October 4th 1993 at 8:34 p.m. we lifted off in calm winds under the sound of our national anthem in a solemn mood.

Because Albuquerque is on a sea level of about 5000 ft. and the balloons were filled with helium, we had got only 22 bags of ballast. Already at 300 ft. above ground we flew with 10 – 12 kilometres an hour to the North, running parallel to the Sandia Mountain ridge, so we did not have to cross it. At the north end of the Sandia Mountains we turned to the Northeast and the flight speeded up a little. Everything seemed to be working like planned. But not for long, because the direction turned further to the right. We had a wonderful, calm flight at moonlight, sometimes just 5 meters above ground. Unfortunately, we flew a big circle to the right and then a half circle to the left, so a 5 o’ clock in the morning we were just 10 kilometres north of the launch field, but had flown about 100 kilometres above ground. This was not very encouraging; nevertheless our position relatively to the low pressure area had improved a little, because the system had moved east. By climbing to 2000 ft. above ground we entered a drift to the Northwest flying directly towards the centre of the low pressure area. Short before sunrise we saw the first hot air balloons of the fiesta taking off, later the entire field. At noon we were above the high plateau of the Santa Fe National Forest.

Until then, the flight had been very calm. Suddenly, without warning, the balloon started to climb with 5 meters per second. At 15,000 ft. the climbing stopped and the balloon started a violent swinging up to an angle of 45° out of the vertical axle. This enduring swinging made the nerves in my stomach rebel. With the same suddenness the climbing had started, 10 minutes later the falling began. Our variometer only reads up to 5 meters per second. The pointer was at the stop. Impossible, to empty the sand bags, there wasn’t enough time for it. I just cut them away bag by bag. We were above a wilderness, so there was no danger doing that. Also the bags went empty automatically before impact, because they were of an open design. Five meters above the forest, the balloon stabilised for a few minutes.

Then this up and down started again, but not as severe as at the first time. During this heavy thermal activity cumulus clouds have formed, either turning to rain showers or spreading as alto-cumulus, shading the insulation thus ending this horrific episode. Anyhow, this episode had lasted 25 minutes and had reduced our ballast down to ten bags.

Our distance to the launch field was now about 100 kilometres and close to the ground we slowly drifted back to Albuquerque. When we were approaching a terrain with a road where we could land, for a short time the idea to finish the flight came up. But as a matter of principle, I never break off a competition when I have 10 bags of ballast left, so I decided, to climb again slowly. And really, at about 2000 ft. above ground we found a layer that made us move to the Northeast from 3 p.m. on. This direction seemed to maintain, so we ordered our chase crew, still at the hotel, to start. And really, this drift to the Northeast kept on until sunset. Caused by the cooling in the evening, we sank towards the town of Taos, from where we flew north close to the ground. About two hours after sunset we approached cone shaped Ute Peak in the middle of a valley.

I had hoped, that this cone shaped mountain would guide the airflow a little to the left, allowing us to continue flying low, thus approaching the low pressure area and the faster winds. But none of this happened as we had to fly straight across the peak in 11,000 ft. At this altitude we continued from 9 p.m. to the Northeast with 25 – 30 kilometres an hour. After having crossed the Sangre de Christo Mountains, we had nothing but the boundless plains of the Middle West in front of us.

Sleeping alternately we flew the whole night without dumping any ballast. At morning, the balloon started to fall slowly and the speed increased to 60 kilometres an hour. The ‘low level jet’, we had waited for so long, was reached. The superheating made us climb again, but speed did not become less than 50 kilometres an hour. From 9 p.m. the evening before till 2:30 p.m. the next day, 17.5 hours, no ballast was used.

After the evening cooling had come to an end, there was enough ballast for a third night over Grand Island. Considering a ground wind of 15 – 20 knots at the airfield of Grand Island, the desire to land was not big. We still had enough distance to the front system; it should catch us up not before noon the next day. So I decided to fly the night. The direction close to the ground was 40° with 60 – 70 kilometres an hour, above that 70° with 40 – 50 kilometres an hour. So the goal was, to fly as fast as possible without coming too close to the front system. A glance at the map and a rough calculation showed, that we would reach Lake Michigan before noon. This lake is 100 – 150 kilometres wide and 500 kilometres long, thus having an enormous influence on the air stream. Crossing the Lake under this situation was impossible.

With the cooling at night, the ground wind decreased, so on one hand, we had to land before the warming up at daytime makes the upper wind influence the wind speeds on the ground, on the other hand, the landing should happen as close as possible to the Lake, to enlarge the distance to the place of launch.

As compromise, we landed at Campbellsport, approximately 30 kilometres ahead of the lake, with gusty wind between 5 and 15 knots. Our chase crew was on the field 45 minutes later for they had to drive round a huge swamp area shortly before we touched down.

With duration of 59 hours and 29 minutes and a great-circle distance of 1832 kilometres this was my longest flight. Compared to the previous Gordon Bennett Race Gordon Bennett Races, when we did not fly a third night, this race was less straining, means, we were less exhausted. I see three reasons for that:

  1. We never became wet; but it had rained close to us the first day.
  2. We never felt cold. Even at night in 10,000 – 12,000 ft. temperature was not below the freezing level, so we did not use the sleeping bag at all.
  3. There had been no political boundaries or restricted areas of prohibited entry at all.

Very pleasing from the Austrian point of view are also the results of the two other teams. Lewetz/Wagner made the 4th and Fürstner/Huber the 9th rank. In a ranking of nations, several times discussed, Austria had also won.

Looking back, this trip to America was a great experience. But in spite of that, we will make efforts to host the next races in Europe again.

Joschi Starkbaum

 So far the report of Joschi Starkbaum, plain as usual for an airliner captain. The co-pilot in the winning balloon, Rainer Röhsler, tape recorded his impressions during the flight. Probably, they are not complete, but they express the situation on board at this flight quite well.

" In the background you can hear our national anthem, it’s ten to eight on Monday evening – Thomas just took off as second – quite a farce over there – I’m lucky if we get out of here soon. We are quite well organized; despite the hectic everything looks quite nice. Now again our national anthem, it’s our turn – we will soon lift off – it’s 20:31 o’clock.

Monday, 21:10

In the moment, we leave Albuquerque in about 1500 feet above ground to the North – passing the Sandia Mountains. Above the Sandia Mountains now the moon is rising. Finally it becomes calm – below of us only a few dogs are barking.

Monday, 23:00

We now fly in the direction of Santa Fe, have circled the Sandia Peak, the moon is full up, and the shadow of our balloon on the ground looks beautiful. Joschi is phoning with Herbert Pümpel at the Hilton, we send the crew sleeping. It is amazingly bright, very fine clouds in the sky, our drift is now 11 kilometres an hour to 82 degrees.

Tuesday morning, 02:00

Quite warm, we are on the east slope of the Sandia Mountain, there’s not much progress. I must have had a sleep for an hour or two; one may be closer to the truth. Warm and dry, the warm jacket is enough; you don’t need the down-filled jacket. Strictly speaking we fly zigzag, what we flew to the southeast before we now fly again to the northwest.

Tuesday, 05:00

With the valley wind we have completed the half circle back in the direction of Albuquerque and then climbed a little. Now we are at about 7000 ft. and slowly commenced speeding up again, towards Santa Fe.

Tuesday, 06:00

We still trundle at 7000 ft. between Albuquerque and Santa Fee. In the east is morning twilight, Joschi tries in vain to sleep a little bit, and over Albuquerque you can already see the hot air balloons that took off at night to make 'Dawn Patrol’. In an hour we will see the first big wave of the hot air balloons.

Tuesday, 07:00

Now we fly to 330 degrees with 14 kilometres an hour in 7300 feet – somehow different than expected before. We just flew above an Indian reservation – below it looks like chief Big Foot would ride round the corner any moment. Supposed we have to cancel Santa Fe, we now fly in the direction of Taos. Unbelievable, how far away a highway may be and you still hear the noise.

Tuesday, 09:45

We have just reported our position to Albuquerque, fly in 335 degrees towards Colorado, the area is already quite high here, but still looks quite harmless, like the foothills of the Alps with some rocks in it or like the Swiss Jura – the leaves of the trees start to change their colours, very much coniferous forest – almost totally wooded it looks beautiful. Sun – our solar panel works and we climb steadily. The others fly 90 degrees to another direction. We’ll see, how this ends up.

Tuesday, 10:35

We approach the reservation or the National Park. It’s an extreme beautiful landscape, pastures, and the leaves of the trees in all possible colours, lot of conifers, absolute silence. From time to time you can hear an aeroplane passing by – and our direction is now towards the boundary to Colorado. In a minute we will cross 36° latitude.

Tuesday, 12:30

Conditions are quite thermally, we are still above the National Park, rush up there to 10.000 ft and again almost to the ground – costs quite a lot of ballast, but the direction has turned to 130 – now it just turned to 74 – would be good, but it’s doubtful if it stays like this.

Now it’s a situation like in a roller coaster. He had shot up to 13.000 ft within 3 to 4 minutes without being involved, it’s full thermally and we fly around swaying. We are just underneath a cumulus – but it’s a harmless one. I will take the oxygen now again.

The stupid thing is, that me make no progress, just sway around. Thanks goodness I’ve got rid of my cold in time; otherwise I would have a real problem now with this up and down.

Joschi becomes a little green in his face – he has a problem with this swaying, because he gets sick. But his sickness can be levelled out quite well with the oxygen. Now he just cares to stop the fall in time – we have 4.5 meters per second.

Tuesday, 12:45

We went up and down for some times and have used up an enormous amount of ballast, we have reported our position to Albuquerque – so they know exactly, where we are. Joschi thinks about landing – because we fly back again – and he thinks, everything may worsen, because the whole system is turning round.

It is very, very thermal and the situation isn’t easy. We are still above the National Forest and have to reach a road there. It’s not a dangerous area, more uncomfortable to be picked up. Now waypoint 10 becomes visible.

Tuesday, 13:40

We have 9 bags of ballast left and until a short time ago, we had thought about landing. Already wanted to get the chase crew and the observer here, which we are going to try now in any case, they just did not respond to the phone, even if the phone works well.

We are now beneath the cloud-cover of a cumulus, looking medium venomously; tragically our direction is absolutely unusable. We almost fly back to Albuquerque – our heading to Albuquerque would be 163°, range 96 kilometres, we fly to 123° with many changes.

Joschi has stopped wearing this green colour of his face and already looks like after a week on the Bahamas and can’t keep quiet again – that’s a good sign at him.

Tuesday, 14:00

This swaying has calmed down. To understand this a while ago right, I have to tell, that the plateau, where all of this had played, has an altitude between 8000 and 9000 ft., so everything was on a quite high level in the words real meaning.

Now it’s a little calm again, we had coffee and fly in nearly 12.000 ft heading 52° with 16 kilometres an hour. Looks quite well, and the area ahead appear to be quite uncomplicated – a little mountain, but we’ll pass it somehow on the left or on the right.

On the horizon is quite a huge forest fire, giving us a giant wind indicator, also a mountain that looks like the Table Mountain of Cape Town and behind it a valley with a small lake, looking a little more like desert – except the lake – and the area below us is still a part of this high plateau, with nice coloured birch trees among the conifers.

From time to time we suck on the oxygen and Joschi already finds time to pee, that’s also a good sign.

The guy in the competition centre at Albuquerque is very friendly, although not being very competent in ballooning, he had helped us well and always recorded our position and realized that he could make a relay – a little irksome was, that he has set a newspaper reporter on us on another frequency – we did not realize before we responded – well, we tried to be as polite as possible.

If I would play music now, I would probably play the one from "Dancing with wolves", because in this movie it looked like underneath of us. Chatting we found out, that a while ago, it was the longest duration of a turbulence we had ever seen. 27 minutes isn’t bad. And we have always seen our envelope from its side.

Tuesday, 14:30

We just had contact with our chase-crew on the phone; they are still at the Hilton and did now set off to follow us. Our information about the weather is, that this stuff from the North enters faster, at least faster as expected, also the instability was higher because of the humidity that had interfered – that’s what we had to fight with – Herbert thinks, if these Cumuli round of us would break up until 5 p.m., it should work trough the night.

We have a nice flight now in 12500 ft. with 46° and 20 kilometres an hour, by the way, the spot we are approaching now is named Ghost Ranch.

Tuesday, 15:08

Radio: 'Say something nice, Sepperl’ - ????? – 'Because we’ve lost so much ballast unnecessarily’ – 'The same has happened to us’ – 'Sepperl, we’ve been tossed, very impressive, between ground and 15.000 feet and Joschi had said, this was the longest turbulence he’d ever been in, and we did not throw them out, but just cut them away one by one, the baggies’ – 'to our basket, every kind of dust was blown inside’ – 'yes, yes, sounds familiar to me’ – 'over where you are, it might have been even a little harder’ – 'we had been over a high plateau, there was not much run out to come down, basic was at 8 to 9.000 feet and you had to pay much attention, not to hit the ground, have a good flight, and there’s another information from Herbert Pümpel’.

All around it starts to become blue again, only aside of us the smoke of the forest fire climbs up to our altitude 12.500 feet.

Tuesday, 15:30

Joschi discovers his play instinct at the GPS, he falls in love with the electronic, must have to do something with the altitude. Below, we can see now Santa Fe and Taos. We have seen a lot of Santa Fe within the last 24 hours – well, 24 is a little exaggerated – and round about it’s all Indian territory: Navajos, Comanches – all of that we have in sight, somewhere they will then probably dub in this John Wayne.

Tuesday, 17:00

We are at 13.300 ft and fly to 34° with 21 kilometres an hour and just had contact with the case crew, they wait for us between Santa Fe and Taos. Now it is quite stable and the sun is already low.

I had just cleaned up the basket, removing the quarry on the ground, when dumping ballast in the thermals; we always overtook the sand in the fall, so a lot re-collected in the basket.

In the background we see Taos. From our altitude, the mountains look quite flat. I will lie down for a while now.

Joschi has had a deep slumber, but when the situation changed – we went into a fall – he could not be stopped to take over by himself again.

Tuesday in the evening, it’s now 20:00

We have cooked a proper dinner. It works quite well now, heading between 20° and 30° with a nice speed, close to the ground. We had been high first, then close to the ground with 20 to 25 kilometres an hour, now it has slowed down. The problem is now, that the moon has not risen and down there it’s ultra pale black and we fly quite low, because we want to cross the mountains there a little later.

We now fly in the direction of Los Alamos VOR and have just helped as a relay for Huber Sepp. He has landed and we have explained to an aircraft, where Taos is and how his chase crew can find him. We don’t have good radio contact with our own chase crew right now, but they’ll find their way.

It’s less than 1/8 of clouds and a very clear starry sky, underneath something like desert with some animals from time to time.

Tuesday, 21:00

Unfortunately, the moon still has not risen and it’s still pale black. We have smuggled ourselves quite close over a "hill" of 10.000 feet and by that we climbed so high, that we also over flew the main ridge, that was between us and the plains. We are again on 11.300 ft and Joschi just takes the first mouthful of oxygen.

Tuesday, 23:00

We just cross the last ridge of the huge Sangre de Christo Mountains before this turns in those Central Plains, at the multiple states corner of Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. There is snow on those ridges, which we race across quite close. It’s a very low population area, there are almost no lights, but the moon helps us now very much, it is already considerably high above the horizon.

Wednesday morning, a little after midnight

We now fly in 10.500 ft with 33 kilometres an hour, track 50°. I had just slept for an hour, wonderful and deep, woke up to weather information from Herbert, that Joschi discussed with him on the radio. – Now Joschi lies down a little.

It works quite well, I just had some coffee, and the way that we cook water proves well.

The problem with the ground wind today will be, that it perhaps becomes a little too fast. We’ll see.

Wednesday morning, 04:14

We fly on in 7.300 ft with 31 to 35 kilometres an hour, it varies a little. We fly in 49° in the direction to the VOR Lamar.

It has become severe cold. I’m on guard since midnight, it works quite well and I feel good. Joschi just got up for a peeing break. We believed we see another balloon down in the dark, which was very impressive. I’ve already seen three shooting stars – but real nice, big ones.

The area below is absolutely uninhabited, nothing within 100 kilometres.

Wednesday, 04:30

We are now above a place called Lamar, direction and altitude unchanged. Now Joschi takes over and I’ll try, to sleep again a little.

Wednesday morning, 06:30

Since midnight we had to dump no ballast. We just fly at 2.000 ft above ground over huge fields, it’s warm and now the sun rises. I had a sleep for about 1½ hours and woke up by the warmth.

Wednesday, 07:00

Mood is perfect, I’ve just phoned home and we make a good speed.

Wednesday noon

There’s not much to tell, except, that since yesterday evening we dumped nothing but the sh.. of Joschi. We fly on in 13.500 ft, heading 39° with about 30 kilometres an hour, it’s all well, we feel good, but the area is boring.

Wednesday evening 19:45

The area looks like it always did, very flat, those famous fields of one square mile. But slowly, it becomes more populated, we now aim at Fort Dodge, still 241 kilometres away, but we fly with 58 kilometres an hour in 7.500 ft.

I hope that Joschi will sleep the first turn; we wait for the meteorological front expected for the morning. We had been told, that ground wind is too fast for landing, but we wanted to continue the whole night anyway.

Today was quite uneventful. When descending – we were up to at least 14.000 ft – we caught this 'Southern Jet Stream’ between 7 and 8.000 ft and ride it now.

Thursday, midnight

In the evening we’ve passed Omaha, Nebraska, where we reported to an incredibly nice air-traffic controller.

We now rack our brains about how this will work out with the Great Lakes with our speed and direction. Ground wind is still quite fast, up here we make about 60 kilometres an hour in 6.000 ft and the track is 73°.

We fly in the direction of Milwaukee – had contact to the chase crew a minute ago. I’m on the night shift and allow Joschi to sleep as long as somehow possible, so that he has power for the landing.

Thursday morning, 04:00

We rush on at 5.000 ft with 70 to 75 kilometres per hour in the direction of Milwaukee, a little right from it; I just gave away an interesting part of ballast. Joschi has got up – that means, I woke him up, because I believed, to see a significant hill ahead, but it proved to be a fake.

The light isn’t any longer as good as it was in the past two days, but the area becomes more populated, there are more single lights.

Thursday, about 06:30

At 6:10 we had radio contact with our chase crew for the last time. We are now approaching our expected landing area – Fond du Lac – it’s still very fast, we make about 70 kilometres per hour, but allegedly it is calmer on the ground, 6 to 7 knots – believe it or not – we’ll see.

Thursday, 07:10

We used the vent for the first time and it worked at once. On the ground it’s still calm and we hope, it stays like this.

Also radio contact to the chase crew is there again, they are already in the target area – they are really good. They also gave us wind information, the whole profile.

Thursday, 07:27

Joschi is invisibly slapping his thigh, for the GPS shows a distance of 1.800 kilometres from Albuquerque. We have to send the chase crew round a swampy area, quite huge, but we want them to be present in the moment of the landing.

Below it’s a little calmer – allegedly – and perhaps we can fly a little north in the ground layer to be then caught by the chase crew.

Thursday morning, 08:08

We just hit the ground, terribly fast. We also got caught in a little tree. Joschi can’t remember, if he took his clothes off or if they were ripped off. To our luck there was a small, red maple tree.

Now it’s 8:12 and this happened about 6 minutes ago. At 8:12 the sheriff is already at the basket.

Thursday, 08:22

The only arguing between Joschi and me was about the time to land. My idea was, it would have been clever to land, as long as it was calm on the ground. Joschi even had drawn my attention to smoke that rose vertically from a thermal power plant.

Joschi thinks, the landing was at 08:03 Albuquerque time. He has just returned from the field to the basket to bring me my lost GPS. From the first impact to the little red maple tree 137 steps, from there to the final rest of the basket 70 steps.

Sunday afternoon

I’m sitting on the plane to Los Angeles, to fly back to Vienna from there. With a little distance to what happened, a summary:

Our chase crew was there quick, only in the last moments; they had lost us out of sight. The sheriff and the guys at the landing field had been incredibly nice. Almost as quick as the sheriff a television team was there, to do an interview with us. I explained to them, that if they want to hear from us, what has happened, they must organize a flight to Chicago and a shuttle to the next airport for us. As we found out, the next airport was Oshkosh.

Typical Americans, they agreed at once, to the pleasure of Herbert, who so was able to reach his AUA flight to Vienna.

The whole situation then relaxed very much; also Joschi might have reflected a little about what had happened. We still thought, that we did not perform well.

Changing planes at Chicago was also a bit difficult, because we had no reservation and no tickets – but that could be organized. Via Denver, we then flew ‘home’, i.e. to the Hilton, and arrived at Albuquerque at 11 p.m. From the airport, I phoned to the hotel, that someone would pick us up. Thomas Hora came to the phone and his first words were: ‘You already know, that you have won!?’

I then returned to Joschi, who wasn’t anything more but radio controlled at that time, but this news made him a partner in talks again. Back at the hotel, I was so wound up, that I couldn’t go to sleep but to my pleasure I met Jackie Robertson, girl friend and co-pilot of Alan Fraenckel. We then went to the bar and had a bottle of wine together.

If you believe, that flying for 60 hours gives you a real good sleep, you are wrong, because in the middle of the night I woke up by an air condition unit that had switched on and I believed, I’m somewhere over Kansas and a train passes underneath. I also believed, that I will have to care for the balloon again in a moment. By the way, the same happened to me once again the next night. To our great pleasure we learned, that all of those in the front rows belonged to our circle of friends, we shared our joy especially with Alan and Jackie and with Thomas and Silvia. I was a little sad, that David Levin had been so unlucky and that weather strokes him so much the first day. But one has to pay him a lot of respect, for the courage to end a flight, if the weather doesn’t fit any longer counts at least as much as to fly on playing the hero.

The awards ceremony was as usual, like always with a little too much emphasis on nations.

Now I’m on my way home, the last day at the pool was still quite comfortable. I had some discussions with Sepp and was grateful, how friendly all our German comrades had been with me, inviting me for training flights.

Thomas Fink even remarked, it would be a special honour for him, to train a Gordon Bennett winner.

Summarizing I must say, that I leave with very good feelings and somehow think about my future in gas ballooning. That’s almost a little worrying, for it means another activity more.

Now the plane speeds up, in a few seconds we will lift off from Albuquerque and that’s the end of the story."

35th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Lech am Arlberg (AUT) 1991

Start: Lech am Arlberg, Austria, September 21   

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

It is now the third race, to which my wife Hanne and me are travelling from Nürnberg to the village of Lech am Arlberg in Vorarlberg. We therefore know the way so we remember the many meetings we had before with our friends, who were all involved in this Gordon Bennett Cup.

Real friendship had developed between the Austrian organizers and competitors and us two volunteers from Germany, since I had met Gert Scholz and Joschi Starkbaum in Vienna, when they lugged the huge statue of the fifth Gordon Bennett Cup to the press conference of the European championships in hot air ballooning in 1986. We had met before, had been to several balloon-meetings and competitions together, but it was only a friendly knowing and respecting each other.

Gert Scholz, outstanding organizer of many balloon competitions, was event director of the European Championships in 1986 and of the World Championships a year later in Schilleithen in Austria. On his side his charming wife Maria Scholz-Fischhuber who manages a public relation agency. The success in organization of these championships convinced the Austrian Aero Club, to charge this group also with the management of the Gordon Bennett Race, after it had been done by different organizations in the years 1986 and 1987. Gert Scholz quickly had his crew together.

There was Helmut Kocar prepared to help as championship director. A lot of organizers wished to have him since he had a charm, only Austrians have, but was uncompromising if necessary. Helmut Prosch, engineer for land surveying from Salzburg was there for the calculation of the results. He also completed the international jury, who had to be selected and confirmed by the CIA of which the delegates normally respect the nomination of the host. The nomination of the two other jury members had been certain from the first moment. Dr. Ernst Iselin the most experienced Swiss gas balloon pilot alive and for decades Swiss delegate to the CIA and his friend and comrade in arms Alfi Feltes from Luxembourg composed a the jury according to the rules. Most important assistant prior to launch was qualified meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel, restless telephoning and telegraphing, to collect data from all possible meteorological offices, to make a reliable prognosis for the competitors. Doris Maglot, Manuela Pikadlo, both employees in the public relation agency of Maria, Gottfried Zach as safety-manager and Heinz G. Scholz, brother of Gert and responsible for the sale of souvenirs, completed the circle that we also entered. My wife Hanne cared for the observers and later received the landing reports, and I entertained the spectators at the inflation and launch ceremonies with lots of explanations about ballooning in general and the Gordon Bennett Races in particular.

How would the 1991 race turn out? Our enthusiasm had been dampened hard before the race. We had all hoped, that the ninth race after the big break from 1938 to 1983 would be like the great races before the war. The separation of the world by the Iron Curtain was over now. 1983 the Polish team met a border, impossible to over fly near Regensburg. In 1984 and 1985 the border was not important as the wind direction was different. We all remembered 1986 as the year of the great disappointment. Hungary did agree with an entry, but a permission would have been necessary from Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately they were unwilling to make any concessions.

We cheered, when in 1987 and 1988 the willingness of Yugoslavia allowed again long flights from Seefeld respectively Bregenz and became enthusiastic, when a year later when even the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia had no objection to entry or over flying. When finally at the end of the year 1989 the walls to the east finally came down, we all thought that we had reached our final target.

What a disappointment in the year 1991! Helmut Kocar had got no reply to his request from the USSR. But who should have answered? Were the centralist structures still in order? The USSR was breaking to pieces so how would the states gaining independence behave if a balloon would land on their territory and presented them a permission of the central government which they hate so much? These states must be given time to organize themselves and even the biggest optimists among the competitors agreed with that. Much worse it looked in the Southeast. Slovenia already was quite independent, the central government in Belgrad seemed to have agreed with it, but Croatia! There was a bitter civil war raging, and no arranged armistice could stop the massacres. Impossible to allow balloons to fly there, but that was exactly the direction, the wind was blowing. So we all were far from the optimism of the year before.

When we arrived at Lech on the afternoon of September 19th, 1991, we were welcomed by our native friends. The tourist office had gained recognition in the previous years by handling the race very well. Its director, Hubert Schwärzler could rely totally on his employees Dietmar Flatz, Cornelia Meusburger, Barbara Braun, Stefan Jochum and Johannes Bischof in this. There was nothing which was forgotten such as the organization of the lodging or the transportation of sand for inflation and equipping the balloons. The fire brigade as well as the local clubs helped, where they were needed. So within three years, the Gordon Bennett Races had become a fixed feature in the schedule of this village, as if they had never happened anywhere else.

The competitors from Poland and America had already arrived. They met a the launch at Lech for some days of vacation, which are also used for acclimatization. We have just enough time to put our baggage into our rooms and then the American cocktail reception waits for us. Mister John M. Wallace has invited and announces, that he will look after the return of the race to America this year. Mister Wallace, lawyer from Springfield with political ambitions, is on a permanent election campaign which he doesn’t forget even in Austria. With his own public relation manager and a local TV team from Springfield Mister Wallace is continually promoting his state for the voters in far away America. That is the context that his statements must be seen and understood.

Friday, September 20th, 1991. The entry of the gladiators and their retinue begins. In the tourist office they generously gave space for the organization, as in the previous years they will be hosting the headquarter until the awards ceremony. And then they start coming, we know almost everybody. Most of them have been in the race for years. Why should the nominating national aero clubs exclude or replace proven teams?

Stefan Makne from Poland appears first. In his entourage the whole Polish team. Stefan, winner of the 1983 race did not take part in 1986, but was all the other races. With his co-pilot since 1987, Grzgory Antkowiak. For him it would be the greatest success if he could take up the glorious Polish victories before 1938. There is almost no other competitor who would not begrudge a victory to the congenial man from Poland. Piotr Szary, the second Polish pilot, is new on the stage but with Waldemar Ozga as co-pilot he has an experienced combatant who had smelled the breeze of Gordon Bennett Races previously in 1984.

Alan Fraenckel is also a well known fellow. As with the Polish team, we already shake hands the previous evening. Alan represents the American Virgin Islands, of course it is not a nation that has made great contributions to ballooning till now. But nobody can fly long distances on these little islands in a balloon. Alan lives most of the time in New York, is a keen competition pilot, making good performances in hot air ballooning. The year before, 1990, John Stuart-Jervis was his co-pilot in the Gordon Bennett Race. Not to blame John, but compared to the charm of the new co-pilot Jackie Robertson, John has no chance.

With the Americans, we miss our good fellows Lawrence "Fred" Hyde, David Levin and Frank Rider this year. Instead there we new faces. John M. Wallace, previously mentioned and his co-pilot Ronald G. Senez from Massachusetts. Randy Woods, Fred Gorell and Gordon Boring are old fellows but the co-pilot of Gordon Boring, Walter Noeske was also new.

With our Swiss friends, there was almost no change, except a new sharing of the duties of pilot and co-pilot. Karl Spenger, the old warhorse and winner in 1984, has obviously found with Christian Stoll an ideal substitute for Martin Messner, who flew with him before. Gerold Signer showed up with Silvan Osterwalder, who was pilot with Rolf Sutter the year before. Rolf instead had chosen Alfred Nater as co-pilot. All were people who knew the Gordon Bennett Race.

Of the Germans and the Austrians, only Rainer Hassold, co-pilot of Thomas Fink was new. Thomas Fink was still on a search for a substitute of outstanding pilot Erich Märkl. But substitute may not be the right word, because somebody equal may not be found. Erich Märkl, with more than 700 gas balloon flights up to his last participation in 1989, knows better than everybody else how to fly and to land a balloon. And the other men and women? Every other kind of sports envies the balloonists for Helma Sjuts, every other nation envies the Germans. Somebody like her exists nowhere else. A woman, aged more than 70, performs top level sport! When she is announced on the launch field there is always a special applause – which she really earns. She does not only fly "with somebody", lets somebody else fly, or however it may be called, no, she fights herself with burning ambition and accepts all strain. If she’s not nominated as pilot, she flies the race as co-pilot. Woe betide to those, who try to advise her, to calm down and give way to younger pilots!

Of Volker Kuinke and Jürgen Schubert not much has been heard before. Volker Kuinke, in 1985 was for the first time in a Gordon Bennett Race. He is considered to be a good pilot for duration flights, but did not become very evident in competitions. With Jürgen Schubert it seems, he had found the right co-pilot since 1990.

Not many words have to be said about Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz. The success of these outstanding athletes of the last years speaks for them. But, this year, something appeared different. Joschi it is said is not to motivated for a seventh victory. To emphasize that, he pointed to his meager result at the world championships in Canada in August. Some kind of tiredness could be felt. They also did not deny themselves as much as they did the years before. Perhaps, a little feeling of superiority had also come up. However, at the day before the launch, no bookmaker’s would have accepted high odds for another victory of this team.

The second Austrian team is also known from the year before, but they changed responsibilities. Silvia Wagner had insisted in it, and Thomas Lewetz had agreed with a grin (as he said). In 1990, with the balloon MÜNSTERLAND, they had an envelope quite worn out, not very suitable for outstanding competitions and also as big as permitted. But they only wanted to gain experience. This year, they rented the quite new, little flown COLUMBUS as they really wanted to compete.

But now let’s talk about the race itself. The check-in is over. The day of launch comes closer.

Wonderful weather of Indian summer ruled the day before the launch. On Saturday at the briefing, the first rain shower happened. The advantage of this was that the umbrellas with the Gordon Bennett logo, still on stock from the last year were quickly sold out. Dr. Herbert Pümpel, highly regarded meteorologist, promised clear sky for the time of launch in the evening. Would he be right?

For the jubilee race, everything should work extremely well. The 35th race, 85 years after the first one. If one figure is subtracted by the other, 50 comes out, but this number was not worth a celebration, because it demonstrates, that in all these years political or economical situations did not permit the races. Still a jubilee? Of course! Gordon Bennett was born 150 years ago, and the Austrian Aero Club had been founded 90 years ago. So there were enough reasons for jubilee ceremonies.

The Austrian Aero Club had called its executive committee to Lech for a festive meeting, following an old tradition. In the old days, the delegates of the FAI also had their meeting at the same time at places such as the Gordon Bennett races, thus demonstrating the importance of this sportive event. So this year, all board members and the festive guests of the neighbour clubs came to the solemn launch.

The advise of the meteorologist was: "Fly the balloons low, there is a drift to the Northeast. Higher up, the wind turns and pushes you more to the South, closer to the border of Yugoslavia". Easy to say, difficult to be done in the mountains. All came in danger flying towards Yugoslavia. From rank 10 on they all had to give up at the border, and Swiss crew Signer/Osterwalder even crossed it. They had flown in rain, the water on the vent froze in 3000 meters, making it unusable for quite a long time. First at Ljubliana in relatively peaceful Slovenia they could start the descend.

American lawyer John M. Wallace nearly provoked diplomatic complications. This year he had chosen as co-pilot a major of the National Guard. His public relation manager thought, this man would be more impressive to the television audience at home if he would fly in uniform with all medals and decorations. So he climbed to the basket fully dressed. Imagine, if an American major in uniform had landed between the front lines of the Croatians and Serbians! When Mister Wallace realized which track the balloon flew, he finished (just in time) at Villach in Austria.

The crew from American Virgin Islands tried to be extremely careful. Alan Fraenckel/Jackie Robertson thought they landed right in time. On the ground, the observer asked them, why they had not flown on with 15 bags of ballast and 3 canisters of water? "The frontier", Alan pointed ahead. "But that’s the border between Austria and Hungary, not the one to Yugoslavia", explained the observer to him. But it was too late! With this ballast and his light balloon, he could have flown straight across Hungary and made a better rank.

The other teams performed better. Again and again venting, levelling the balloon out. The more they did it the more they came to the North and therefore the longer the distance grew.

The decision came, as at many great Gordon Bennett races in the past, before the second night. The crews with the best physical, psychological power and enough ballast in the basket, fought it out on Monday. Kuinke/Schubert were more to the North, and had enough space to the border of the USSR in Poland, while Starkbaum/Scholz got stuck more South in Hungary. A little luck is also needed to win the race. A nice side effect was a new German record in duration.

In the previous years, always some reports of the flights were written here. We will do the same this year. Of course, the report of the winner will get a special place. Eighty years after Hans Gericke again a German Gordon Bennett winner. The joy about this among the balloonists of this country was enormous. But before, Austrian Silvia Wagner shall tell, a woman had not reported yet. Women never stood aside at the Gordon Bennett races. In 1913 Madame Goldschmidt flew the race with René Rumpelmayer. From 1983 on Helma Sjuts flew in almost every race, and in 1984 there was an exclusive women-team.

Silvia Wagner started aviation in 1976 with parachuting and in 1980 she became an instructor for parachuting. After the birth of her second child, she started with motor flying and today flies all over Europe as professional pilot with 20 seater turboprops. In 1984 she developed her love for balloons and became the first female balloon instructor in Austria in 1990. Today she also makes her money with instructions and commercial passenger flights in her own company. Here is her report:

"Gordon Bennett Race 1990 was my first competition in a balloon race and so my first experience in this discipline. Pilot Thomas Lewetz took me with him as co-pilot. Old and heavy equipment as well as a thunderstorm forced us to end the race quite early. But the ambition was set and right after our landing and it was sure that we’ll try again next year. This time we would change positions as I wanted to take over the command. Thomas agreed laughing to this plan and but let himself be nominated as co-pilot. A balloon fit for competition could be organized in Germany as in Austria unfortunately only Joschi Starkbaum owns a competitive balloon. My experience had shown that I had to optimize our equipment in a way that we did not lack anything but also did not have too much of anything other than ballast.

The dressing for the expected extreme strain was found in the sport equipment McKinley from the Intersport company. Technically we improved our equipment by adding a lighter and more exactly working GPS and more powerful batteries to our proved navigation and communication instruments.

Food was mostly composed of energy providing elements, but I cared for every taste. So from the carrot to chocolate, everything could be found in our pantry. Thermal flasks with hot soup and hot tea should make the cold mornings a little more friendly.

Physical conditions for a long distance flight in high altitudes was given to us by many aircraft flights to more than 4000 meters to drop parachutists. Mentally we were best prepared for at least three nights in a balloon. Our participation at the BP alpine trophy 1991 in Ramsau taught me to calculate better the possible dangers of a balloon flight in the Alps under competition conditions.

Very important for to stand the strain is that at least one member of the crew is always wide awake. A comfortable bed, like a coated plank mounted to the edge of the basket, is a precondition.

Well equipped like this, my crew and I arrived at Lech on Friday. We were afraid of missing the check-in due to a traffic jam caused by the driving of the cattle down from the mountain pastures.

Already the first briefing allowed me to foresee the strategy of our flight. Our met man Dr. Pümpel pronounced a drift to the East close to the ground, turning more and more to South-East with increasing altitudes. That would mean, the higher you fly, the sooner you would meet the borderlines of Yugoslavia, which was like Russia, closed for this competition. So the target was, to fly very low along the valley of the river Lech in the direction of Warth and Reutte. Then to fly as far North as possible to the foothills of the Alps in the area of Füssen. On Saturday, a rain shower at noon lowered the mood of the competitors. But hope may never be given up, and our balloon was inflated despite of the low dark clouds. And soon the sun appeared again and allowed us to do the rest of the preparations in a wonderful scenery.

The night broke in and the time of launch came closer. Also, dark clouds moved again towards the launch field from the South. As first according to the drawn sequence – we took it for a good omen – my balloon D-Columbus with Thomas Lewetz and me on board opened the race.

Very slowly we slipped along the valley of the river Lech, as more and more balloons rose behind us under the sound of their national anthems to the night sky of Lech. The tops of the mountains around the valley were illuminated by fires, indicating the way to the North like lighthouses. It was very calm, only the rush of the creeks, the bells of the cows and the cracking of wood created by animals in the forests was with us in the first hours of our flight.

Everything looks so peaceful until at a narrows the current becomes so strong that it makes us rush close by a church towards a power line. I don’t want to loose too much sand and half a bag saves us from an early touch-down. Thomas, already asleep, wakes up from the wind in the basket caused by the quick fall and climb and takes over command of the balloon for the next two hours. My time to rest begins. The cry of a night bird, reflected from the opposite hill slope, startles me from my sleep. Wide-awake, I fly the balloon again through the Tyrolean valley of the Lech, illuminated by the full moon. Urged to use up as little sand as possible, I let the balloon hover just 10 meters above the tree tops. We are approaching Reutte, soon we will have reached the foothills of the Alps, when suddenly the balloon turns towards a side valley and starts to climb uphill. The decision about what to do is difficult. Shall I really throw my nerves overboard as sand or better hope that the heading will turn again to our fortune?

We drift along the hills very close. Is there a power line? Coming closer, I identify the supposed power line as ski slope, the shadows thrown by the setting moon create optical illusions. How does our way continue here? We already had reached the end of the valley, when the wind turns us to the middle of the valley and we fly down the valley again meter by meter. A little before we enter the main valley of the river Lech again, it starts to become bright. At the town of Füssen, two lee waves make me sacrifice another bag of ballast, which means, that we have used only two bags of the valuable ballast that night. For sure, no other competitor was more economical on his way than we were.

The sun rises and a new day with new adventures waits for us. But first, we have to care for our physical wellness. A rich breakfast in the sunny basket over the famous castle of Neuschwanstein make us forget the strain of the passed night very quickly. The flight continues, still very low over the mountain ridges. Ballast must be saved, because my plan is a flight to the third night. But flying low, makes the lee waves more violent. Once we are pulled down so quickly that I almost had to face a landing in the trees but just in time the balloon levels out and carries us up the next hill at high speed. On the information frequency the first warnings from thunderstorms are broadcasted. But who can believe such weather reports with this blue sky and sunshine? To our feet Lake Chiemsee spreads hundreds of sailing-boats on it with no wind. They look like toys but are rapidly growing. The cold surface of the water sucks us, quicker and quicker it goes down. Only the dump of much ballast saves us from a splash down and nearly creates a new sand bank in the lake.

The Austrian border is not far away and Salzburg radar requests us to keep a constant altitude which becomes more and more difficult in the moment. Cold water surfaces and forests change with heated field and push our ball up and down. The forecasted thunderstorms can’t be seen where we are, the drone we hear is caused by the airplanes from and to the airport of Salzburg. We are quite close to the radio beacon of the airport. The controller makes our motorized colleagues fly around us. They are not angry about the detour, because we are a nice view. The wind turns now more and more to the north-east. We fly across the area of the Hausruck, along the river Salzach to the river Inn and further on to the Danube river. The broadcasted weather reports talk more and more about an approaching cold front with includes thunderstorms. And in the Northwest, the clouds are already coming up. Also above us, it becomes hazy. Dropping more sand keeps us at an altitude of about 2000 meters.

The wind speeds up and drives us faster and faster. The weather reports about the approaching front are broadcasted in shorter and shorter periods, the bad weather starts to catch up to us with a short but heavy rain-shower near the town of Linz. Calculation starts. When and where will the first thunderstorms meet us? The decision is made. When the first thunderstorms will be in the area of Linz, we will begin the landing, because then, the thunderstorms will be about one hour behind of us. The wind speeds up more and turns north. The flight passes the town of Freistadt, then the Waldviertel area to the Czech town of Znojmo. Brno radar tells us, that a landing under VFR at night is not permitted on Czech territory. We don’t want to do this voluntarily, but we inform the controller about the approaching thunderstorms, and that in this situation a landing must be declared as an emergency. He supported us until we touched down.

Shortly behind Znaim we got messages about the first thunderstorms in the area of Linz, which activated our decision to land. Many signs show, that the thunderstorms would reach us in a short time. So the wind became stronger. At an altitude of about 50 meters it was still 30 knots, which means more than 50 kilometres an hour. Our landing beam helped no longer, the rising fog from the ground broke the light. What is underneath of us, a lake or one of the huge Czech fields? I decide, to speed up the fall of the balloon. The ground fog increases rapidly and makes everything look like through a milk glass. From time to time, the moon shines through the quick moving wisps of clouds, this light makes see the outlines of the trees. Where are power lines? A very busy road appears below. Then a huge, black plain, surely no lake, spreads. Shall I stop the fall? The rate of sinking is about the same as with a round parachute. Thomas as well as me have had about a hundred landings with such a tool.

Wind speed is still at 25 knots, I allow the balloon to continue it’s descend. It is heading towards the big darkness. Near the ground, the wind calms down a little. A road intersection, the direct road from Brno to Vienna, with a huge field of beets behind, will become our landing place. Six minutes after touch down, our ground crew is with us. We pack the balloon, waiting for the weather front. When we store away the last parts, a heavy rainfall starts, but no thunderstorms appear. But I still think, my decision was right, even if my heart was bleeding, to empty all the saved sand bags on the side of the field. Another year will come with a new Gordon Bennett Cup. Our team will not change.’

The 35th race, 85 years after the first launch, 150 years after the birth of Gordon Bennett, the third German victory! From the flight 1907, Oscar Erbslöh had reported, 1911 Hans Gericke. So it’s logical, that in 1991, Volker Kuinke shall tell about his impressions.

Gordon Bennett 1991: the Flight to Victory

Report from Volker Kuinke

A Gordon Bennett never forgives a mistake. So we take the time at home in Düsseldorf, to inflate our D-EUREGIO with cold air to inspect it from the inside. The result is calming: Only a few spots, that have to be sealed.

On Thursday, September 19th, we drive to Lech in the Austrian region of Vorarlberg with all our stuff. We have Max Tenthoff and Ute Schubert as chase crew, Jürgen Schubert and me.

The anxious question. What is the weather doing? At the main briefing on Friday, 5 p.m., Gordon Bennett chief meteorologist Herbert Pümpel encourages all competitors: Wind in the lower altitudes from West-South-West. But in altitudes above 3000 meters from the West-North-West, this means drift in the direction of Yugoslavia, not very tempting, considering the political situation in this country. In addition, in regard to the Soviet Union there is no permission to enter this country. All the other countries including Albania, Romania and Bulgaria had given permission, which is a sign of hope.

The numerous clouds, that darkened the sky on Friday, should move away on Saturday and the wedge of a high pressure area should rule the weather. Possibly good conditions. So on Saturday morning, next to the other balloons, D-EUREGIO is laid out and prepared for inflation. What a bad surprise, when at about noon, a strong rain shower falls on the already prepared balloon. Everything is totally wet in a moment. Channels form in the carefully taped rip out panel and they have to be removed. An unpleasant work especially since there is so much to do prior to a Gordon Bennett launch. But it was a surprise also for Herbert Pümpel, who could not detect any other shower within a circle of 200 kilometres around. St. Peter finally sends some sunshine, soon sucking the rainwater from the slowly expanding gas balls. So the launch preparations on the Schmelzhofwiesen continue. We had drawn launch number 13. Will this mean luck for us? If you like it or not, there is always much tension before such a launch. Is there really everything you need in the basket?

At 8 p.m. everything is ready. One balloon after the other lifts off to the night sky under the sound of its national anthem. The weather situation is a little critical, because only in the lowest layers the wind really comes from the South-West. Someone who wants to fly high at once to cross the Alps, risks to enter a faster wind from the North-West, facing a landing in front of the Yugoslavian border already in the same night. Herbert Pümpel advises all the crews, to stay low and use the downwind of the valley to fly along the river Lech. Then to reach the northern side of the Alps at Reutte and to continue there with the wind from the South-West. That is also our decision.

The little space in the basket we have to share with: 28 bulging sandbags, two canisters of water-ballast, an instrument box with barograph, a Dittel FSG 70 radio, a Becker-transponder with altitude encoder, two ICOM radios, a heavy bag for maps, oxygen set with bottle, a huge bag of food, ELT (emergency location transmitter), two batteries for the supply of the night-beacons with energy and different other tools.

At 8:59 p.m. D-EUREGIO lifts off from the platform at Lech. The balloon makes its 44th flight. For Jürgen, it’s his 70th, for me, flight number 207 in a gas balloon. Behind us we leave hours of hectic preparation. It is a little relief, to be in the air at last. But this relief doesn’t keep for long. Our balloon is the only one, which is heading straight towards the cableway to the Rüfikopf, which I don’t like at all. When I force the balloon to a very low altitude, this individualistic guy changes its heading and follows the other balloons down the valley.

First we fly very low over the church and rooftops of Lech. Many shouts and whistles come from below. The last balloon has just taken off, the national anthem had ended. Slowly we fly down the valley of the Lech, accompanied by the roaring of the river. An avalanche of cars makes its way in the direction of Warth, obviously most of them spectators of the launch of the 35th Gordon Bennett Race.

After having passed Bürstegg, the flight becomes a little faster. Some tree covered hills force us, to pull up our night beacon quickly. I have to pay attention, not to collide with a fir tree. Friend moon is fully in the sky and watches us. Only sometimes he hides behind huge mountains of clouds which suck up his light. Only the edges of the clouds have a silver shining. On many mountains around fires burn, a nice little farewell from the mountain rangers of Lech to the Gordon Bennett pilots. There is a concert of the cow bells, ringing from the alpine pastures around.

A look to the map frightens me. The valley of the Lech has many bends and curves. Impossible, as I think, that a balloon will follow them. Jürgen thinks different. He has a lot of mountaineering experience, and was an active mountain climber in former days. Well, we’ll see!

Warth is ahead of us and welcomes us with is lights. Here, the valley makes its first huge bend. At first, it seems, as if the balloon is heading straight towards the mountain in front of our track. But then slowly but soon very definitively it follows the bending of the valley and passes well between the huge blocks of rock. With great respect, I look northwards. How huge the mountains and how precipitous the rock walls rise there, and how small and fragile compared to them our balloon and we are! As if the moon wanted to emphasize my thoughts, he let his pale light fall to the steep rock walls. I have an enormous respect of the mountains, but I also realize the unique beauty of nature, that is revealed to us. We see things, only a few people may see in their lives.

Always when the aerostat is close to a hill slope, animals flee from the monster in the sky. This often creates rock-fall. As hard as we try, we can’t see the fugitives. It maybe chamois. Like dark, sharp shadows the fir trees stand out clearly from the background where the moonlight reflects on some rocks from time to time.

The shadow of the balloon seems to be glued to the hills. My feeling is that we are proceeding much to slowly. We have just watched another balloon flying quite close to a rock wall, being forced to sacrifice ballast. An other one flies at the opposite side of the valley about 200 meters higher than we and close to a tree covered slope. Again and again the pilot checks his distance to the trees and the rocks with his strong beam light. Ghostly the light of the strong beam rushes through the dark fir trees. I admire the strong nerves of this crew regarding this little distance to the obstacles. Till now, we were kept away from larger sacrifices of ballast. Let’s hope that it will stay this way and that we will manage to fly out of the Alps. Anything but high and to Yugoslavia. About an hour ago, we could see, how a balloon was driven away to the Southeast. Quickly the lights of its anti-collision beacon disappeared. It was very high and Jürgen said: "He has already purchased his ticket for Yugoslavia."

Everything works well until we are about 5 kilometres from Reutte. There, crossing the valley of the Lech, is the Namloser valley. While we are flying a little higher, to keep enough distance from some trees. About 100 meters lower Helma Sjuts flies her balloon right through the middle of the valley. She keeps exactly the direction, our balloon didn’t want to take at all. Even a short pull on the vent doesn’t help anymore. We are pulled inside the Namloser valley and thus away from Reutte and the north side of the Alps. All moaning and cursing doesn’t help. Yearning, my eyes follow Helma and Alfred, who don’t have to fight our problems. Jürgen can’t believe, what a trick the wind played on us. Even in the lowest altitude, it is impossible to slip back to the valley of the Lech. What do we do? D-EUREGIO meanwhile purposefully climbs up a hill towards a mountain ridge. I start to feel unsafe. A half bag of ballast is sacrificed. At once, the balloon follows and lifts us over the obstacle. But on the lee side, it starts to fall again. A very steep, dark valley with sharp rocks envelopes us. No human settlement can be seen. Eerie sounds the roaring of the deer from below. Somewhere water falls to the valley with thunderous noise. The thunder is reflected and strengthened by many rock walls, A unique scenery of sounds.

Fortunately, the fall could be stopped with the sacrifice of a little ballast. At a low altitude the balloon makes its way around the mountain. The lights of a little village are now visible and on the little road outside of the village we can see our chase crew giving us a sign with the headlights of the car. Reutte can be seen in the distance. Somehow I feel as if the lights of this town would give us a scornful grin. Can we still manage it to return to the valley of the Lech? D-EUREGIO has flown almost a circle keeping the direction we have now it doesn’t appear impossible.

But now, another problem had come up. The moon had decided, to make life and flying a little harder for us. We had loved his light up to now, but now it becomes disturbing. Because we have changed the direction the light now comes from the front. Very bright over the ridge it dazzles in a way that obstacles ahead can’t be detected well enough anymore. Also, the balloon is heading straight towards the mountain top of the Thanneller. There is almost no more speed and the mountain is dangerously close. Finish, that’s not the way to carry on! One bag of ballast is sacrificed. No matter what happens, lets just get away from here. Slowly, then quicker, the balloon climbs and lifts us out of this complicated situation. Nearly 1½ hours we have spent on the Thanneller.

But what is that? Suddenly a sharp wind blows from the front, the envelope of the balloons starts flattering and the basket shakes. D-EUREGIO has obviously come to the lee waves of the mountain. We climb with 3 meters per second now and have a speed of 50 km/h. The heading is not so good – 85° - but still good enough, to help us leave the Alps possibly at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Flying higher now we have a fantastic view to the mountains around. Also impressive is the night sky full of stars around the black ball over our heads. The track of the balloon had calmed and stabilized as well as my nerves. Often I can see shooting stars, falling from the sky and seeming to disappear behind the high mountains. If you see a shooting star, you may have a wish¼

At 4 a.m. we are over the town of Garmisch, west of the mountain Zugspitze. By its greatness, it clearly stands out of the neighbour mountains of the Wetterstein range. A lonely light can be seen on its top. I try to keep enough distance from it to avoid more climbing because further up the wind still blows towards Yugoslavia. It is very difficult to get the balloon out of the Alps completely. Again and again black mountain ridges, which have to be crossed, appear in our track. It’s not easy to estimate the distance to them. Concentrating we stare into the darkness which holds so many secrets.

The moon doesn’t help us anymore. He has become tired; his brightness has gone. He still swims on the western horizon above the pall of haze to which human beings contribute such a lot, but soon he dives into it; starts to flicker as if he wants to dissolve, and finally disappears. Good night or better, Good morning, because in the East twilight starts.

In the last hours there has been almost no clouds but now in the North huge cumulus clouds were rising. I do not trust my eyes – there are flashes of lightning inside the clouds. It must be the rest of the thunderstorms from the previous days; hopefully not dangerous anymore. With increasing brightness these flashes finally disappear and the clouds collapse more and more.

D-EUREGIO passes the town of Mittenwald in the North and flies into the valley of the river Inn, heading approximately 80° . Speed has decreased a lot. The whole valley is covered with fog. The white carpet slowly moves to the North. Suddenly we see a Polish balloon east of us. They have to climb because they are heading straight towards a tree covered hill. For quite a long time, we can only see the upper half of the envelope looking out of the trees moving as slowly as we do. An interesting image.

Meanwhile, it had become brighter and the sky in the East glows red. In the glow one can see mighty peaks standing out. The mountain peaks of the Kaisergebirge, belonging to the northern calcium alps. This view is so impressing that all tiredness and strain of the night before is blown away. D-EUREGIO stays south of the mountain called Wilder Kaiser while Thomas Fink, flying very low, passes it to the West. The question for us is if it is sensibly to force the balloon to stay low, thus sacrificing lot of gas or ballast but proceeding more North; or if it is better to allow the balloon to climb under the influence of the warming morning sun and to cross the eastern Alps first and not to give away the possibility to fly a second night right now. The decision is very difficult but finally we agree to give free way to the balloon but brake it down a little bit on its way up.

In higher altitudes; suddenly a balloon appears in the Northwest. Quickly it comes closer and its heading is definitively more to the southeast as we fly. It is D-CONTINENTALE with Helma and Alfred. But also D-EUREGIO has struggled itself higher and makes more speed now. The heading is 100° to 110° . Not very encouraging considering which country is in that direction. But we see no sense in forcing the balloon close to the ground and making almost no more speed while spoiling a lot of ballast in the coming up and downdrafts. But I can’t stop my thoughts running ahead for many hours imagining a landing on the Austrian-Yugoslavian border.

How bad are wars and how much suffering they bring! Four years ago we could land in Yugoslavia with no problems but today it is impossible. Those views are too fascinating, to think about it any longer. The balloon crosses the ‘Steinerne Meer’ (rocky sea), a high plateau of huge dimensions. It is probably the most famous karst landscape and forms the south-western wing of the Alps at Berchtesgaden. Looking down vertically we can see, how quick our balloon is proceeding. Really, the rocks down there look like waves. Totally noiseless our tramp moves on over the Steinerne Meer to the East. We can still see it for a long time.

Very different shapes of mountains are crossed by the balloon. Very impressive compositions of rock, nature had created here! On shaded spots snow remains. Small glacier lakes formed colourful counterpoints on the grey, stony nowhere-land. One mountain is coated with veils of mist playing around it, always changing its shape. Only the peak peeps out of the white mass.

It is 10:20 a.m. and position is south of Schladming. Still 20 bags in the basket and present heading 120° . Overwhelming is the view to the Dachstein range. Jürgen knows almost every peak and lots of anecdotes from his time as mountain climber. Far from the South Großglockner and Großvenediger are greeting us and above them a little spot, D-CONTINENTALE. What a great experience is a traversing of the Alps!

In the valleys particularly thick fog still rests. No one down there will expect a balloon over himself or can imagine, how beautiful it is up here. We wonder where all the other balloons are. We can’t see anyone of them. Could they have managed to stay on the north side of the Alps and to filter into the wind from the southwest?

In the early afternoon and already on the south side of the Alps I have a little rest on our "deluxe" balloon bed made by Woerner. But suddenly I am wide awake. Jürgen states: "If we continue like this, there is only one hour to Yugoslavia". Everything, but not this! I force D-EUREGIO to lower layers hoping to meet a streaming there which would save us from a landing on the Yugoslavian border. Minutes of tension begin. Will the balloon change its track enough? It does! But I have to concentrate completely on the flight now. Low mountains are underneath. There are still many up und downdrafts, which may cost us a lot of ballast. And that is something I have to keep away from, otherwise we could forget the second night. I manage, to stabilize the balloon at 1500 meters. Quite limply the envelope looks, no wonder, D-EUREGIO comes from 3500 meters.

Mount Wolfsberg is passed and slowly the landscape becomes definitively more flat. Heading is now about 65° . But we still have to pay attention to the Yugoslavian border. First we fly parallel to it and don’t recede from it. D-EUREGIO approaches the control zone of Graz and a very fruitful radio conversation begins. The controller allows the aerostat to pass through the middle of the final approach sector south of Graz and requests only to keep an altitude "round about xx feet". I love this, because every order to keep a definite altitude would cost us ballast. Weather-information from Graz for the next night sounds good. Up to 5000 feet wind from southwest with 5 knots, above 5000 feet turning via west to northwest, 10 – 15 knots. A worsening of the weather – if any – may be expected not before the second half of the night and then only of a very moderate kind. In our direction, Hungary, there is no worsening expected.

14 bags are left in the basket. So the course is set for the second night. We only have continuously to care to not come too close to the Yugoslavian border. At the present heading of 40° to 50° , this would hopefully become no problem.

Now we leave the airspace of Graz. Slowly dawn comes up. The cooling makes our balloon fall. Again and again some shovels of sand leave the basket, to keep the altitude. The sun has disappeared behind the mountains in the West. In the many night hours ahead we will miss her warming beams. Unnoticed by us, the moon had left his bedroom and looks at us with curiosity. For sure he is astonished that we want to stay a second night under his guard. It is time for dinner. Austrian unleavened bread with salami, a few grapes and mineral water. At the next Gordon Bennett race we will also take a toothbrush with us.

D-EUREGIO approaches Hungarian airspace. I try to make radio contact with Budapest. In vain! Obviously the distance is too big and our altitude too low. The daylight disappears and below more and more lights show up. Many children, still playing in the courts, wave and shout. Our chase crew is quite close to us. They will stay overnight somewhere, a wise decision after a 24-hour drive.

Our yellow gas filled ball now moves in a direction of 25° to 30° , the speed is 20 km/h. The navigation is not easy. For some time now the balloon flies along a motorway. But we cannot find this motorway on our maps. So we can just estimate our position. Also it becomes more and more hazy. Only a few lights can still be seen from below, everything else is sucked up by the fog.

If you are overtired and get confronted with different problems at the same time, many thoughts shoot through your brain. My imagination is thinking of the worsening of the weather with upcoming clouds. A feeling of fear overcomes me. Do we really have to land at night in this hazy soup? We can’t read the VORs, drawn on my maps. A fatal situation! I try to make radio contact with Vienna. With successful contact and with the help of the transponder we finally get our definite position. D-EUREGIO has flown with the wind almost from the south, predominant in the lower layers, to the area of the Neusiedler See. This also explains the haze appearing so quickly. The motorway which we could not find on the maps is the one from Graz to Vienna. We had thought to be already much more to the East.

But now the next problem comes up. Our balloon is heading straight towards the TMA of Vienna, and it does not help that we are Gordon Bennett competitors and have a properly working transponder with altitude encoding on board. We are a little disappointed for the officials at Lech had promised us no problems, especially with Vienna. But instead of this the controller requests us to land. I try to explain him that it may be extremely dangerous to land at night with a balloon. "Then climb to 10000 feet at once, please". Under normal circumstances, this would also be impossible or could be done only with big sacrifices of ballast. But now the situation is different because the balloon had been up to almost 3500 meters during the day. Only one bag is dumped and soon the aerostat climbs to the requested altitude. The controller is satisfied and we are too, because up here visibility is again unlimited.

Heading is now 95° . The speed, the controller tells us, is 15 knots. According to our own calculations, it seems to be a little less. Its cold up here, extremely cold. But that’s a problem you can live with. We cover with everything we had taken with us. Vienna and Bratislava can be seen close together brightly illuminated. Hard to imagine that these two towns belong to two very different nations.

We can see clearly now how the balloon moves more and more to the East. We easily accept this because we want to try to extend the flight as much as possible during the next day and to fly deep into Romania. Our chase crew still don’t know of this idea. I ask the controller at Vienna, to phone the championship office at Lech and inform them about our further intentions. I also ask him about the other balloons. He tells us he knows only of a D-COLUMBUS and an Austrian balloon, but nothing about all the others. We can’t imagine that only three balloons are left in the air.

Vienna advises us to call Budapest for our aircraft is already deep in Hungary. Now we have no more problem, making contact. Our transponder is permanently running but I am a little worried about using up the energy. At once, the controller at Budapest accepts my suggestion to activate the transponder only every 30 minutes for a short time. Even more, he is satisfied with a one hour period. Wonderful! Now finally some calm returns to our little basket. So we can alternately have a little rest on the Woerner bed. But when laying down, the cold is felt even more uncomfortably, so sleep is almost impossible.

It’s midnight. Below us the large Hungarian town of Csorna passes slowly. Jürgen had laid down and so I have some time to follow my thoughts. How little do I know about the country of Hungary! What kind of a town is Csorna? How many people live in it? But all these questions stay unanswered and the balloon carries us further on its voyage to eastern Europe. What can we expect, if we really land in Romania or Bulgaria? Will there be great difficulties? Or doesn’t the balloon fly so far? Questions and more questions.

The sky over Hungary is full of iron. Again and again I can hear and see airplanes, fortunately much higher than the balloon. For safety reasons I switch on the transponder again and call Budapest.

Cirrus clouds approach at high speed covering the moon for a short time and then disappear to the Southeast. Will it really work, down to Romania? Or does the bad weather proceed faster and will catch up to u? More and more often, cirrus clouds accompany us on our way and don’t let us expect the very best. But there are also sequences without clouds allowing an unlimited view to the clear nightly sky full of stars. How unique is our situation up here in the small willow basket 3000 meters above Hungarian terrain!

West of us we can still see the lights of Csorna. Why don’t we proceed faster? Jürgen is also unsatisfied about the speed. What can be done? But very sudden, our attention is turned to something different: There was a flash of lightening in the West! There, again! But no cloud can be seen and no thunder can be heard. How far away may be this thunderstorm? Hopefully far enough!

First we did not notice that D-EUREGIO had started a moderate fall. The old altitude can be reached again with ease and quickly so why not try? How fast is the wind below and which heading the balloon will fly there. So we allow it to continue the fall. At 600 meters I level out.

We fly in the direction 20° to 30° and are much faster than on 3000 meters. So we keep the altitude and continue low. Soon we reach the border to the CSFR. My stomach feels uncomfortable. Two years ago, at the 33rd Gordon Bennett race, Gustav Vornbäumen and me had failed at the Czech border and had been banned to the last place. Also, there are no VFR flights at night permitted here. I say goodbye to Budapest thanking for the helpfulness and then call a little insecure Bratislava on frequency 132:35. I can’t trust my ears: "D-EUREGIO you are welcome in CSFR". We are overwhelmed. The helpfulness and friendliness of this controller can’t be beaten and continues the next hours. It is really unbelievable! Frequently, we get accurate position reports and other information.

We are very worried by the weather. More and more clouds appear and I almost regret it, to have descended from the higher altitude because I have the feeling that we will sucked right into the middle of the bad weather. It becomes again more and more hazy around us and I don’t think that this time the Neusiedler See is the reason for it. We climb a little, to keep the overall view. In fact soon the balloon lifts us out of the haze at an altitude of 1800 meters. Clouds below, clouds above. My heart beats faster. In the Westthere are flashes of lightening again but this time much closer. 4:30 a.m. and still two hours until sunrise. If I had known this before I would certainly not have flown the second night. Our controller at Bratislava tells us that we have to expect showers in the next hour but he had heard nothing about thunderstorms. But again and again Jürgen and I see the flashes in the West. We also hear Stefan Makne on the radio. I ask Bratislava if I can have a short talk with him – no problem. Quickly, I file a warning to Stefan, concerning the thunderstorms. We decide to continue in our altitude and to keep an eye on everything. As soon as we come too close to a CB cloud we will land. No matter or where!

Oh dear – these minutes until daybreak can become damn long. But we were lucky. The CB clouds we could see were all at least 20 kilometres away from us. Only weak thunder can be heard. As frightening as it is to watch a thunderstorm from a balloon basket, it is also a gigantic performance of nature in front of our eyes.

We feel very relieved when the first daylight finally makes its way to us from the East. Particularly since it has to penetrate thick mountains of clouds, which appear even more threatening by this. Aside of these clouds the sky starts to glow. Never before I have seen such an impressive morning atmosphere. South of us is a CB cloud which is very active. Again and again there are flashes inside making it look like a huge torch but thanks goodness the distance to D-EUREGIO is quite big.

Meanwhile it had become so bright that we could land. So we decide to leave our thunderstorm guard post at 2600 meters and to fly to lower layers. Bratislava gets informed about our changing of the altitude and we meet some agreements for the case since we could no longer keep the contact. Bratislava will inform the championship office at Lech about our position and in case we will land in the CSFR, we will phone Bratislava to report our landing position. In case the balloon will not land in the CSFR but continue its flight to Poland the helpful controller tells us some frequencies on which we can make contact in Poland.

But first the controller slows down our descent. In our track are some higher mountains of the ‘High Tatra’, we can’t see through the layer of clouds below. Not before we were north of the ‘High Tatra’, the controller allows us, to descend.

Meanwhile some sunbeams had slipped by the towers of clouds in the East and now shine on the layer of clouds below us. As a response the layer tears open here and there opening the view to a wonderful landscape, reminding me at once of the ‘Black Forest’. They are the northern foothills of the ‘High Tatra’. We decide, to continue our descent.

The weather has calmed and no thunderstorm activities can be detected at the moment. If D-EUREGIO stays low we see no risk in continuing the flight. If the weather worsens rapidly, we can land at once. Decided, done!

First, D-EUREGIO hesitates to leave the warmer layers but some pulling on the vent finally make it fall. From 1800 meters we then enjoy an unclouded view to the landscape. A small town is below. We can see an industrial area and a railroad. Hearing the horn of the locomotive makes us recognize a foreign country. Everything looks different. Hard to describe but very impressive to us.

Very slowly the forest becomes less and the terrain more flat. We have no more radio contact to Bratislava. We also don’t hear Stefan Makne anymore. On the balloon frequency 122:25 an unfamiliar calmness rules. Shall our balloon be the only one which is still in the air? I can’t imagine. But where are all the others then? But first of all Jürgen and I are very happy that we did not have to land at night and that St. Peter agrees to let us fly on a little.

Will we be able to reach Poland? It looks like this. At our present altitude the balloon has a heading of 50° to 60° with a speed of about 40 km/h. In fact, at 8:00 a.m. the Orava lake appears in front of us and on its north shore is the borderline to Poland. The joy is great to reach this country. It is more than 52 years ago that the last German balloon has crossed this border.

A tiny village is on the east side of the Orava lake. As much as we look we can’t detect a border station or something similar. Unfortunately we still have no radio contact with Polish ATC even though we tried many times on the different frequencies we had received from Bratislava.

Endless wide spaces all around mostly used for farming. The shape of the fields are very long and very narrow. I remember at once to the 1987 Gordon Bennett Race to Yugoslavia where it looked quite similar. Many little villages can be seen mostly without a face. Just a few houses on both sides of a lonesome country road.

Above the clouds tear open again. The balloon wants to climb. Well, let him go. Perhaps we can make radio contact with Warsaw and get an actual survey of the weather in higher altitudes. Both work. But Warsaw is not very cooperative. We are told to call Bratislava again because in this part of Poland, Bratislava is in charge of the airspace. Weather information can’t be given.

All efforts to make radio-contact with Bratislava again are in vain and no wonder considering the distance. Our own weather observation shows cumuli above the torn layer of clouds reaching up to 3000 meters and higher but mostly they look harmless. We have to be careful and this works only in low altitudes. So back down again.

At 2000 meters D-EUREGIO crosses the town of Tarnow, a good point for orientation. The balloon continues its fall down to 500 meters. With a few hand full of sand I can stop the fall and we are continuing stable at a low altitude. Above our aerostat the clouds had become more thick again. You can already say, grey in grey. The little road below looks suspiciously dark. Should it rain? Very soon our rain eave tells the truth and a little later the water is falling quite hard from the appendix down to our basket. A wet surprise. Quickly, we store all tools to a plastic bag and into plastic films we fortunately have on board for this case.

We prepare for the landing. It is 10:35 a.m.. Everywhere around is enough space for landing. We have still 5 bags in the basket and also some water ballast. We agree that the flight will be continued even in the rain as long as ballast permits and no thunderstorm comes up. Everything is wet already. Due to the closed layer of clouds above updrafts can’t build up. So it is possible to continue the flights of this worn out and meager little balloon very low and stable without the use of much ballast. And soon the rainfall ends. Wonderful! We want to fight for every meter. Everything, but not landing. Our ambition have awoken. But we will not take any risk.

The balloon flies low over many farms. Everywhere we see huge herds of geese. My impression is that they react to the balloon with even more panic as they do at us. Wherever the balloon appears a big excitement of shouting and waving starts. We reply to every greeting much to the joy of the people down there. Not many of them may have seen a balloon before in their life.

The area below becomes still more lonesome than it has been before. Suddenly I see a flock of gigantic birds on a field. As we approach they hurry to a forest nearby to look for protection from the monster approaching from the sky. Are they been buzzards? I have no other explanation. Then again tiny villages and in front of every farm a huge flock of geese. Dogs are barking. What’s this ball, up there in the sky? The clouds above tear apart again – unbelievable.

Meanwhile it has become noon and its time to eat. The balloon climbs again. Still four bags and some water-ballast. Ahead of us there is a restriction-area, called EDP21. In any case we want to stay clear of it. We neither know how far up it reaches nor which activities happen there. To pass it the balloon has to fly more east so up we go. It works. D-EUREGIO stays south of it. But we are again quite high. More than 2000 meters and the balloon wants to continue climbing. Below the clouds – north of us – we think we hear shooting several times but maybe we are wrong. In any case it was good to stay clear of the area. I feel a little uncomfortable, hanging in a small willow basket under a worn out little balloon in the middle of a completely strange country.

We haven’t seen any aircraft at all till now. Generally on our flight over Poland there have been no control zones, except for this single restriction area, of which we could stay clear. Up to the Russian border, no more obstacle of this kind can be seen: very good. If only the weather and the balloon continues to play the game with us. Suddenly I realize, that D-EUREGIO is in the air for more than 40 hours now. We feel much joy about this fact. Curiously enough, we are absolutely not tired. Is the fact that we see so may indescribable new things the reason for this?

The weather in the west look worrying. Some cumuli clouds rise up high there. Once we think we had heard thunder far away. Or not? These cumuli clouds are approximately 50 – 70 kilometres away. We now want to fly very low again and stay there. Another climb would be impossible considering the situation of our ballast.

Below a forest area of huge dimensions awaits us. The layer of clouds above is again thick enough to allow a stable low altitude flight across this nature preservation area. What a unique beauty! A lonesome farm is below. They have just discovered the balloon. We fly on across a forest of birches with a kind of moor land around. On a little river we can see the reflection of our balloon.

Speed has reduced very much. Our yellow ball now flies with 12 – 15 km/h very low across the landscape. Surface wind is completely calm. It’s crazy: After 41 hours flight, we now make a real minimum distance competition over this unique forest area.

A moped rider, probably coming from the farm, tries to chase us. Again and again the wheels of the vehicle slip on the sandy ground. He follows us up to the beach of a lake. The balloon is so low, that we can see his face. In his face we read disbelieving and astonishment. Who are you? Where do you come from? Where do you want to go? The track ends and he stays back waving. Now we see our reflection in the lake then endless forests approach. Wild animals rush away in panic and we hear the cracking of branches but don’t see anything. A herd of wild boars? The forest becomes more open as birches and alders replace the firs. Jürgen has seen a moose. I don’t see it. Later, we see deer.

After about one hour the forest suddenly ends and the balloon flies over wide farmland. Many people work on the fields on this cloudy afternoon. Whenever they discover the aerostat they let everything go and their eyes follow us with astonishment. I remember back to the times of Ferdinand Eimermacher and Carl Götze. It must have been similar to us in those early times when a balloon appeared. And what we can see also fits better to those times. The people still work on the fields with their hands or the help of horses. Numerous horse drawn wagons are used to carry home the harvest. Only a few tractors are used. The main product seems to be tobacco. That is something we did not expect here. Often the people make signs that we should land. What should we expect us after a landing? Always as we cross a village and half of the population follows the balloon.

The mood in the basket is at its best. Even if the sky is grey and grey we love it because it is our only chance, to keep the balloon in the air. A little less than three bags of ballast are left in the basket. But the flight of D-EUREGIO is so stable and the altitude kept so constantly that I use up almost no sand. Jürgen concentrates completely on the navigation which is not easy with maps of a scale 1:500.000. He performs very well and we always know exactly where we are. So I can concentrate completely on the flight. From time to time the balloon wants to go down and then I have to correct it with a little sand.

Jürgen and I wonder where our chase-crew may be now and how they feel. Observer Kurt Fabes has contact with gas ballooning for the first time in his life. We hope he will cope with our marathon flight.

D-EUREGIO now crosses a little mountain ridge. My feeling is that the layer of clouds becomes lower and lower. Can we make it to the Russian border? We are now in the air for 44 hours. Speed has increased and the heading has changed. Why this? Up to now we flew at the low altitude at 70° to 80° and 30 km/h. Now the heading is more 100° with 40 km/h.

Suddenly the sky darkens in our direction! It is as if we were heading towards a black wall. There a flash of lightening! And soon, pouring rain starts to fall. Down as quick as possible! So we are just 150 meters high, everything goes quickly. A short pull on the vent line. The load of the rainfall helps. With 2 meters per second, we rush down. A long pasture between high trees is exactly in our track. That is very good. With the last full bag, I stop the fall completely. The trail rope is released. Even if the horizontal speed is high, the balloon touches the ground with a sinking speed of only 20 centimetres per second and the razing on the ground is short. A thick frog jumps aside shocked and is the first creature that welcomes us here. The balloon is ripped out and the envelope deflates in a hush.

At once I rush out of the basket and run to the balloon pulling the upper half to the middle of the envelope to prevent the rain water from entering to the inside. It is coming down in buckets. No human being can be seen. Then I realize that an important balloon flight has come to a happy end. We don’t know anything about our ranking, but our joy is enormous having made such a long and distant flight. "Happy landings, Jürgen!"

The rain clatters loud on the ripped balloon. Gusts of wind lash the tops of the nearby poplar trees. Jürgen makes some camera shots of the landing field. It has become so dark already that he has to use the flash. How shall we continue? I am a little bit disappointed, because no helpers show up. Has nobody seen us landing? Finally from the other end of the pasture a tractor approaches. It stops, and I try to explain the driver with hands and feet, who we are and where we come from. He looks a little helpless. Suddenly, a Volkswagen with a German number appears. We don’t trust our eyes. It is the family Kamiski from Buxtehude visiting their relatives here in this area. Her mother drew her attention to the balloon as Mrs. Kaminski said. She was running to the house, shouting: "Satan, the devil incarnate, comes from heaven"! After a look out of the window they quickly realized, that "Warsteiner" will hardly have done something with the devil and assumed, that this may be a German balloon having made quite a long flight with its crew maybe needing help. What luck for us!

Now the landing report must be sent to Lech as quickly as possible. We decide that Jürgen drives to a telephone with the Kaminskis and I will stay with the balloon. I have no idea at this time what it means, to phone from Poland! Jürgen leaves and I stay back at the balloon in the pouring rain.

Meanwhile in the little village news had spread like a crown fire. What a strange ball had fallen from the sky and to which purpose it may be used? An invasion starts. Within a few minutes more and more people come even if it’s still coming down in buckets. They feel the envelope make signs that it will be very good for rain clothes and look at me with curiosity. I remember quite well the landing with Gustav Vornbäumen in Yugoslavia four years ago when only the police could keep the curious crowd away from the balloon. The situation is not very easy.

I am very tired I feel cold and I am wet down to the skin. About 30 – 40 persons stand around me and bomb me with questions which I unfortunately don’t understand. I try, to approach these people open minded and kindly. Somehow I feel that everything else would be wrong. Often, they stand together in groups, discussing vividly this exciting event. I also try to ask questions. Who has seen a balloon before, and so on¼

A cigarette is offered to me and I try to explain the guy that I am a non-smoker. Then one of the farmers offers me a candy. Normally I don’t like candies but to be not considered as impolitely I take it with thanks. It doesn’t taste very good but the farmer smiles at me. He will be the one to whom we’ll have to owe a lot.

Jürgen is off for more than an hour now, and I start asking myself, where he is? A telephone call can’t take so long. Strange thoughts shoot through my brain. After a balloon flight of 44 hours, I stand together with 40 people on an lawn in the rain, 50 kilometres from the Russian border, completely overtired, cold and totally wet. A surrealistic situation. What happens if Jürgen doesn’t return? Perhaps, an accident has happened. What can I do now? The only conclusion is to wait, wait and wait again.

My "candy-farmer" takes special care of me. He gives me a sign to take a seat at his side on the tractor. I try to explain that it is necessary and to wait for Jürgen because I think he probably wants to take me home with him. But he doesn’t give up. He even knows some words German and wipes over the seat with his hands as to clean it and says: "Please, please". I can’t say "no" any longer. I climb with him on the old tractor. But he doesn’t drives off. Now I understand, he just wanted to keep me away from standing in the cold rain any longer. The tractor has a roof keeping the rain away. I am touched. But where is Jürgen? He is off now for one and a half hour.

More and more people come. I shake hands with everybody, smile at them. Often, they ask me about brandy. I pretend to love brandy and have the feeling the people like that.

My farmer points with his hand to his mouth and says: "Hunger!" I understand this as a question, concerning my rumbling stomach and nod my head. At once his little son, approximately seven or eight years starts with the bicycle. Another half an hour passes. Meanwhile it has become completely dark. Then finally a light comes from the direction the Volkswagen has disappeared two hours ago. But my joy was too early. It is the boy with the bicycle packed with a big linen bag. He has brought bread from his mother at home and a thermos flask full of tea. There is nothing on the bread and the tea consists almost completely of sugar but it is quite hot and helps me a lot.

The subject I am thinking about for a while is the balloon. Can we risk it to let it stay here overnight? I have my doubts. The people are simply too much interested in the envelope. But how can we recover the completely soaked material in the darkness? I don’t know.

Finally, the headlights of a car appear in the distance. Thanks goodness, it is the Volkswagen. Jürgen takes me aside and tells me that the Kaminskis advise us to recover the balloon. I understand at once and together we discuss the next steps. Our farmer offers to fetch a large trailer on which we can load all the material. It is good that the Kaminskis are now present for translation. So all the open questions can be discussed now.

Jürgen shocks me a little telling me that he was not able to file the landing-report. I can’t imagine. They have been to the school with the teacher. There was the only telephone in the village. Unfortunately, even trying often and hard, no connection could be made. Jürgen reports to me the reaction of the teacher when he learned, that they wanted to phone to Austria. "Come in first, this may take long."

Our farmer returns with the tractor and pulls a huge trailer behind it. We decide, to wrap the balloon together with the net like a hot air balloon and then load it on the trailer. The light envelope of D-EUREGIO now weights much more with so much water is on it. It is a bone breaking work. All people present people help a lot and finally I feel a little warmer being still wet to the skin.

Finally it is done. The Kaminskis invite us to stay overnight with them. Together we drive along the sodden track leading from the landing place to the house of their relatives in the Volkswagen. Last but not least the car gets stuck in the mud on a hill. Only pushing helps. Ankle deep we sink into the sodden ground and get splattered all over by the spinning wheels of the caravan. Finally we arrive. I haven’t seen much of our route since all windows were fogged up.

Micha, the sister of Mrs. Kaminski, a young woman of 21 years with blond curls gives us a warm welcome. She is married to a young Polish man whose name I cannot understand. I find myself in a house which is not very old. Everything is furnished quite simple. The furnishings of the room serve as accommodation for the night and consists only of a small double bed and a table. On the wall is a poster, showing the port of Hamburg. It is a naïve painting with the ship "Wappen von Hamburg" in the middle. I had used the original for several trips to Helgoland, What a coincidence.

We store all the instruments in the room and our wet clothes can be hung in the loft. It is very cold and a little damp, let’s hope they dry up. After everything is stored somehow we discuss what to do now. Jürgen and the two men drive to Zamosc, where friends live who own a telephone. The town is about 30 kilometres away and the roads are very bad. And there is still the pouring rain.

It’s time for them to leave. So Jürgen had already dinner at the teachers house, it’s my turn now. Micha had made sandwiches with white bread, liver sausage and tomato slices. It tastes wonderful. It becomes a nice evening. Micha and Raschka know German quite well and so we talk about this and that. In the background, an old tape recorder plays Polish music. Raschka explains the situation with the balloon to me: "The people here have nothing. They would have cut the envelope to pieces and make coats of it". Well, D-EUREGIO is now safe in a barn. Slowly, a little relief comes up and with that also tiredness. A bottle of beer we share has some effect on me.

It is over, my longest and most adventurous flight. Where have all the other balloons landed? What has happened to them? Which ranking may we have achieved? Where is our chase crew right now? If everything worked fine they are on our track. Hopefully the friendly controller at Bratislava had phoned to Lech and told our position.

With much tension we wait for the return of the Volkswagen. Hopefully they could manage to get connected. Meanwhile I can realize what it means to make an international call from Poland. I also realize how little I knew about this country till now.

It’s almost midnight, before the men finally return. "I could hardly manage it, to give our landing report to Hanne Hohmann", reports Jürgen. "A longer talk was impossible as the connection became worse and worse." Jürgen tells us, how difficult it was and how much time it took, to get a connection to Austria at last. They had driven to Zamosc, where friends of the Kaminskis live. This family is in the lucky situation to own a telephone – perhaps, because the man is a pilot.

Now we can go to bed peacefully. More could not be done today. In bed I think again of what happened. But I don’t get far because I soon fall asleep.

The next morning we are awakened by the shouting of children. This are Melanie and Andreas, the two kids of the Kamiskis. Breakfast is already done. The host himself was at the stove. He has made scrambled eggs with cubes of ham. A Polish specialty for breakfast, as they tell us. The eggs are from their own hens and so there is a whole bowl full of this really tasty breakfast.

Soon we are powered up and ready for new deeds. The sun shines and only the soaked ground with many puddles indicates how much it has rained here yesterday. I hang our still wet clothes on the line in the garden. The Alfred drives us with his Volkswagen to the farm, where the balloon is in the barn. How is our balloon and who has carried us here so brave?

I finally see something of the landscape. The little roads are mostly unpaved. Scattered farms and lots of tobacco fields around. The farm, where we drive to, is not far away. The farmer is happy to see us again. Alfred tells us that the barn on this farm had burned down last year and that the farmer was very lucky to be able to build a new modern barn. Obviously, it is extremely difficult in Poland to get material for construction. If you order something you have to wait long until a part of it is delivered. And then there is still the question if the community needs something of it first. A situation we can hardly imagine.

D-EUREGIO is really stored well in the barn. Fortunately the platform of the trailer on which the balloon is, stored looks like a huge riddle so some of the water could already run away. A horrifying work to separate the net from the envelope is ahead of us. On the fenced lawn in front of the barn we start working. Alfred, his son Andreas and the farmer help us. It is a trial of patience to untangle the net and put it to the shape it had before. But after some hours of work we had finally made it. The envelope is spread on the lawn and has already lost some of its moisture. Everything else – the trail-rope, the sandbags, the flag and now also the net - hang on the wooden fence on the side of the lawn. A colourful and strange view.

Meanwhile it had become noon, and while the envelope continues drying in the sun we care for the balloon-mail. To more than 300 letters the data of launch and landing have to be written, before they can be sent. An enormous amount of work. But the day is still long and the material still not dry. We get a good idea seeing the gusty wind. The rip panel is opened completely and we hold the opening to the wind. Soon, it has blown up the balloon to a half-ball and becomes difficult to hold. We have to take care that the balloon isn’t blown away. Now the envelope dries very quickly also on the inside so our hopes grow that we can pack a dry D-EUREGIO.

It is half past one when the farmer comes and invites us for lunch. That is something we did not expect. Soon we sit with him at the table. His mother had cooked. She is a farmers wife like out of a novel. The menu starts with a soup cooked from beet roots and tasting wonderful. The main course is fried sausage with smashed potatoes, savoury vegetables and a bowl full of grated cucumbers with a cream garlic dressing. Something that reminds me a little of tsatsiki and which also tastes perfect. The farmers wife talks to us but we can’t understand. Does the farmer know where we came from with the balloon? I ask him for a map. Soon he has understood jumps off and returns with a very old atlas from school. Together, we show him our track. He whistles through his teeth. From so far away?

I look for the restroom in the house. The farmer gives me a sign to follow him. When he leaves the house I think he may have misunderstood. He walks around the house towards the stable. Behind the building he then points to the dung heap. I am speechless and try not to look too shocked. That something like that still exists. But also with our host family particularly strange conditions rule. They have a bathroom with a toilet but no paper. Fortunately we could save some from the basket.

Meanwhile, our balloon is completely dry. So we can pack the envelope in the afternoon. The balloon mail is also almost ready. I always have to think of our chase crew. Why haven’t they arrived yet? Where are they right now? Probably, they don’t know about our landing. Did they have problems entering Poland? I am worried. Jürgen thinks, they should be here already. Together we discuss all possibilities and reconstruct the situation of the past days. "If they are not here tomorrow morning, something is wrong", states Jürgen. Let’s hope for the best. During our flight, we had been passed several times by a military helicopter. We are sure he had recognized the balloon but nothing happens.

It had become evening when the material is completely packed and the mail is written. We decide, to have a walk. "The teacher", Jürgen tells, "told me that our landing spot must be close to the mouth of a river". We decide to find it.

We start walking along unpaved roads and across wet lawns where many frogs live. The sun is deep between the trees and the air is absolutely clear. I am lucky that not many people watch our walk. Who else makes an evening walk in moon boots? But what can I do? My baseball shoes are still soaked. After a 20 minutes walk, we reach our landing spot. Just a few spots of sand and flat grass witness what happened here yesterday.

We estimate the two rivers in southern direction. Under wild fruit trees and through high bushes we make our way. The first river is only small with little water. Hidden between trees and bushes, it wasn’t easy to find. But where is the second one? We wade through knee high grass. The swampy ground moves under our steps and is obviously an ideal place for snakes. It’s good, to carry moon boots!

Finally we also find the second river. The banks of this river are covered with close vegetation and we conclude that this is still a healthy river hosting many animals. The water runs very slowly. A little later we have found the place where the two rivers unite which is a good spot for orientation on the map. On our way back, we see a farmer, bringing home fresh grass with a horse drawn wooden wagon. An uncommon image for our eyes.

On the lawn in front of the farm the balloon is waiting to be brought back to the barn. This time we manage it with a big wheel barrow. Inside the barn the farmer covers everything with tarpaulins so nobody can find it. Then he proudly shows us his harvested tobacco and the stable. The pigs were just fed and there is an enormous noise.

The little black dog must have fallen in love with Jürgen and me because he doesn’t leave us alone a single moment. We talk about our evening walk. The farmer draws a snake on a piece of wood. I had been right!

The daylight becomes weaker. It’s time to return to the Kaminskis. We say good bye and thanks for the help.

The way back on the little road to the house of our hosts takes only 15 minutes. It is a nice evening atmosphere. The Kaminskis are very proud that they can offer us two bottles of beer, we share among five persons. After I returned home I learned how difficult it is in Poland to buy beer and other things natural for us.

After dinner we sit together in the kitchen for a while and talk about life in Poland. Soon, our chase crew is the topic and speculation starts where they may be and when they may arrive at Nielisc. At 10 p.m. Jürgen and I go sleeping. We are quite tired. It was a straining day.

At midnight I wake up from the bang of a car’s door. A little later I hear loud knocking on the front door. Steps on the floor and then Raschka looks into our room and says: "They are here!" We jump from our beds dress in the minimum necessary and rush outside.

A torch blinds us. Max wants to be sure that really we are the ones who live here. The joy is great to be together at last. The hugs are endless. For almost one hour we stand outside and share our adventures. We are not very quiet. But then we remember our hosts and press all together into the little bedroom. Fortunately, our crew has enough sleeping bags with them. But first a bottle of brandy circles. It is one from Lech with the engraved subject "Gordon Bennett 91", we got as souvenir.

Falling asleep is not easy because some of my mates snore quite loud. I develop the "snoring hit parade". For reasons of discretion, I don’t tell, who was on top.

Next morning everybody was getting ready to go. The balloon had to be fetched from the barn and then the problem had to be solved on how to press all the baggage, instruments and five persons in the Volkswagen of the chase crew. Kurt has a look at our landing spot. Then it is time to leave. A warm fare well to the Kamiskis family who helped us so much and then the car drives off.

We are not heading home but to Zamosc, a renaissance town of 55,000 inhabitants which is worth visiting. In the beautiful old downtown many houses from the 16th century are still standing. Here, at the post office, we want to postmark and send the 350 letters of balloon mail. It was a unique situation that happened to the employees of the post office at Zamosc in South-East Poland on the morning of September 25th, 1991. A woman and three men enter the office and do honestly insist in sending 350 letters to Germany and other foreign countries. That had never happened before. One of these men also wants to send two telegrams to Düsseldorf. A Polish man, speaking some words German, helps to clear up the general confusion a little bit. He helps me filling in the form for the telegrams and also translates at the counter for stamps. Jürgen is on the way to the next bank to change money after we were told how much this will cost. We can read disbelieving in the faces of the clerks. So much money they can pay they must be mad! Ute's efforts to have 50 letters stamped but wanting to get them back to take them with her, fixes the image they had got of us. That is something the friendly lady behind the counter doesn’t agree with in any case. All explanations don’t help. These fifty letters are for philatelist collectors who want to have undamaged characters. But we have no choice but to send these letters on the "normal way", too.

Not before 1 p.m. we are back at the car we had parked a little outside of the town. Kurt had been so kind to stay back at the car and is happy that we are finally back. A gas station has even unleaded gas so the problem of refuelling is also solved. Then the long and arduous way back begins.

The larger roads are in a better shape than those in our new German territories but still so bad that going fast is impossible. First Max drives the Volkswagen on the road to Lodz, then we turn towards Wrocklaw. It is planned that Kurt takes the night train from Dresden to Vienna.

Uncountable fires to dispose of potato leaves are burning on Polish fields this afternoon. The whole country seems to be under a pall of haze. It’s like driving through flat ground fog. Late at night we arrive at Wrocklaw. Misguided we wander through the streets looking for the road to Dresden. Very old trams cross our way and a lot of cobblestones are on the street. Short before the Polish – German border we have the opportunity to refuel with unleaded gas and to get rid of our last Polish money. Then the fears at the border crossing start. Will we have problems? We pass a line of trucks, kilometres long. Then the car is in front of the barrier. Some custom-officers run up and down. They are busy controlling a truck. One of them comes close to the basket once and looks curious, but his attention is soon drawn to another subject so we can continue our trip without any hold-up. A big stone falls from my heart.

At 2 a.m., after a 13-hours drive, we have to find the central station at Dresden. The first station was the wrong one and a taxi-driver then shows us the way. When we finally arrive at the central station they tell us that the night train to Vienna Kurt wanted to take had left two hours ago. Wonderful! The next train to Vienna leaves not before next morning. Jürgen and I try to find a room for Kurt, but all the hotels around are booked out. After much discussions we make the wise decision which is to take Kurt with us to Düsseldorf. From there he may travel home as well.

The tiredness catches us so we have to change the driving often. The weather worsens and soon we have pouring rain, reducing our speed. At 8:30 a.m. we are 10 kilometres from Cologne on the motorway A 10. The same as every day, a big traffic jam. At 10:30 a.m. Ute and Jürgen unlock the door of their house. Done! After a 22 hours drive finally at home in Düsseldorf.

Which ranking may we have achieved? Kurt phones to his wife in Vienna. "You have won", he shouts, "it was on the Austrian radio news!" We look at each other and can’t believe it. Jürgen and I, we had an idea that D-EUREGIO must have finished on one of the leading ranks but we had not thought it may be the first place. The whole world knows it for two days that Jürgen and I had won the 35th Gordon Bennett race, just we had no idea and learned it at last.

All the tension and over tiredness of the straining drive back home is swept away by a feeling of happiness seldom felt in one’s life. After we had breakfast together, I drive home. The telephone is ringing without interruption and several telegrams of congratulation have arrived. I have only little time to take a refreshing shower.

At 6:30 p.m. we all meet in front of Ute’s bookstore. Kurt has never before been to Düsseldorf so we show the downtown to him. We walk along the narrow streets and have a beer here and there. The atmosphere is great. Late at night we go sleeping. But we can’t sleep long because early next morning the next meeting is fixed to drive together to the awards ceremony at Lech. After seven hours of a speedy driving we arrive there but not without having a look to the Namloser valley first. The valley that had worried us so much the first night.

At Lech, the first snow had already fallen. It is much colder than a week before. We get a very warm welcome. The awards ceremony is in great harmony and a lot of interesting discussions between people from different nations take place this evening.

The next morning means to say good-bye to Lech. How many wonderful but also thrilling and exciting hours have we had here during three Gordon Bennett races. So the farewell is a little hard, it was nice to travel to a well known place and to stay in a familiar lodging.

Epilogue

For me, it was in every case a superior balloon flight. The most beautiful, most exciting, most straining, longest, most distant, most adventurous but also most successful flight.

Such a long Gordon Bennett flight is an extreme strain and can be stood only by offering all physical and psychological power. But also, the human part must fit. With Jürgen, I have found a co-pilot, to whom I feel close friendship and with whom coordination in the basket works excellent and creates much of fun.

Generally, I continued with this flight at the point, where Gustav Vornbäumen and I had to finish two years ago. Then we had to land at the Czech border and thus being banned to the last rank, even if D-EUREGIO had the most north position of all balloons also at this 33rd Gordon Bennett race¼

Let’s hope together, that the East will open wider and that the next Gordon Bennett races also make possible other distant flights in this direction.

My great hope is that the Gordon Bennett Cup will stay in Germany longer than just one year. That we may not get left behind with the material. Net-less balloons and some more improvements are necessary, to achieve the same amount of ballast, Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz take with them to the race every year.

Good luck and success to the 1992 Gordon Bennett race.

Volker Kuinke

34th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennet - Lech am Arlberg (AUT) 1990

Start: Lech am Arlberg, Austria September 2nd   

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

Swiss balloon pilot Rolf Sutter, competitor in that race, had written a report, containing some constructive ideas. Let’s him describe first:

Can you imagine the atmosphere, if a whole village supports a balloon event? If the population is more worried about the weather than the official meteorologist? Lech am Arlberg, situated at 1500 meters above sea level, was host for the second time. Not only the wonderful launch field in the middle of beautiful nature, but also the support of the whole population was reason enough for the organizers, to choose this village in Vorarlberg for a second (perhaps a third?) time.

So the organizers (Team Polar from Voesendorf) could rely on proved and well known structures. Even before the race great work had been done: Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and even the authorities responsible for the ADIZ gave written permission allowing balloon flights in their territory.

Was that the reason, why championship director Helmut Kocar could welcome all the pilots, observer, volunteers and friends with a little smile at the welcome party on Friday? The next day however, he had to turn on all his charm of Vienna style to declare the meteorological situation, given by meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel, as unflyable. The next briefing was set to Saturday, 1 p.m. Kocar struggled hard, to make a decision, free of an advantage or disadvantage for anybody.

On Saturday afternoon the clouds became fewer according to Pümpel’s prognosis, but only for a few, too few hours. But there was hope grew for Sunday morning. The detailed explanations of the meteorological situation said to expect a launch on Sunday morning. So the balloons should be inflated in the evening and during the night, a final decision should be made at 8 a.m. next morning. More prolongation of the launch window was impossible. Why are there not more days reserved to fly such an international event?

Starkbaum/Scholz from Austria and two or three other crews decided to have their balloons inflated. Levin/Rider from the USA, for the first time with a balloon of the same construction as the five time winners from Austria, also decided for an inflation at night. With the rain, it became calm on the launch field. Do we really start tomorrow? And where will the voyage end? Probably, the sky of Lech was never so much inspected as at this night of Saturday to Sunday, September 2nd, 1990.

At 5 a.m. in the morning, only a few single clouds were left, but almost no chance, to make telephone contact with the meteorologists at the airports of Munich, Innsbruck, Vienna, Milano or Zurich, the telephones were overburden. (By the way: A warm thank you to all meteorologists, your prognosis had been absolutely right!)

Soon the friendly talk with other competitors should also come to an end. Briefing at 8 a.m.: Weather sufficient for a launch until 11 a.m., it had to be launched before the next thunderstorm clouds would approach. Decision (with a slightly worn out charm of Vienna style) to launch from 9 a.m. on. Everybody started to rush, everyone, who had not inflated yet, wanted to have gas, but the inflation team of the gas trailers wanted to have breakfast. And why does our Swiss teams still want to do everything without a coach?

Now confusion started. Minutes of anxious waiting for gas, other anxious minutes. Is there time enough to copy the wind trajectories to the maps? Where is the jury to seal the barographs, where are the safety inspectors to check the radios, transponders and last but not least the electrical supply? And damn, just at that moment, the guys from the TV station wants to have an interview, when we had not yet prepared everything.

It is not the coach, who should care for all of this. Even Joschi Starkbaum gets nervous from this hurrying. Always calm Levin looses orientation in his own chase car, and the balloon of Fink/Oberseider almost lifts off without pilots and basket. The question is asked, why should not a coach take over some general functions and specific duties.

Meanwhile, it had become 9:30 a.m. and under the sounds of the national anthems the procedure of launch began with the balloon Austria I. Until balloon number 6 was to be launched, the time between the launches became longer and longer.

While Wallace/Fairbanks, Hyde/Gorell (both teams from the USA) and Spenger/Stoll (Switzerland) – whose light build net had torn at several places during inflation and had to be repaired first with the help of a ladder – were still equipping their baskets with material, the rest of the competitors had already launched one after the other. But ironically, up to one hour after launch most of the balloons still stood above the launch field in an altitude of about 3000 meters above sea level watching each other until Sjuts/Derks from Germany were the first to discover wind from 70 degrees with 15 knots at 3500 meters above sea level and went away. Follow them as in a hare and hound competition or being an individual and try to find another way? What was with the thunderstorms in the south? And what did the insistently words of Dr. Pümpel mean? Well, up there in the air, the racing fever catches everybody. Soon the sound of their own national anthem can’t be heard from the ground anymore and also the words of Dr. Pümpelwho had said farewell to each crew with a handshake again warning them from the thunderstorms in the south have faded away.

So Lewitz/Wagner (Austria), Kuinke/Schubert (Germany), Nater/Anderegg (Switzerland) und Fraenckel/Stuart-Jevis (American Virgin Islands), start chasing 71 year old German school teacher Helma in the balloon D-CONTINENTALE.

Experienced Levin/Rider (USA), being in the race for the third time, stay low in the valley and wait. What is their plan? Makne/Antkowiak (Poland) know about their heavy balloon and follow the others only slowly below 3500 meters.

Osterwalder/Sutter (Switzerland) leading the way for Hyde/Gorell (USA) who had now also launched in D-ASPEN flying up to 5000 meters, there heading towards 180 degrees at 25 kilometres an hour. After Spenger/Stoll in balloon JURA had also launched shortly before noon, the chase crews and observers take to the road. First position reports can be heard from Arosa, Chur and St.Moritz, that’s the reason why so many cars with a balloon trailer enter Switzerland at the border station of Buchs.

There is quite a good discipline on the radio. "Do you also need as much sand as I do?" "Do you see the cumulonimbus?" No matter if in Austrian, Polish, English or Swiss language, the frightened questions sound all the same. Soon one can watch 11 competitors moving towards the Engadin, while two try to steal away to the southeast at more than 5000 meters. Nater/Anderegg (Switzerland) in balloon RENTSCH try to fly low in the Swiss Rhine valley. They hope for a local wind, called "Bise", leading them to the high Alps, that may be seen in the cloudless sky of Switzerland. But descending, they don’t make much speed, so they decide to stay high, were they see two thunderstorm clouds right ahead of their track. But bearings indicate, that their flight may pass right in between them.

In balloon HB-BFC JURA the pilots gets wind information from a Balair airplane from Basel. A world champion in ballooning, who flew from Zurzach, frequently announces his heading at 270 degrees. Balloon POLARSTERN has eager discussions with Zurich Info about the weather in the South, while Levin/Rider in a similar constructed balloon try to catch their chase crew on the radio, because they want to land at Sondrio.

Then anxious minutes follow: For the Austrian defender of the title, the variometer indicates a fall of 5 meters per second, the needle is at the end of the scale. Each pilot has two bags of sand ready for dump as they watch the situation. A few meters next to the wire of a mountain cableway the POLARSTERN stands still. Without dumping any ballast, the balloon stays stable and flies westwards in the valley of the Engadin. The wisps of clouds all around move in the same direction. That’s good, so they keep this position. Over the mountain of Maloja with the evening sun throwing its last beams to the massive mountain of the Bernina, they would make some wonderful pictures. Then the five times Gordon Bennett winner climbs back to 3000 meters and is astonished about the radio silence and the loneliness in the air. Where are the other balloons?

In the area of Bergamo, other competitors are also wondering. But at that time, they mostly wonder about how just a few minutes may become an eternity. The cumuli and cumulonimbi, observed by Nater/Anderegg pull so strongly that even several bags of sand they sacrificed could not keep them away. They fall into the clouds, with snow, hail, rain and the needle of the variometer at the end of the scale makes them expect unpleasant things. They finally land in thick fog having to leave everything behind and walking for ¾ of an hour until they find a four wheel drive car with its owner, who brings them in two hours to the next village on roads which are more like the bed of a creek.

What are the Polish competitors doing? They land without seeing anything or knowing, where they are, it is absolutely dark. When deflating the envelope, it falls on the roof of a house creating some scratching noise and awakening the sleeping inhabitants of the house. Shocked, they come to see, what’s going on in the complete darkness. Everybody, who is shocked, will probably use his native language in his first shout. "What are you doing there?" made the pilots listening twice, because they heard these words – in Polish language! This night became a survival party among balloon pilots and Polish living in the exile.

Thunderstorms on the south side of the Alps, even in the plain of the river Po. When does this ever happen? Osterwalder, who had done more than half a hundred alpine balloon flights, had never before seen a thunderstorm in Italy. Anxious minutes also for him when he made his SOLVAY falling from 5300 meters through snow and rain down to 2600 meters, where he came out of the clouds over a mountain pasture. He manages a smooth low flight for two hours, providing him at last the kilometres necessary, to get ahead of all the other balloons caught in the thunderstorm.

Did Spenger/Stoll take profit from their late launch? They decide to fly the night. But more and more lightning and flashes illuminate the night. So they also have to look for a landing place at night.

"Do you know, how the heart beats? Did you know, that one can see the heartbeat even through three sweaters you have on?" Fred Hyde is a doctor and talked about how he had to endure frightening moments with his heart. Over the Adriatic Sea, over the water, running out of ballast. When Gorell sees land under the basket in the early morning both pull the vent line and are lucky to set feet on Yugoslavian earth.

But who is still in the air? This question is also asked by the camera team of the ORF. They even manage, to be at the landing of the repeat winning team and to film it. For the second time a victory three times in a row! That has never before happened at a Gordon Bennett race.

What do you think? Starkbaum/Scholz have additional information, others don’t have? Both take profit from things, other pilots can’t find out? Yes, true. The new victory has the reason, that they have something more. But not what you think!

Scholz is a subtle gas balloon pilot, he understands his partner without a single word. Starkbaum proves his subtlety in a gas balloon by his numerous hot air flights. And both prepare for every competition mentally and organizationally. They also take profit from a personal milieu, only champions have. But ask them yourself, you will see, they also only use water for cooking.

Of course, the lightly build balloon allows more ballast. But how did the balloon look in the morning light after inflation? – Like a plum. Of course, Starkbaum’s job offers an advantage in the air. But information about the wind from pilots of airplanes are useless, because they fly at altitudes, where there are no competing balloons. Of course the professional language of the radio is of an advantage, but this can be learned by the others as well if they are interested. Of course, also their coach, working in the background, has his influence. But why don’t we learn, that a coach may have a good influence on teamwork? Of course, the repeat winning crew took profit from their instruments. Yes, they were equipped with the newest navigational aids, but they did not rely on them alone, they also used the normal instruments and in addition had to carry with them a heavy video camera and tape recorder.

I think also Starkbaum/Scholz had been nervous at launch as never seen before. Also, both had more weight than in the previous years. Also, both had to face the same frightening minutes as all the others and did not believe after the landing, that they had won again. So all the others are more or less second winners.

Some more critical remarks about the organization. In former times, better service was provided. Chase crews were not given wrong information, leading to a 1200 kilometres trip by car for nothing. Also a map with little flags, showing the provisional position reports and landing spots was hung up somewhere. But in former times, there were also pilots, who paid a drink for the observer and did not leave him back somewhere on a road in Italy. This incident should normally lead to a severe penalization.

Rolf Sutter

Some explanation must be added to the last remark in the previous article.

The Balloon Federation of America had nominated somebody completely unknown to Europeans as competitor. This gentleman obviously wanted to use the Gordon Bennett-Race to improve his publicity. He showed up with a crew of 15 persons including journalists and cameramen, who registered every move and every word of the pilot. It came out, that this gentleman was a candidate for the election to a political committee in the USA and obviously wanted to demonstrate to his voters what a tough guy he was. The whole gang chased him but did not manage to film the landing. At least, they found a half empty balloon in a backyard at Verona. So more film takings and interviews.

Money seemed not to be important. But – to pay the lodging and food for the observer, as it is required by the rules, was not in the budget. When the observer then became a little "loud", they simply left him back on the landing place in Italy and drove off!¼ A German crew, who just happened to pass by and recognized the stranded observer, took him back home.

The 34th Gordon Bennett Race is over. A race, that will have a special place in the history. The sixth cup came to final possession, in the shortest time possible, three years after donation by the own nation. Did this happen before? We have to look back to 1932, to find something similar. In 1932, the cup, donated by Henry Ford in 1929 was finally won by the Americans Settle/Bushnell after three races, interrupted by the world economic crisis of 1931.

Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz won (in their seventh race) for the sixth time in an uninterrupted row. Was there an example before? Unforgettable Ernest Demuyter from Belgium had gained six victories between 1920 and 1937, but with four different co-pilots (Labrousse, Veenstra, 2 x Coeckelbergh and 2 x Hoffmans) and needed 18 races for this. Demuyter was considered most successful balloon pilot of all the times until today, Starkbaum/Scholz have overtaken him. So it seems to be more the small, weak ballooning nations, who create outstanding pilots, even if there was an Van Orman (USA), Bienaimé (France), Schaeck and Armbruster (Switzerland) or Erbslöh and Gericke (Germany), many others who could also be mentioned here.

Was the 34th Gordon Bennett a great race? A race, that could keep up with the others in its drama, the organization, the results? – I think yes, there were great demands for all involved in the race. First of all, meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel must be mentioned. Until Thursday before the planned launch, his job seemed to be easy, almost unnecessary. A perfect summer, the weather could be called. But then the disaster came! "I can’t tell you, when this damn mass of cold air allows an improvement of the weather", was his standard prognosis. On Saturday, the clouds were almost down to the launch field, a flight was impossible. "If there is an improvement, then it will come quick and won’t be of a long duration" was the crucial information for championship director Helmut Kocar. He permitted inflation, ordered four men of the fire brigade to guard the balloons over night (four because that’s the number needed to play cards), so that a launch would be possible without further delay if the weather window would open. It was not far away from a final cancellation, it would have been the first one in the history of these races.

So the launch of a Gordon Bennett Race was postponed, this also had never happened before for weather reasons (even if it would have been appropriate several times). A postponing of the original date had already happened in 1907, otherwise the housewives of St. Louis would not have been able, to cook a warm dinner for her husbands on Sunday because of low gas pressure. In that year, the balloons launched on Monday evening, this year on Sunday morning.

The drawn sequence of launch became a little mixed up, some balloons were still being inflated, when those who were ready were already carried to the launch platform. Two teams also tried to be tricky, to delay their launch. They may have thought, the weather would still improve, but their calculation turned out wrong. Starkbaum/Scholz went off first for this voyage, they saw (and heard) from upcoming thunderstorms on the line Engadin – Milano, "parked" their balloon downwind in a valley, and flew on, when most of the others had overtaken them and had to land because of the thunderstorms. First to launch of the Americans was Fred Hyde and he caught a drift to the Southeast, crossed the Adriatic Sea in front of the thunderstorms and landed in the area of Split on Monday morning. He was the only one who took profit from the opening of the borders of the states on the Balkan (except Albania).

The flight of the other balloon went to the South, only three of them flew to the night. Karl Spenger’s balloon JURA had a damage on its net before launch and the fire brigade had to come with a ladder to repair it so he could not fly off before 11:45 a.m. With this balloon he did not want to fly through the night. After having crossed the Alps he came back to earth in the Reggio Emilia a little before 9 p.m.

Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis were the surprise in the race. They had a brand new balloon, light fabric with a net of plastic and a lightweight basket, but the material was not important at this race. The reason, why nobody thought they might make a good result, was their lack of experience. It was said that Fraenckel had four and Stuart-Jervis only two gas balloon flights before. Their fourth place is remarkable under these circumstances.

Except the four teams mentioned above, all the others landed right in time, before the thunderstorm broke out. Nater/Anderegg and Levin/Rider had some problems with the recovery of the balloons, but they could be solved with the use of mules and helicopters. The distances they achieved was more a result of the time of launch and the next possibility to land than of the courage or skill of the pilots. No damage to persons or equipment, that was the most important.

Thomas Fink describes his flight:
The flight was extremely unstable: The tops of the clouds rose higher and higher and they went up and down. Günter had to watch the variometer and to shovel sand permanently. After crossing the Austrian/Swiss border south of Schrunz, the wind came more and more from the North, we flew above a closed layer of clouds. When the clouds opened up again, we were directly over Davos. The flight went on in the direction of the Upper-Engadin. The bulging of the clouds became still higher, the flight still more unstable and the ballast less. At an altitude of 3000 meters over the airfield of Samedan we almost stood still. Above the Piz Bernina in our flight path stood dangerous looking cumulus clouds. Behind them, in upper Italy, one could already see the anvil shaped tops of the thunderstorm clouds. What should we do? "Park it" in the Engadin and waiting for better weather or continuing the flight on? We decided for the latter, dumped a few shovels of sand and took up speed again. We flew over Pontresina and the glacier of Morteratsch directly toward the Piz Palü. We crossed the summit at 4:15 p.m. Without the mountains of clouds ahead, we would enjoyed this spectacular nature below us much more.

A little time later we climbed at 1 meter per second up to 4800 meters, and a cloud overtook us from below! A few minutes later, it went down like in an elevator. We fell for 2000 meters, until we saw the ground in the picturesque valley of Togno. No faster than walking speed, we flew along the valley heading south. So we had time, to count the ballast left and to think about our next steps. In the South, it still looked like thunderstorms. To reach the plain of the river Po, we had to cover another 75 kilometres, the track would lead over several mountains, more than 3000 meters high.

So the weather looked very bad in the south, which was also reported to us by other balloons so we decided to land at 7 p.m. The landing was absolutely soft on a lawn in 1600 meters, about 200 meters next to the end of an alpine road. We deflated the balloon, then I walked off for a telephone. After 45 minutes, I came to the little village of Bondone. They had no telephone there, but some people with a car. My lack of Italian language was more than equalized by the helpfulness of the mountain farmers. In a rusty Seat Marbella they brought me to Corono. There was an inn with a telephone.

Starkbaum/Scholz had waited. The thunderstorm was over and now at night they wanted to fly to Italy. Milano Info told them, that ballooning at night in Italy was not permitted, but Milano tower accepted their flight plan. But they insisted for information on how long and to which place the flight was planned. With " 24 hours to Brindisi", they were satisfied. Now the two pilots only had to navigate with care and not to approach the coast too early.

A camera team of the ORF was on the chase. They wanted to film the landing, whatever happened. Maybe, they haven’t taken enough films with them, or they needed sufficient sunlight, from Monday afternoon on they asked for a landing. They made the chase crew radio to the balloon, that all the others had already landed, the one with the longest distance was at Split in Yugoslavia. But to trust a radio information? – Bad surprises with this had happened in former years. – The wind increased and turned further to the West. Brindisi and the gulf of Tarent was still far away but ballast was sufficient for a second night. What should be done, having the Adriatic Sea ahead at the gulf of Manfredonia in the middle of the night?

"We will not fly the second night", it came from the radio. "Come to the valley of Sangro, there we might land". Indeed, after a flight of 692 kilometres in 33 hours and 20 minutes, chase-crew, observer and camera team were present at the landing. At Castiglione they celebrate the flight, being almost sure, to have won again. German observer Walter Benedikter from the Alpine Balloon Club in Sonthofen, having flown the Alps as pilot by himself for several times, was lucky to be present there.

Friday, September 7th, 1990. In the hotel "Arlberg" at Lech the competitors meet for the solemn awards banquet. The tourist office of the well known village of winter sports and the major sponsor make the ceremony an impressive festival. The sixth Gordon Bennett Cup is now finally in Austria, a country, this crystal ball never had to leave. A seventh cup will follow, that’s sure, because Starkbaum/Scholz want to dispel the last doubts, that they are the best pilots of the world in gas ballooning (and Demuyter is only caught up to, not overtaken).

33rd Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Lech am Arlberg (AUT) 1989

Start: Lech am Arlberg, Austria September 16.   

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

How quickly changing situations are considered to be normal can be seen from the reports written shortly after the flight. Two month before the peaceful revolution happened in the German Democratic Republic and all the changes which came to the whole communist block, things, that appear normal today, were a sensation. Will anybody remember in a few years, how completely the "Iron Curtain" separated the people? How a sport, crossing borders was put into chains?

One situation in this race makes us laughing, looking back. The Swiss crew Spenger/Messner had already crossed former Czechoslovakia, when they decided to land behind the border at Poland. By radio, they ordered their chase crew, to drive to Poland. The Austrian observer, travelling with them in the car, had no visa for Poland. The ground crew thought, they might be back immediately after recovering the balloon, so they left back the Austrian on the Czechoslovakian side of the border, to wait. It is not important, that the wind turned, the pilot had made a mistake in navigation, or the borderline had a corner at this place because they landed unfortunately not in Poland, but in Czechoslovakia. The crew was now split, pilots and observer (without knowing about each other) in one, the chase-crew in another country. When the chase crew wanted to travel back to Czechoslovakia, the entry was not permitted, because their transit visa had already been used up. To return to Czechoslovakia, they had to request a new visa from the Czech consulate.

It took two days, until they got a new visa from Krakau. Then they could pick up the observer and went for the pilots and the balloon.

On September 6th, 1989, the Austrian Aero Club received a telex message from the Department of Traffic of the German Democratic Republic, Head Office Civil Aviation:

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

Concerning your request of June 29th, 1989, I would like to advise you, that the entry of the airspace and the landing on the territory of the German Democratic Republic is permitted for the competitors of the 33rd Gordon Bennett Balloon Race between September 15th and 17th 1989, if it is required by the meteorological conditions.

This was followed by some sanctions, but they were quite normal and could be performed easily. Doing this, the German Democratic Republic had reacted positively on a request for the first time. All the years before, the entry was never permitted, due to "overcrowded airspace", if they answered at all. About one year later, the German Democratic Republic did not exist anymore.

The cheering about this good news came to a quick end, when the headquarter of the US army withdrew their permission from 1988, to enter the ADIZ, the day before launch. (The ADIZ, Air Defence and Identification Zone, was a strip, 40 kilometres wide, along the borders to the communist block, in which ballooning was not permitted). No begging by telephone from the race officials could change this decision of the mighty ones. It finally was American competitor Joe Kittinger, retired colonel of the US forces, who convinced his former comrades to change their minds. A short time before launch, permission for entry was received.

On the other side, now somebody of the Yugoslavian administration felt ignored or otherwise treated bad, on the day of the launch, they sent the prohibition to enter or land. Rumania also could not decide, to open its borders, the Soviet Union was not even asked as the organizers of the race considered it as improbable to fly into their territories. So entry permission was given for the following countries of the communist block: German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. And that was exactly the direction, to which the meteorologist promised, the voyage would go.

When meteorologist Dr. Pümpel gave his prognosis on the day before launch, only very optimistic people believed him, because it was raining cats and dogs. Many began to get used to the idea that the race would be cancelled or postponed for meteorological conditions for the first time. This had happened never before although it may have been appropriate in some years. Also never before was the race launched in the high mountains. Seefeld (1987) was, compared to Lech am Arlberg, as being in a "hilly landscape".

Dr. Pümpel proved to be right. On Saturday the rain stopped, and from noon on, the situation clearly improved. At 6 p.m. the balloons were inflated and almost no cloud could be seen in the sky. It could begin. After some speeches of the Major of Lech, Kommerzienrat Schneider, and the Governor of Vorarlberg, Mister Purtscher, the first balloon carried to the platform was new D-COLUMBUS, finished three days before launch and flown by Americans Joe Kittinger and Bob Snow. On the tops of the surrounding mountains the mountain rescue service illuminated fires. Exactly at 8 p.m. the American national anthem was played, at 8:01 p.m. the balloon lifted off. In a sequence of three minutes the other balloons followed and at 8:40 p.m. the launch was completed. Still for a long time the beacons of the balloons could be seen in the sky over Lech, and many spectators felt sand in their hair on the way home.

The drawn launch sequence at the "Schmelzhofwiese" in Lech on September 16th, 1990:

USA

Joe Kittinger/Robert Snow

D-COLUMBUS

POL

Waldemar Ozga/Piotr Szary

SP-BZR POLONIA

SUI

Gerold Signer/Silvan Osterwalder

HB-BJB SOLVAY

GER

Thomas Fink/Erich Märkl

D-AUGSBURG

AUT

Josef Starkbaum/Gert Scholz

OE-PZS POLARSTERN

USA

Lawrence "Fred" Hyde/ Dewey Reinhard

HB-MOTOR COLUMBUS

POL

Stefan Makne/Grzegorz Antkowiak

SP-BZO POLONEZ

SUI

Karl Spenger/Martin Messner

HB-BFC JURA

GER

Helma Sjuts/Alfred Derks

D-CONTINENTALE

USA

Randy Woods/Gordon Boring

D-ASPEN

SUI

Alfred Nater/Otto Anderegg

HB-BGN BAD ZURZACH

GER

Volker Kuinke/Gustav Vormbäumen

D-EUREGIO

On Sunday morning, hot air balloons woke up the citizens of Lech with the noise of their burners. They should have drawn attention to the event the day before, now they finished it for weather reasons.

At that time, the gas balloons were already flying over Upper Austria heading east. The meteorologist had forecast a wind coming from the southwest in lower layers. Flying to the northeast would mean the most possible distance. But this wind was so slow and it would have taken days to reach the Baltic Sea at Poland. The experienced pilots had realized this soon, and kept away from leaving the high altitudes with the faster winds.

On Sunday evening, the first landing reports were received in the competition center. The two Polish crews had some language problems with ATC at the airport of Vienna and landed not far from there. Germans Kuinke/Vormbäumen had flown the lower altitudes, were pushed too much to the north and realized, that their chance was gone. They landed that evening at Vilshofen in Bavaria. American doctor "Fred" Hyde thought of the health of his patients in American and was afraid that his absence was not good for them. He landed as soon as he saw Hungarian soil underneath him. Randy Woods and Gordon Boring came back to earth in Czechoslovakia northeast of Vienna before nightfall, at the same time Swiss Alfred Nater and Otto Anderegg were over the airport of Budapest and finished their flight there.

Six crews intended to fly the second night, but two of them could not do it Gerold Signer and Silvan Osterwalder from Switzerland had reached the east end of Czechoslovakia in the fast layer. It was 10 p.m. local time when they landed. Another six hours longer our irrepressible Helma Sjuts flew. In January she had become 70 years "young" and her co-pilot, Alfred Derks was 31 years younger. The reason for her landing was not a problem of her age, the controllers of Bratislava airport had ordered her to a low altitude and then sent her up again. This had used up a lot of ballast. Now she had three bags of sand left and was ahead of the Carpathian mountains. Her decision, to land in front of the mountains for safety reasons, was right, even if the landing had to be done in the middle of the night. At Ostrava, former Mährisch-Ostrau, they came back to earth in a field. There was of course no help in the middle of the night, so protected by the basket and covered with the envelope, they slept till sunrise.

Monday morning saw four crews still in the air, three of them already far down in Hungary. Joe Kittinger and Bob Snow gave up after sunrise. They made 809 kilometres and ranked 3. Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz had again (as often) the best sense for the fastest winds. Before noon, they were on the border between Hungary and Romania, flying on was not permitted. 911,2 kilometres in 37 hours, no other balloon in this race could have come farther. The fifth victory in a row was safe. Thomas Fink and Erich Märkl came close up to them, but two hours later. Austrians and Germans went to the same restaurant for lunch, while Karl Spenger and Martin Messner were still in the air.

The result of Swiss Spenger/Messner shows, how much slower the wind closer to the ground was. They flew more than five hours longer than Starkbaum/Scholz, but 180 kilometres shorter. This was only good for rank 5. Their landing adventure was described earlier.

On Wednesday the results were finalized. The organization staff at Lech had done good work, together with the outstanding performance of the observers. On Friday, seven crews and the officials met for the awards ceremony in the hotel "Post". The Americans, who had travelled home and two crews from northern Germany, who considered a second trip to Lech to be too far, missed one of the most solemn ceremonies. For the ballooning in Germany, rank 2 for Fink/Märkl was the best result since 1928, so for the awards dinner even the President of the German balloon-federation, Walter Müller, came from Essen. The party ended after daybreak but nobody felt sorry for the long night with friendly meetings and talking among sportsmen of different nations.

A Gordon Bennett Race, that can be compared with those before the war, was over. It brought new development in material and equipment to our sport. Four completely new balloons with much lighter fabric were put into service. The distances and durations they achieved, prove the quality of the material and the crews. The lightest balloons, POLARSTERN and AUGSBURG, were not at their limit, when they landed. They transported quite a lot of sand from Austria to Hungary and could have flown another day, if Romania would have been open. Starkbaum/Scholz as the faster ones, surely would have won even then, they are absolutely the best. Thomas Fink is the youngest in the leading group, he provides hope for German ballooning in future races. He talks about his flight to the Romanian border:

First we tried, according to the strategy we had chosen before, to fly low, to leave the valley of the river Lech to the north. It worked slowly, but it worked. 2 to 3 kilometres north of the Lech it turned more and more towards a rock face, so we had to dump ballast to stay clear of the mountain. We climbed to 2900 meters ASL, where we sped up. In a quite stable flight we flew to the northeast across southern Bavaria that night. Such a night in a balloon with full moon over the Alps is always an unforgettable experience. After the launch, the sky in the west was still bright, in the east already dark, the mountain rescue service had set up fires on all the mountain tops around. Later we could see the valley of Obersdorf and to the foothills of the Alps. To the east, the mountain Zugspitze was a good point for orientation and we soon realized that we would pass it in the north. The flight passed the town of Oberammergau, north of Gmund on the Tegernsee, between Rosenheim and Bad Aibling and north of the Chiemsee. Over Seebruck, our logbook reads: 3:13 a.m., altitude 2880 meters, 20 bags of ballast, 28 kilometres an hour in direction of 73 degrees, Salzburg and Munich visible.

Crossing the river Salzach, we entered Austria. At sunrise, the heading became exactly east. We were curious, what altitude our balloon would now reach by superheating, because we had already been up to 3100 meters for a short time at night. To our surprise, the maximum was 3380 meters and it seems that a new and well sealed balloon has lot of advantages. We did not see many of the other balloons at that time, but radio contact with balloons from Augsburg and the competitors of the annual "Autumn Balloon Race" at Gendorf offer the opportunity, to send greetings home and to our relay station. As the bee flies, the track was heading straight towards the town of Wiener Neustadt and the atmosphere on board was good.

ATC at Vienna airport made a perfect work of guiding the traffic around the balloons. At 2:20 p.m. we reached Hungarian territory at Drassburg for the first time. Soon it went back to Austria, across the lake of Neusiedel, then again Hungary. Unfortunately, it became slower and turned more and more left towards Czechoslovakia. We had to think about our strategy for the rest of the race. With 17 bags of ballast left at 5:10 p.m. there was no question, to fly the second night. Shall we stay high and fly on over Hungary further to the east, or shall we try to reach Poland by flying over Czechoslovakia, where we would have more space to fly on? We decided for the first option.

Crossing the border from Hungary to Czechoslovakia was quite normal, as usual one controller handed us over to the next one. A surprise, when Bratislava Radar explained, that visual flights at night were not permitted in Czechoslovakia. At once I asked, if instrumental flights with balloons are permitted. No problem, so for the first time in my life, I flew officially IFR with a balloon. When the sunset at 7:25 p.m. near Nova Zamky, we had 11 bags of ballast left and during the next night we needed only three of them.

The track was now heading towards the High Tatra, which Erich did not love so much. Suddenly, in front of us cumuli were rising, obviously created by cold air slipping uphill on the mountains. To stay clear of them, we sacrificed one bag climbing to 3300 meters where we suddenly had a heading of 105 degrees. With this track, we were over Hungary again some hours later. At 10:45 p.m. the cross bearings with the VOR as well as our transponder echoes on the screen of Bratislava Radar indicated, that we had reached the Hungarian border at Balasagyarmat. If the flight continued like this, we would have reached the Hungarian/Romanian border, which we were not allowed to cross, before sunrise. To avoid this, we descended at 2:30 a.m. to fly low and more slowly for a while. This happened close to the Hungarian town of Eger. Close to the ground, it was 20 to 30 degrees warmer than in the altitude, and soon all of our equipment started to fog up and our maps became damp. Slowly we drifted at some hundred meters to the east-north-east. Estimated 15 degrees C, together with the humidity, was felt by us as almost tropical. We believed, that with a track between 110 and 70 degrees as we had the day before, we could easily fly into the best tip of the borderline.

So we climbed back to 2000 meters. After a spectacular sunrise (in a movie it would have been blamed as kitsch), we had to realize that we were pushed more and more to the south and there was no wind at any altitude bringing us more to the north. So a little after 8 a.m. local time we were already close to the border and the chase crew was right underneath!

Having still seven bags left and flying over perfect terrain for landing, I tried to gamble a little. In fact, I managed to bring the balloon a few more kilometres to the north making our total distance a little longer. But we then had to realize, that we would need more than the whole day, to reach our optimal target. It also seemed improbable, that a wind to the north, to be found only in a layer of 200 meters thickness, would keep the whole day. At 11:15 a.m. we decided to land. Our balloon performed flawlessly, as it did the whole flight. One pull on the vent, we descended, the balloon stabilized by its own. Another pull on the vent, and we went down. Even for the landing without using the trail rope, we did not need more than three shovels of sand. To allow our chase crew to see the landing live, we hovered for a few minutes close to the ground. When the Volkswagenbus appeared from behind the forest, we landed at 11:45 a.m., very smooth.

Erich and I shook hands for we had both broken our personal records in distance and duration. A great hello also came from the chase crew, who had surpassed a wearing long voyage. Packing the balloon was routine, then we drove to the next village, where observer Oliver di Giorgo could get a stamp mark for confirmation before we continued to the next larger town, Debrecen.

Soon our observer discovers a nice hotel and we all are happy to have a shower we had missed for so long. It is the same hotel, where Joschi Starkbaum, Gert Scholz and their crew stay. At least at the settlement after the landing, we had levelled up with them. In the evening, we all go by taxi to the Puszta for a typical Hungarian dinner on a horse ranch (also organized by Oliver), followed by ten hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep.

The next morning we went to the police department for immigration together with our observer and a lady from the hotel as interpreter. We were in a country which required visas but we neither had one nor a registration of entry in our passports. After the gentlemen there, having read the permissions of their government, we had got from the competition centre in English and Hungarian, they were convinced of our innocence, congratulated us for our balloon flight and promised to organize the needed documents as soon as possible. The guys there were really very friendly and helpful, but "as soon as possible" is measured with a rubber tape in Hungarian offices. Not before noon could we leave for home. On dead straight roads we quickly passed the Puzsta for Budapast, where I took a Lufthansa flight to get back to work quickly. The crew continued for home via Vienna and Munich.

I am sure, that with this flight we had come close to the limits of our personal abilities. Why does man do this, having a comfortable bed at home? Any kind of sport, performed extremely, is connected with a little madness. To experience the nature at such a flight is a compensation, as well as knowing, to be among the best in the classic discipline of ballooning in long distance flight.

Joschi Starkbaum also wrote a report of his flight. It is shortened in already known details.
We had changed the construction of our balloon to "nettles", therefore another procedure of inflation is required. It is much more simple than the normal one, but the launch masters are not used to it. So I had to supervise the inflation by myself, which is not appropriate before such a long flight, sleeping would be better. But packing after the flight is much more easy then. Before launch I managed to find the time for a short sleep.

We were number five to take off. Looking to the other balloons, we realized, that up to at least 1000 meters above ground there was no determined speed. We were not completely filled and quite light, so we had a quick climb and discovered at 2500 meters a drift heading 60 degrees with a speed of 32 kilometres an hour, an optimal situation.

Slowly the noise from the launch field calmed down and we were surrounded by a wonderful quietness in a mountain world illuminated by the moonlight. For a while we just enjoyed the overwhelming impression and did totally forget, that we were in a competition. We followed the valley of the river Lech. After two hours my friend and co-pilot Gert Scholz took the controls and I laid down to sleep.

When Gert woke me up and told me, that the wind had turned more to the right, we were approaching Rosenheim. On the easterly track it went on over the Chiemsee, Oberndorf, the Attersee and the Traunsee. So the wind was still turning further to the right and a flight to Yugoslavia became probable. Contrary to the years before, we had no permission for entry this year. So we decided, to descend to the valley of the river Krems over Micheldorf, to wait there, until the high pressure area, proceeding to the east, would catch up to us, so we could continue with winds from the west again.

The ground wind pushed us slowly to the north, which met our intentions. After about two hours, at sunrise, a yellow balloon appeared in the west. Our bearings indicated, that it was flying straight to the east. So we climbed again and proceeded. First to the east, but then again turning to the southeast. Over Gusswerk, the wind turned back again, we followed the valley of the river Hall heading directly towards the Schneeberg.

Contacting Vienna approach we had realized that our transponder failed. But with accurate position reports we flew across Vienna airspace and entered Hungary with no problems. Then Thomas Fink, flying a little higher with his new lighter build balloon AUGSBURG, approached our position to within 1 kilometre. Together we flew in the direction of Györ for a while, but did not reach it. At Gabcikova we crossed the Danube and were now in Czechoslovakia. At sunset AUGSBURG, flying a little more to the north, stood back more and more, until it disappeared from sight. Now the wind turned right again and at Balassagyrmatt we were again over Hungary.

A flight above the closed layer of clouds began. The upper surface of the clouds was rough and illuminated by the moon. From time to time bulges did shoot up for 300 to 500 meters and broke down again after 2 or 3 minutes. A phantastic spectacle! After we had seen enough, we slept alternately. Though we had managed it, to spread the position reports, we had originally been ordered to be given every 15 minutes, to one hour by the salami tactic, our rest was not disturbed too much.

Two hours after we had passed Miskolc we could see the earth again. Our chase crew was always within the reach of our radio. While we were flying over Czechoslovakia, they drove parallel on Hungarian main roads, thus preventing two border crossings. At 3 a.m. we were only 30 kilometres away from the Romanian border. We did not want to land at night. So we descended slowly which reduced our speed and improved our heading to the left for a few degrees. Sunrise found us only 10 kilometres away from the border drifting towards the village of Ömböly, where we could have landed. To our great surprise, we found a wind from the west with 10 – 12 kilometres an hour just between 20 and 60 meters above ground. Because we still had sufficient ballast, we used this wind for the next two hours and flew parallel to the border. Then the wind became weaker and turned to southeast. No improvement was possible anymore, so we finally landed at the village of Batorliget, 3 kilometres from the Romanian border. Our computer on board indicates 912 kilometres from the place of launch.

Our excellent ground-crew was at the basket 3 minutes after our landing, the militia 5 minutes later. The paperwork was done quickly, also the packing of the balloon. With no local currency in our pocket, we tried to find a bureau de change, which we discovered 3 hours later in Debrecen, 80 kilometres away. While Gert was changing money, phoning and looking for a good hotel, Thomas Fink and Erich Märkl came along the street and told us, they had already checked in at a good hotel. In this discipline they had beaten us! And what’s about their landing position? After studying the map we determined, that we were ahead. Thomas was disappointed first, but recovered quickly. And the others? – No matter, we couldn’t change anything anymore.

As quick as possible we drove to the hotel to have a shower. Then I wanted to lay down on the bed just for a few minutes, but wake up more than 8 hours later in the middle of the night. Such a balloon flight must be quite strenuous.

32nd Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Bregenz (AUT) 1988

Start: Bregenz/Vorarlberg, Austria,  October 23rd.   

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

The fifth Gordon Bennett Cup, donated by Poland in 1935, had found its final resting place in Austria after 52 years. The first race for the sixth cup surpassed in its preparation and organization all other former races, launched from Austria. The new trophy was sponsored to the Austrian Aero Club by the world renown company of Swarovski of Wattens/Tyrolia, who made a gas -balloon from high quality lead crystal designed by young Dagmar Weiss. It is a cup of a beauty, words can’t express it.

Organization and competition management were hosted in the opera house at Bregenz and on the beach of the Bodensee. From its stage, a floating platform in the lake, the balloons should launch in a wonderful setting. The sunbathing lawn of the public swimming pool next to the opera house served as the place for inflation. All members of the crew and the observers were accommodated next to this place at the Mercure hotel with direct access to the gambling casino, which was little used, for all people involved thought about the strain ahead and tried to gather as much sleep and rest as possible.

Exactly three weeks before the launch of the Gordon Bennett Race, the fifth Gas Balloon World Championships at Augsburg had finished, the four teams from USA and Australia had used these two events for a longer stay in Europe. Already at Augsburg, they could admire the brand new balloon of Joschi Starkbaum, which also came to its first action at this Gordon Bennett Race. Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz had become world champions at Augsburg in a superior manner. But bad for them in connection with the Gordon Bennett Race was, that Gert Scholz had broken his ankle at the last landing of the world championship, and nobody could imagine, that he would fly as co-pilot with this handicap. Everybody was very surprised, when Gert, after an operation and with his leg in plaster, clearly explained 2 ½ days before the race: "I am flying!" The question, asked him hundreds of times in those days: "Isn’t your leg in plaster a hindrance to you", he answered quite calm: "Only if I’m walking, and I won’t get the chance to do this very much in the basket up there".

Yes, Joschi and Gert had finally got a new balloon. The times, flying for their victories in a hired balloon were over. The British balloon manufacturer Thunder & Colt had build it according to the demands of Joschi, light and with some surprising new items, such as a rip-out panel sealed with Velcro. Balloon manufacturer Woerner from Augsburg contributed basket, net and load ring. All together they formed the new, snow white OE-PZS POLARSTERN. Between 10 and 15 bags of ballast were gained by this reduction of weight, another five bags were "earned" by the pilots with a strong diet. If there would not have been the plaster on the leg of Gerd Scholz, nobody would have had doubts, that they will win again.

There was a little delay at the launch. The balloons would be launched from the floating stage in the lake. A huge motor cutter was ready, to carry the balloons there from the sunbathing lawn. According to "Murphy’s law", that something, which can fail, will fail in the worst moment, the motor of the cutter broke down exactly when the first balloon had to be transferred. If such a motor had broken down, no engineer on the world is able to restart it in front of thousands of spectators, 100 journalists, 26 pilots, 120 crewmembers and nervous officials waiting. (The next day, it started at once, as well as it did at a test the afternoon before). A little break down, the only one. The problem was solved quickly. The balloons had already been carried from the pool to a place close to the landing stage and this landing stage went out to the water for about 20 meters. So the floodlights were turned a little more to the west and the balloons were launched from there. The flight became about 50 meters longer. Here is the launch order:

8:14 p.m.

GER

D-Humana

Gustav Vormbäumen/Bernd Sundermeier

8:20 p.m.

AUT

OE-PZS Polarstern

Josef Starkbaum/Gert Scholz

8:22 p.m.

USA

HB-Motor Columbus

David Levin/James Michael Schiller

8:24 p.m.

SUI

HB-BJB Solvay

Gerold Signer/Silvan Osterwalder

8:26 p.m.

POL

SP-BZO Polonez

Stefan Makne/Grzegory Antkowiak

8:27 p.m.

AUS

D-Halfeneisen

Peter Vizzard/Steve Griffin

8:29 p.m.

GER

D-Continentale

Helma Sjuts/Alfred Derks

8:31 p.m.

USA

D-Beldrive

Randy Woods/Gordon Boring

8:33 p.m.

SUI

HB-BER Quo Vadis

Hansjörg Fröhlin/Christian Stoll

8:35 p.m.

POL

SP-BZR Polonia

Ireneusz Cieslak/Waldemar Ozga

8:37 p.m.

GER

D-Augsburg

Thomas Fink/Erich Märkl

8:39 p.m.

USA

HB-BGN Bad Zurzack

Lawrence Fred Hyde/Dewey Ch. Reinhard

8:41 p.m.

SUI

HB-BFC Jura

Karl Spenger/Alfred Nater

The story of the flight of most of the balloons is told quickly, it was almost the same as the year before, with a longer "run-up" for the jump across the Alps, but for many pilots nearly identically to 1987. This is shown by the fact, that German competitor Helma Sjuts got the same bed in the same hotel as after her landing in 1987. (It was gas balloon flight number 750 for Helma!) But some things are different and should be mentioned. Having a look at the results, one can see that there was only a difference of less than 25 kilometres between rank 1 and rank 10. And looking to the map one can see, that the villages of Nova Gradiska and Virovitica experienced an invasion of balloons.

Balloon D-AUGSBURG flew cross the Bodensee to the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, passed the town of Kempten in the south, from where the pilots could see the famous castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau with their binoculars. Then they passed between the lakes of Kochel and Starnberg, crossed the Blomberg and flew over the well known brewery inn at the Tegernsee. At Kufstein, they crossed back into Austria and headed straight towards the mountain peak of the Watzmann passing Kössen and Lofer. This was the highest obstacle at their flight. They could over fly the main ridge of the Alps at the pass of the Tauern, then they suffered from extremely cold, until they got warmed up by the raising sun over the basin of Klagenfurt. A little before 9 a.m. Yugoslavian territory was reached, but at that time they already floated above a closed layer of clouds, and soon the first signs of an approaching cold front from the north could be seen above them. A little after 4 p.m. they discovered a hole in the clouds over Virovitica and landed with three bags left beside a road where their chase crew arrived one hour later. The police were satisfied with a short glance at their passports, but that was all. Of course, it was a wonderful flight, a crossing of the Alps, 623,8 kilometres and nearly 20 hours in the air, but adventure? In our days with all the electronic possibilities for surveying, bearing and guiding in air traffic, it seems, as if the adventure came back from the air to the earth. In the old days, looking back to 1936, after they had stood the flight, the pilots, not knowing, to which place the winds had blown them, had to fight their way out to helpful people by themselves and then had to care for the salvage of the balloon. Today, the chase crew and observer are on the landing field and have had more adventures on their chase than their pilots in the air. This closes the circle. Our Mister James Gordon Bennett had already sponsored a cup for car racing in 1900. Did he have an idea, what could be experienced with cars and balloons together later?

Erich Ruckelshausen, whom we know from last year, was there also this year. He tells from his chase and the occurrences before the launch.

As place for launch, Bregenz was chosen. Not only, because it is a very charming and wonderfully situated town of the shores of the Bodensee, but also, because it is the most westerly town in Austria. Due to the dominating winds in our latitudes, one had to count on far flights to the east or southeast of Europe. Therefore, the organization had requested permission for the balloons and the retrieve crews in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia und Poland. Hard to believe, but they were successful! All competitors were supplied with copies of the permissions from these sport loving countries. So we could hope, that we would not, like the year before, have to look into the muzzles of machine pistols or the unfriendly faces of soldiers and policemen.

Meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel, who was very committed, thought that the main weather situation and so the main wind direction would be the same as the year before, but offered some more possibilities of variation. Perhaps Czechoslovakia or Poland, more probable Hungary, Yugoslavia was a "hot tip", Italy was also not bad, rumour even mentioned something about Sicilia. I don’t know if those were honest, who talked about North Africa. Anyway, there was much tension.

Before it started to become serious, there was something to laugh about at the main briefing, but the reason was pure, bad malicious pleasure. The organizer explained, why some seats in the room were empty: In the fiesta of the Gordon Bennett Cup some hot air balloons had flown from the beach of the Bodensee that day. St. Peter had blown some of these colourful roaring balls to the lake, where they ran out of gas over the water. Not at the right time of the year, as it is end of October, some of the aeronauts went swimming, and some landed on boats. One envelope is coating the lion monument at the entry of the harbor of Lindau, and one Englishman tells me, that he managed to reach the beach with his basket, but his envelope decided to have a bath in the lake. According to the local press, 21 balloonist needed dry clothing that day. Later we learn, that "journalistic license" of a reporter made a dramatic search and rescue action for the international press, even making some Gordon Bennett gas balloons falling to the water.

With some tension I am waiting for the announcement, which balloon I have to observe. I know, it won’t be the long distance fliers Starkbaum/Scholz because with them, I had the honour to stay two nights and two days almost without any sleep the year before (that I was the one, who had to fix the landing place of the winners, was only a little consolation). Last year, Gerd Scholz had to seal their hired envelope but with their new balloon they will fly even longer!

Finally I know it. I am ordered to a Polish balloon. I’m not very happy about that, for I know, how many problems with the material our friends from these "countries of progress" have.

After we had discussed our plans at the last briefing on Sunday evening, I could take a deep breathe. We will stay the night at our hotel in Bregenz! Well, why not always this way! Now it’s me, who puts some pressure on the demand, not to leave for the chase too late the next day.

The two Polish retrieve cars will stay together, because only Jurek speaks English. The other car is driven by Jack, the school director from Lezno in Poland. With him is Hans de Vos from the Netherlands as observer. Their pilot is Makne, who had won together with my pilot, Cislak, the Gordon Bennett Race from Paris in 1983. Co-pilot of Makne is Grzegory Antkowiak, who was the chief -observer at this years European Hot Air Balloon Championships in Poland. So four of us already had met at Lezno.

A little after 8 p.m. one balloon after the other lifts off. My balloon is number 10. On the dark sky, one can see the flashing of the beam lights. Thomas Fink, third the year before, does not climb high but flies low across the water. Then a lot of Swiss dialect can be heard. Spenger is the last one to start. But what is this? His co-pilot is not Martin Messner, with whom he won the cup in 1984 and made second place last year. Martin wishes Spenger a good flight. "Why don’t you fly with him?" we ask. "I have to do my military service" is the answer. "Can’t they give you a few days off?" we ask. A loud laughing from all our Swiss balloon friends around. "You have no idea of our military service! They give no mercy!"

My hurry at the breakfast next morning is silly, for the Polish seem to have all the time of the world. In the competition centre nothing is known about our balloons. Generally, the flight seems to go to Yugoslavia, but also Hungary or Czechoslovakia are possible.

A big surprise when we left. I climb into an almost brand new Polski Fiat, having run only 16.000 kilometres. At a quarter past eleven and with beautiful weather we drive in the direction of Innsbruck. The Polish have strong nerves, they do not fill up gas until half of a litter is left in the tank. We call Bregenz from the airport of Innsbruck. Three balloons have not reported, including our two.

At 4:15 p.m. we are at Salzburg. The weather had become worse. Our car proves not to be as good as it appeared. After three fuses blew, something must be wrong with the poor headlights, and some displays also don’t work anymore. We drive under the roof of a gas station. They try a lot, but nothing improves. Valuable time is lost. At about 6 p.m. I ask the petrol pump attendant for a car electrician. Yes, there is one, in Salzburg West, but he may have closed already. I am afraid, he is right, but we try it. The repair station at Salzburg West is dark, but the owner lives next door. He wants to get rid of me, work finished for today, employees are already at home, he himself has a date this evening! – I can persuade him to "have just a look". Then he becomes ambitious. He does not take a rest until a new wire is installed and an additional light is put on the trailer. Now we are again legal participants of road traffic.

After 8 p.m. we arrive at Settled and do something for our stomach which we had ignored since breakfast. After some difficulties which we already got used to, we finally can phone the competition centre at Bregenz: Lots of the balloons had landed at Zagreb, Starkbaum/Scholz are still in the air and seem to be leading, our balloons are missed – wonderful! From former days I know the hotel quite well, I can get a special rate. Even if the balloons are missing, the Polish ground crews keep totally calm. With a good beer, we finish the day.

Tuesday. After 8 a.m. we are again connected to the competition centre. We must decide now, if we drive further to the east or turn more southwards. In Bregenz they know absolutely nothing from the Polish balloons. We are the fools. So some balloons had landed near Zagreb, we decide to drive south. The post office at Clawing is our next rest. At 10:45 a.m. the guys at Bregenz tell us, balloon "Romeo" (It’s the "R" in the call sign BZR) has landed close to the Hungarian border at Virovitica. The pilots can be found in the only hotel in town. Thanks goodness! But what is on with Makes "Oscar"? – He should have reported a position south of the Ablation. That may become funny!

We speed up now. At 12:30 p.m. we arrive at the border at Spieled. We loose another hour with refuelling, changing money and phoning. In Bregenz they still don’t know any details about balloon "Oscar".

Up to Marlboro, the driving is slow and arduous, but a highway seems to be under construction. In bright sunlight, the castle of the town of Put is in front of us. Just one year ago, Starkbaums crew and me had to withstand unpleasant interrogations for five hours at the police station there. At that time we lost radio contact with the balloon by this inevitably stop. Today we feel free and easy, because we never had any radio contact to our pilots. The radios are only used for funny talks from car to car.

Darkness comes, but Virovitica is not far away. Our careful driver Ed switches on the headlights. In the next village: Stop – Police! Oh no, not the same again as last year! May I see your drivers license? But then everything resolves quickly. For Yugoslavian conditions, there is too much light on Eds noble limousine. A little turn on a switch, and everything is fine. I (with my experience) can breathe again.

Our target looks like a big city. The hotel is found quickly. Pleased and not at all impatiently we are welcomed by our pilots: They landed yesterday at 2:30 p.m. – a quite wide awake and good humoured crew. So that’s another way it works! And then we can listen to the report of pilots Cieslak and Ozga about their adventurous balloon flight:

In a low altitude they used the drift to the east. The main ridge of the Alps was crossed in the area of the Dachstein. The high wind speed created rotors there, balloon and pilots had a serious fight. Flying on would allow a landing in Hungary. The pilots of the balloon SP-BZR therefore changed their radio contact from Zagreb to Budapest – that, together with a mix up of the call signs, was the reason for the wrong information, SP-BZO was south of the Ablation. But finally the balloon drifted again to Yugoslavian territory. Three hundred meters away from the border, just behind a lake, twenty meters from an unpaved road, the basket touched ground in a field with lots of vegetation on October 24th, 1988 at 2:27 p.m.

The decision for landing was made, because Zagreb had reported a cloud ceiling of only 100 meters. With only 2 ½ bags of sand left, they did not want to come out of the clouds over a town or a huge forest. And after 10 hours above of the clouds, they had enough of this flight. People working on the fields helped the pilots who had fallen from the sky. This was good, because the next farm was 3 ½ kilometres away, and the little village with a telephone, Budakovac, even one kilometre more. The police confiscated the balloon and put it to a barn. Then, as friends and helpful hands, the "Milicija" brought our pilots to the hotel in the town, 25 ½ kilometres away.

And there, we want to stay over night, too. Of course, we are hungry as well. Jurek tries, using his knowledge of the Serbokroatian language, to book some rooms at the front desk. They are very unfriendly. All rooms are booked out. Really, before 6 p.m.? Finally, we have to be satisfied, that at least our pilots may stay there. But we may make a phone call. And what do they tell us at Bregenz? – They still don’t know anything of the second Polish balloon! Starkbaum/Scholz are on the ground north of Skopje, looks like another victory, the fourth in a row, a great performance.

We ask the Milicija to help us homeless persons. After some phone calls they organize a hotel in a village, 30 kilometres away. There they are friendly, the meal is good, beer and a bottle of Polish vodka create a wonderful atmosphere. For the normal standard of the country, the rooms are quite good, the linen are clean. After having had a shower, I sit down on the closed top of the water closet. With a dry cracking, it gives up its service. The hinge can’t be used anymore in the future.

After a long breakfast on Wednesday morning, we drive back to the hotel of the pilots. On the lawn in front of the house, Swiss Hansjörg Fröhlin and his crew are just repacking their balloon into a good package. I ask the pilot: "Did you sleep here?" He: "Yes, of course". – "When did you arrive?" – "Between 9 and 10 p.m., we had no problems." The Swiss team did not even get in touch with the police. I tell the story of the "totally booked out hotel" to Jurek. The Polish man is not astonished at all: "It’s the same where we come from!" Now I begin to understand. If Dutch Hans de Vos or me would have asked for rooms yesterday, presenting our passports, we would have got them, but people from a country of the "Socialist Brother"? That’s not good for business. There are, however, three categories: Capitalists, "Socialist Brothers" and own citizens. I had learned something new.

With tension we wait to be connected to Bregenz: Makne and Antkowiak have landed near Split! At last! This looks damn good for the ranking. Now we feel better. – Comrade Hans de Vos and his crew leave for Split, we for the landing spot of balloon SP-BZR, accompanied by the Milicija.

Following the police car, we rush through several villages with a speed of 80 kilometres an hour. There are children on the road, lots of geese. The corn harvest is in full run. On the farm, everything works well, a lot of people are there, also witnesses of the landing and the policeman, who confiscated the balloon and brought the pilots to town. I get my signatures from the witnesses for the competition report. Everything takes quite long because of language problems and my unreadable map. My crew chief wants to help me and fixes the landing spot on the map. As we find out later, 20 kilometres too far. Finally we have a look at the place together with the Milicija. A little further on is Hungary. I am satisfied, the landing spot is fixed.

The balloon stored in a barn is packed well and the trailer is loaded quickly. With a warm handshake, we say goodbye. Police cars for a fast passage up to Virovitica, from there we continue with legal speed.

There is a little traffic jam on the border, but the check is quick. Then we still have to pass Austrian customs. We are the only ones, who are asked to drive aside, even after I explained the situation. No mercy! I grow angry. When I want to leave the car, my Polish friends beg, to keep quiet and let the customs do, what they want to. Obviously, I don’t sound very friendly, when I ask for the intentions of the customers at their office. Again, I explain the situation. Now they almost apologize for the trouble they have made. Much more friendly, they go round our car, and don’t ask for any papers. With a handshake, they wish us farewell. The Polish are very astonished, how citizens and authorities can treat each other here.

So far the report of the observer Erich Ruckelshausen. The duties of an observer have been told in the 1987 report. For reasons of the budget, the national aero club, hosting a race, prefers observer from the own country. But that’s not always possible. The observer, the right hand of the championship director, must be independent. Any possible relation to his crew has to be excluded. Therefore, at international competitions, he has to have a different citizenship as the crew, he is ordered to. He also should not be ordered twice to the same crew. When language problems are considered, it can become quite difficult, to put the right crews and observers together. For his competitors, but also for his observers, the hosting aero club cares for the visa before the race, but he can’t do this for people from other nations. He can only recommend they look after the necessary visa by themselves. Volker Löschhorn, a young German student pilot, who always loves to serve as an observer, travelled for three days from his home town Stuttgart to the German capital Bonn prior to the race, to have the visas for Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union stamped into his passport. So well equipped he came to Bregenz and became observer for the new balloon "Polarstern" with the crew Starkbaum/Scholz. A long journey lay ahead of him. He tells:

On Sunday at 11 p.m. Arthur and Franz, the chase team of the Polarstern, me the observer and a camera team from the ORF (Austrian television) have to start the chase. The Polarstern frequently tells us the position and flight path by radio. They fly over Kufstein and Klagenfurt. In this short night with full moon, driving in the Alps is also impressive to us, and we can imagine, what a fantastic flight the competitors have. At 7 a.m. they already report to be over Yugoslavia. We cross the border at Spieled and drive in the direction of Zagreb. We can’t hope to see the balloons, above us is a closed layer of clouds, over which the balloons fly. The afternoon offers two unexpected encounters. Having a rest a little way from the highway, we meet the chase crew of the team from Australia in a little village. Later, on the highway at Nova Gradiska a balloon suddenly shows up out of the clouds next to us, to disappear again after a short time. In a rest house, we have dinner, to gain some power for the second night. On and on it goes, southwards.

On Tuesday at noon, we are at Vranje, 60 kilometres north of Skopje. We can only guess, what the intentions of the crew of the Polarstern are. Do they want to try to pass the gap between Bulgaria and Albania for Greece and stay in the air for another night, or do they have to land today? At 12:50 p.m. it’s clear: Polarstern reports, that they will start their descend soon and then land at Vranje. A little after 1:30 p.m. we get the landing report and position of the balloon. We ask a native person, who had formerly worked in Vienna and therefore speaks German, to guide us to the landing spot. It is 20 kilometres southeast of Vranje on a hill. First, we drive on paved roads, but the last kilometres are a very rough road, only accessible with four wheel drive. But even on this road, there is busy traffic. On our way to the mountain village, we overtake eight carts, pulled by oxen. Behind the village, we see the balloon, or better, the crowd of people around it. With the aid of our guide, I find two witnesses of the landing, who can write and give me their address. One of the inhabitants of the village owns a watch, I ask him for the time of the landing. The fixing of the landing -spot wasn’t very easy with the maps we had, but it could be done. Meanwhile, also the Militia took notice of us. They guide us to their headquarter at Bujanovac, 20 kilometres away. There is a long discussion with no result. We have to stay overnight. Next morning, all problems are solved and we are on the long way back.

Four times in a row and always the same crew in the basket, no competitor of a Gordon Bennett Race had won that many races up to that year. With Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz the Austrian Aero Club has two athletes, who are with no doubt the best pilots of the world at that time. They may close up or even overcome Ernest Demuyter also in the absolute number of victories. The next races will show. But it becomes harder and harder for them every year. Among the other pilots, ambitions grow and everybody wants to be the first, to beat Starkbaum/Scholz. This rises the value of a victory in this race.

THE 32nd GORDON BENNETT RACE 1988

Start: Bregenz/Vorarlberg, Austria,  October 23rd.   

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

The fifth Gordon Bennett Cup, donated by Poland in 1935, had found its final resting place in Austria after 52 years. The first race for the sixth cup surpassed in its preparation and organization all other former races, launched from Austria. The new trophy was sponsored to the Austrian Aero Club by the world renown company of Swarovski of Wattens/Tyrolia, who made a gas -balloon from high quality lead crystal designed by young Dagmar Weiss. It is a cup of a beauty, words can’t express it.

Organization and competition management were hosted in the opera house at Bregenz and on the beach of the Bodensee. From its stage, a floating platform in the lake, the balloons should launch in a wonderful setting. The sunbathing lawn of the public swimming pool next to the opera house served as the place for inflation. All members of the crew and the observers were accommodated next to this place at the Mercure hotel with direct access to the gambling casino, which was little used, for all people involved thought about the strain ahead and tried to gather as much sleep and rest as possible.

Exactly three weeks before the launch of the Gordon Bennett Race, the fifth Gas Balloon World Championships at Augsburg had finished, the four teams from USA and Australia had used these two events for a longer stay in Europe. Already at Augsburg, they could admire the brand new balloon of Joschi Starkbaum, which also came to its first action at this Gordon Bennett Race. Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz had become world champions at Augsburg in a superior manner. But bad for them in connection with the Gordon Bennett Race was, that Gert Scholz had broken his ankle at the last landing of the world championship, and nobody could imagine, that he would fly as co-pilot with this handicap. Everybody was very surprised, when Gert, after an operation and with his leg in plaster, clearly explained 2 ½ days before the race: "I am flying!" The question, asked him hundreds of times in those days: "Isn’t your leg in plaster a hindrance to you", he answered quite calm: "Only if I’m walking, and I won’t get the chance to do this very much in the basket up there".

Yes, Joschi and Gert had finally got a new balloon. The times, flying for their victories in a hired balloon were over. The British balloon manufacturer Thunder & Colt had build it according to the demands of Joschi, light and with some surprising new items, such as a rip-out panel sealed with Velcro. Balloon manufacturer Woerner from Augsburg contributed basket, net and load ring. All together they formed the new, snow white OE-PZS POLARSTERN. Between 10 and 15 bags of ballast were gained by this reduction of weight, another five bags were "earned" by the pilots with a strong diet. If there would not have been the plaster on the leg of Gerd Scholz, nobody would have had doubts, that they will win again.

There was a little delay at the launch. The balloons would be launched from the floating stage in the lake. A huge motor cutter was ready, to carry the balloons there from the sunbathing lawn. According to "Murphy’s law", that something, which can fail, will fail in the worst moment, the motor of the cutter broke down exactly when the first balloon had to be transferred. If such a motor had broken down, no engineer on the world is able to restart it in front of thousands of spectators, 100 journalists, 26 pilots, 120 crewmembers and nervous officials waiting. (The next day, it started at once, as well as it did at a test the afternoon before). A little break down, the only one. The problem was solved quickly. The balloons had already been carried from the pool to a place close to the landing stage and this landing stage went out to the water for about 20 meters. So the floodlights were turned a little more to the west and the balloons were launched from there. The flight became about 50 meters longer. Here is the launch order:

8:14 p.m.

GER

D-Humana

Gustav Vormbäumen/Bernd Sundermeier

8:20 p.m.

AUT

OE-PZS Polarstern

Josef Starkbaum/Gert Scholz

8:22 p.m.

USA

HB-Motor Columbus

David Levin/James Michael Schiller

8:24 p.m.

SUI

HB-BJB Solvay

Gerold Signer/Silvan Osterwalder

8:26 p.m.

POL

SP-BZO Polonez

Stefan Makne/Grzegory Antkowiak

8:27 p.m.

AUS

D-Halfeneisen

Peter Vizzard/Steve Griffin

8:29 p.m.

GER

D-Continentale

Helma Sjuts/Alfred Derks

8:31 p.m.

USA

D-Beldrive

Randy Woods/Gordon Boring

8:33 p.m.

SUI

HB-BER Quo Vadis

Hansjörg Fröhlin/Christian Stoll

8:35 p.m.

POL

SP-BZR Polonia

Ireneusz Cieslak/Waldemar Ozga

8:37 p.m.

GER

D-Augsburg

Thomas Fink/Erich Märkl

8:39 p.m.

USA

HB-BGN Bad Zurzack

Lawrence Fred Hyde/Dewey Ch. Reinhard

8:41 p.m.

SUI

HB-BFC Jura

Karl Spenger/Alfred Nater

The story of the flight of most of the balloons is told quickly, it was almost the same as the year before, with a longer "run-up" for the jump across the Alps, but for many pilots nearly identically to 1987. This is shown by the fact, that German competitor Helma Sjuts got the same bed in the same hotel as after her landing in 1987. (It was gas balloon flight number 750 for Helma!) But some things are different and should be mentioned. Having a look at the results, one can see that there was only a difference of less than 25 kilometres between rank 1 and rank 10. And looking to the map one can see, that the villages of Nova Gradiska and Virovitica experienced an invasion of balloons.

Balloon D-AUGSBURG flew cross the Bodensee to the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, passed the town of Kempten in the south, from where the pilots could see the famous castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau with their binoculars. Then they passed between the lakes of Kochel and Starnberg, crossed the Blomberg and flew over the well known brewery inn at the Tegernsee. At Kufstein, they crossed back into Austria and headed straight towards the mountain peak of the Watzmann passing Kössen and Lofer. This was the highest obstacle at their flight. They could over fly the main ridge of the Alps at the pass of the Tauern, then they suffered from extremely cold, until they got warmed up by the raising sun over the basin of Klagenfurt. A little before 9 a.m. Yugoslavian territory was reached, but at that time they already floated above a closed layer of clouds, and soon the first signs of an approaching cold front from the north could be seen above them. A little after 4 p.m. they discovered a hole in the clouds over Virovitica and landed with three bags left beside a road where their chase crew arrived one hour later. The police were satisfied with a short glance at their passports, but that was all. Of course, it was a wonderful flight, a crossing of the Alps, 623,8 kilometres and nearly 20 hours in the air, but adventure? In our days with all the electronic possibilities for surveying, bearing and guiding in air traffic, it seems, as if the adventure came back from the air to the earth. In the old days, looking back to 1936, after they had stood the flight, the pilots, not knowing, to which place the winds had blown them, had to fight their way out to helpful people by themselves and then had to care for the salvage of the balloon. Today, the chase crew and observer are on the landing field and have had more adventures on their chase than their pilots in the air. This closes the circle. Our Mister James Gordon Bennett had already sponsored a cup for car racing in 1900. Did he have an idea, what could be experienced with cars and balloons together later?

Erich Ruckelshausen, whom we know from last year, was there also this year. He tells from his chase and the occurrences before the launch.

As place for launch, Bregenz was chosen. Not only, because it is a very charming and wonderfully situated town of the shores of the Bodensee, but also, because it is the most westerly town in Austria. Due to the dominating winds in our latitudes, one had to count on far flights to the east or southeast of Europe. Therefore, the organization had requested permission for the balloons and the retrieve crews in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia und Poland. Hard to believe, but they were successful! All competitors were supplied with copies of the permissions from these sport loving countries. So we could hope, that we would not, like the year before, have to look into the muzzles of machine pistols or the unfriendly faces of soldiers and policemen.

Meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel, who was very committed, thought that the main weather situation and so the main wind direction would be the same as the year before, but offered some more possibilities of variation. Perhaps Czechoslovakia or Poland, more probable Hungary, Yugoslavia was a "hot tip", Italy was also not bad, rumour even mentioned something about Sicilia. I don’t know if those were honest, who talked about North Africa. Anyway, there was much tension.

Before it started to become serious, there was something to laugh about at the main briefing, but the reason was pure, bad malicious pleasure. The organizer explained, why some seats in the room were empty: In the fiesta of the Gordon Bennett Cup some hot air balloons had flown from the beach of the Bodensee that day. St. Peter had blown some of these colourful roaring balls to the lake, where they ran out of gas over the water. Not at the right time of the year, as it is end of October, some of the aeronauts went swimming, and some landed on boats. One envelope is coating the lion monument at the entry of the harbor of Lindau, and one Englishman tells me, that he managed to reach the beach with his basket, but his envelope decided to have a bath in the lake. According to the local press, 21 balloonist needed dry clothing that day. Later we learn, that "journalistic license" of a reporter made a dramatic search and rescue action for the international press, even making some Gordon Bennett gas balloons falling to the water.

With some tension I am waiting for the announcement, which balloon I have to observe. I know, it won’t be the long distance fliers Starkbaum/Scholz because with them, I had the honour to stay two nights and two days almost without any sleep the year before (that I was the one, who had to fix the landing place of the winners, was only a little consolation). Last year, Gerd Scholz had to seal their hired envelope but with their new balloon they will fly even longer!

Finally I know it. I am ordered to a Polish balloon. I’m not very happy about that, for I know, how many problems with the material our friends from these "countries of progress" have.

After we had discussed our plans at the last briefing on Sunday evening, I could take a deep breathe. We will stay the night at our hotel in Bregenz! Well, why not always this way! Now it’s me, who puts some pressure on the demand, not to leave for the chase too late the next day.

The two Polish retrieve cars will stay together, because only Jurek speaks English. The other car is driven by Jack, the school director from Lezno in Poland. With him is Hans de Vos from the Netherlands as observer. Their pilot is Makne, who had won together with my pilot, Cislak, the Gordon Bennett Race from Paris in 1983. Co-pilot of Makne is Grzegory Antkowiak, who was the chief -observer at this years European Hot Air Balloon Championships in Poland. So four of us already had met at Lezno.

A little after 8 p.m. one balloon after the other lifts off. My balloon is number 10. On the dark sky, one can see the flashing of the beam lights. Thomas Fink, third the year before, does not climb high but flies low across the water. Then a lot of Swiss dialect can be heard. Spenger is the last one to start. But what is this? His co-pilot is not Martin Messner, with whom he won the cup in 1984 and made second place last year. Martin wishes Spenger a good flight. "Why don’t you fly with him?" we ask. "I have to do my military service" is the answer. "Can’t they give you a few days off?" we ask. A loud laughing from all our Swiss balloon friends around. "You have no idea of our military service! They give no mercy!"

My hurry at the breakfast next morning is silly, for the Polish seem to have all the time of the world. In the competition centre nothing is known about our balloons. Generally, the flight seems to go to Yugoslavia, but also Hungary or Czechoslovakia are possible.

A big surprise when we left. I climb into an almost brand new Polski Fiat, having run only 16.000 kilometres. At a quarter past eleven and with beautiful weather we drive in the direction of Innsbruck. The Polish have strong nerves, they do not fill up gas until half of a litter is left in the tank. We call Bregenz from the airport of Innsbruck. Three balloons have not reported, including our two.

At 4:15 p.m. we are at Salzburg. The weather had become worse. Our car proves not to be as good as it appeared. After three fuses blew, something must be wrong with the poor headlights, and some displays also don’t work anymore. We drive under the roof of a gas station. They try a lot, but nothing improves. Valuable time is lost. At about 6 p.m. I ask the petrol pump attendant for a car electrician. Yes, there is one, in Salzburg West, but he may have closed already. I am afraid, he is right, but we try it. The repair station at Salzburg West is dark, but the owner lives next door. He wants to get rid of me, work finished for today, employees are already at home, he himself has a date this evening! – I can persuade him to "have just a look". Then he becomes ambitious. He does not take a rest until a new wire is installed and an additional light is put on the trailer. Now we are again legal participants of road traffic.

After 8 p.m. we arrive at Settled and do something for our stomach which we had ignored since breakfast. After some difficulties which we already got used to, we finally can phone the competition centre at Bregenz: Lots of the balloons had landed at Zagreb, Starkbaum/Scholz are still in the air and seem to be leading, our balloons are missed – wonderful! From former days I know the hotel quite well, I can get a special rate. Even if the balloons are missing, the Polish ground crews keep totally calm. With a good beer, we finish the day.

Tuesday. After 8 a.m. we are again connected to the competition centre. We must decide now, if we drive further to the east or turn more southwards. In Bregenz they know absolutely nothing from the Polish balloons. We are the fools. So some balloons had landed near Zagreb, we decide to drive south. The post office at Clawing is our next rest. At 10:45 a.m. the guys at Bregenz tell us, balloon "Romeo" (It’s the "R" in the call sign BZR) has landed close to the Hungarian border at Virovitica. The pilots can be found in the only hotel in town. Thanks goodness! But what is on with Makes "Oscar"? – He should have reported a position south of the Ablation. That may become funny!

We speed up now. At 12:30 p.m. we arrive at the border at Spieled. We loose another hour with refuelling, changing money and phoning. In Bregenz they still don’t know any details about balloon "Oscar".

Up to Marlboro, the driving is slow and arduous, but a highway seems to be under construction. In bright sunlight, the castle of the town of Put is in front of us. Just one year ago, Starkbaums crew and me had to withstand unpleasant interrogations for five hours at the police station there. At that time we lost radio contact with the balloon by this inevitably stop. Today we feel free and easy, because we never had any radio contact to our pilots. The radios are only used for funny talks from car to car.

Darkness comes, but Virovitica is not far away. Our careful driver Ed switches on the headlights. In the next village: Stop – Police! Oh no, not the same again as last year! May I see your drivers license? But then everything resolves quickly. For Yugoslavian conditions, there is too much light on Eds noble limousine. A little turn on a switch, and everything is fine. I (with my experience) can breathe again.

Our target looks like a big city. The hotel is found quickly. Pleased and not at all impatiently we are welcomed by our pilots: They landed yesterday at 2:30 p.m. – a quite wide awake and good humoured crew. So that’s another way it works! And then we can listen to the report of pilots Cieslak and Ozga about their adventurous balloon flight:

In a low altitude they used the drift to the east. The main ridge of the Alps was crossed in the area of the Dachstein. The high wind speed created rotors there, balloon and pilots had a serious fight. Flying on would allow a landing in Hungary. The pilots of the balloon SP-BZR therefore changed their radio contact from Zagreb to Budapest – that, together with a mix up of the call signs, was the reason for the wrong information, SP-BZO was south of the Ablation. But finally the balloon drifted again to Yugoslavian territory. Three hundred meters away from the border, just behind a lake, twenty meters from an unpaved road, the basket touched ground in a field with lots of vegetation on October 24th, 1988 at 2:27 p.m.

The decision for landing was made, because Zagreb had reported a cloud ceiling of only 100 meters. With only 2 ½ bags of sand left, they did not want to come out of the clouds over a town or a huge forest. And after 10 hours above of the clouds, they had enough of this flight. People working on the fields helped the pilots who had fallen from the sky. This was good, because the next farm was 3 ½ kilometres away, and the little village with a telephone, Budakovac, even one kilometre more. The police confiscated the balloon and put it to a barn. Then, as friends and helpful hands, the "Milicija" brought our pilots to the hotel in the town, 25 ½ kilometres away.

And there, we want to stay over night, too. Of course, we are hungry as well. Jurek tries, using his knowledge of the Serbokroatian language, to book some rooms at the front desk. They are very unfriendly. All rooms are booked out. Really, before 6 p.m.? Finally, we have to be satisfied, that at least our pilots may stay there. But we may make a phone call. And what do they tell us at Bregenz? – They still don’t know anything of the second Polish balloon! Starkbaum/Scholz are on the ground north of Skopje, looks like another victory, the fourth in a row, a great performance.

We ask the Milicija to help us homeless persons. After some phone calls they organize a hotel in a village, 30 kilometres away. There they are friendly, the meal is good, beer and a bottle of Polish vodka create a wonderful atmosphere. For the normal standard of the country, the rooms are quite good, the linen are clean. After having had a shower, I sit down on the closed top of the water closet. With a dry cracking, it gives up its service. The hinge can’t be used anymore in the future.

After a long breakfast on Wednesday morning, we drive back to the hotel of the pilots. On the lawn in front of the house, Swiss Hansjörg Fröhlin and his crew are just repacking their balloon into a good package. I ask the pilot: "Did you sleep here?" He: "Yes, of course". – "When did you arrive?" – "Between 9 and 10 p.m., we had no problems." The Swiss team did not even get in touch with the police. I tell the story of the "totally booked out hotel" to Jurek. The Polish man is not astonished at all: "It’s the same where we come from!" Now I begin to understand. If Dutch Hans de Vos or me would have asked for rooms yesterday, presenting our passports, we would have got them, but people from a country of the "Socialist Brother"? That’s not good for business. There are, however, three categories: Capitalists, "Socialist Brothers" and own citizens. I had learned something new.

With tension we wait to be connected to Bregenz: Makne and Antkowiak have landed near Split! At last! This looks damn good for the ranking. Now we feel better. – Comrade Hans de Vos and his crew leave for Split, we for the landing spot of balloon SP-BZR, accompanied by the Milicija.

Following the police car, we rush through several villages with a speed of 80 kilometres an hour. There are children on the road, lots of geese. The corn harvest is in full run. On the farm, everything works well, a lot of people are there, also witnesses of the landing and the policeman, who confiscated the balloon and brought the pilots to town. I get my signatures from the witnesses for the competition report. Everything takes quite long because of language problems and my unreadable map. My crew chief wants to help me and fixes the landing spot on the map. As we find out later, 20 kilometres too far. Finally we have a look at the place together with the Milicija. A little further on is Hungary. I am satisfied, the landing spot is fixed.

The balloon stored in a barn is packed well and the trailer is loaded quickly. With a warm handshake, we say goodbye. Police cars for a fast passage up to Virovitica, from there we continue with legal speed.

There is a little traffic jam on the border, but the check is quick. Then we still have to pass Austrian customs. We are the only ones, who are asked to drive aside, even after I explained the situation. No mercy! I grow angry. When I want to leave the car, my Polish friends beg, to keep quiet and let the customs do, what they want to. Obviously, I don’t sound very friendly, when I ask for the intentions of the customers at their office. Again, I explain the situation. Now they almost apologize for the trouble they have made. Much more friendly, they go round our car, and don’t ask for any papers. With a handshake, they wish us farewell. The Polish are very astonished, how citizens and authorities can treat each other here.

So far the report of the observer Erich Ruckelshausen. The duties of an observer have been told in the 1987 report. For reasons of the budget, the national aero club, hosting a race, prefers observer from the own country. But that’s not always possible. The observer, the right hand of the championship director, must be independent. Any possible relation to his crew has to be excluded. Therefore, at international competitions, he has to have a different citizenship as the crew, he is ordered to. He also should not be ordered twice to the same crew. When language problems are considered, it can become quite difficult, to put the right crews and observers together. For his competitors, but also for his observers, the hosting aero club cares for the visa before the race, but he can’t do this for people from other nations. He can only recommend they look after the necessary visa by themselves. Volker Löschhorn, a young German student pilot, who always loves to serve as an observer, travelled for three days from his home town Stuttgart to the German capital Bonn prior to the race, to have the visas for Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union stamped into his passport. So well equipped he came to Bregenz and became observer for the new balloon "Polarstern" with the crew Starkbaum/Scholz. A long journey lay ahead of him. He tells:

On Sunday at 11 p.m. Arthur and Franz, the chase team of the Polarstern, me the observer and a camera team from the ORF (Austrian television) have to start the chase. The Polarstern frequently tells us the position and flight path by radio. They fly over Kufstein and Klagenfurt. In this short night with full moon, driving in the Alps is also impressive to us, and we can imagine, what a fantastic flight the competitors have. At 7 a.m. they already report to be over Yugoslavia. We cross the border at Spieled and drive in the direction of Zagreb. We can’t hope to see the balloons, above us is a closed layer of clouds, over which the balloons fly. The afternoon offers two unexpected encounters. Having a rest a little way from the highway, we meet the chase crew of the team from Australia in a little village. Later, on the highway at Nova Gradiska a balloon suddenly shows up out of the clouds next to us, to disappear again after a short time. In a rest house, we have dinner, to gain some power for the second night. On and on it goes, southwards.

On Tuesday at noon, we are at Vranje, 60 kilometres north of Skopje. We can only guess, what the intentions of the crew of the Polarstern are. Do they want to try to pass the gap between Bulgaria and Albania for Greece and stay in the air for another night, or do they have to land today? At 12:50 p.m. it’s clear: Polarstern reports, that they will start their descend soon and then land at Vranje. A little after 1:30 p.m. we get the landing report and position of the balloon. We ask a native person, who had formerly worked in Vienna and therefore speaks German, to guide us to the landing spot. It is 20 kilometres southeast of Vranje on a hill. First, we drive on paved roads, but the last kilometres are a very rough road, only accessible with four wheel drive. But even on this road, there is busy traffic. On our way to the mountain village, we overtake eight carts, pulled by oxen. Behind the village, we see the balloon, or better, the crowd of people around it. With the aid of our guide, I find two witnesses of the landing, who can write and give me their address. One of the inhabitants of the village owns a watch, I ask him for the time of the landing. The fixing of the landing -spot wasn’t very easy with the maps we had, but it could be done. Meanwhile, also the Militia took notice of us. They guide us to their headquarter at Bujanovac, 20 kilometres away. There is a long discussion with no result. We have to stay overnight. Next morning, all problems are solved and we are on the long way back.

Four times in a row and always the same crew in the basket, no competitor of a Gordon Bennett Race had won that many races up to that year. With Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz the Austrian Aero Club has two athletes, who are with no doubt the best pilots of the world at that time. They may close up or even overcome Ernest Demuyter also in the absolute number of victories. The next races will show. But it becomes harder and harder for them every year. Among the other pilots, ambitions grow and everybody wants to be the first, to beat Starkbaum/Scholz. This rises the value of a victory in this race.

 

31st Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Seefeld (AUT) 1987

Start: Seefeld/Tyrol, October 3rd from 10 p.m    

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

The critical voices, who concluded by the results of 1983, 1985 and 1986, that these races would never again become the same as they had been until 1938, calmed down. 1987 proved the Gordon Bennett Races can be flown with extraordinary distances also in our days; they offer adventures to all who are involved and demand high performance in sports. We can follow the race from four points of view, first the report of Dr. Herbert Pümpel, the meteorologist.

The Gordon Bennett Race 1987 seen from meteorology

The selection of the launch place, Seefeld in Tyrol, had a strong influence for my being dispatched to this race as meteorological supervisor: born in Tyrol, my boss thought, I would know the local winds best. But nevertheless, thanks to all the native people, who supported me with their best "hot tips".

Collecting weather information was very tricky, for there was no connection to the data base of the meteorological service. All material had to be transported up there from the weather office at the airport by car or a helicopter of the Austrian Automobile Club. For the latest update, I had to collect actual information from mountain stations and weather balloons from my colleagues at Innsbruck by phone. Thanks to all. The Central Office for Meteorology and Geodynamic calculated trajectories (movements of an air mass), based on a network model of the EZMW (European Centre for Medium Term Weather Forecast) out of Seefeld in different altitudes, which were handed out to the teams.

The weather-situation at the weekend of October 3rd or 4th, 1987, promised to become interesting: While the lower layers of the atmosphere (up to about 6000 ft ASL) were ruled by a moderate, but north of the Alps quite fast stream of air from south-south-east. The layers above 10.000 ft were dominated by a short term wedge which crossed the Alps at that time with a streaming from the north-west. So basically, for balloonists there were two possibilities to make long flights out of Seefeld:

  1. By using the wind from the south in the lower altitude, to slip to the Bavarian foothills of the Alps through the mountains of the Karwendel, then to hope there to stay clear of the ADIZ (prohibited area along the "Iron Curtain"), to enter a fast ground wind from the southeast over the Bavarian Forest, or
  2. To climb quickly to about 12.000 ft ASL (which means to loose the possibility of a low flight later) and to fly there toward Yugoslavia with the wind from the north-west.

My duty as meteorological supervisor was, to calculate the possibilities of these two opportunities, check them for their risks and to supply the teams with a realistic base for their planning.

The synoptic situation on the day of the launch (October 3rd.): A flat low on the ground above France creates at its front a streaming from the south-south-east, which reaches up to 15 – 20 knots ground wind above the easterly foothills of the Alps. At medium altitudes (700 hPa) is a wedge over the westerly Alps, creating a moderate streaming from the north-west at its front side. The situation becomes complicated by a small, closed low in the altitude above the easterly Alps, leading to more clouds in the AC and SC level and even creating some rain in the area of Salzburg.

Though the race would be done under visual meteorological conditions, I was sure, that the competitors would not cross these particular multiple layers of clouds.

On the afternoon of the launch day, tension rose to a summit, unexpected and unwished in this kind of event. The coverage of clouds grew and their base started to sink down to 6000 ft ASL, while the south wind was too weak in the lower layers, to assure a flight through the Karwendel mountains to the foothills of the Alps. The nervousness of the teams met my own one, and for quite some time, my promises that the clouds would reduce, did not sound very convincing anymore.

At about 5 p.m. my own tests with pi-balls showed the first positive results. The streaming from the south was now strong enough, to guide the balloons gently but determined through the main valley in the direction of Scharnitz/Munich; there, after a short calm, the streaming from the south-east would become vivid and (hopefully), before reaching the prohibited borders to Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic, would lead to areas of no problems. The Ac/Sc clouds however proved to be very hardy and did not start to disappear until one hour prior to launch (9 p.m. local). As soon as the first stars could be seen in the sky, the mood among the teams obviously rose, and most of the competitors decided, to climb quick to use the northwest component of the wind, even if this would mean a crossing of the Hohe Tauern mountains (3.800 meters!).

The results confirm the decisions made: The streaming from the northwest proved to be fast and brought the winner close to the border of Albania, this met the calculated trajectories quite well.

Finally I want to say, that I did not want to miss the experience of this race, for especially among balloonists, you find the most critical, but also best informed customers of the weather service.

After meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel, praised by all competitors, now a German pilot, Thomas Fink from Nürnberg shall tell his story. Together with his friend from the balloon club of Augsburg, Erich Märkl, he flew to the best result of a German team since 1928, which was rank three.

The Gordon Bennett Race 1987 seen by a pilot

On early Saturday morning, we are awaked by balloons, Franziska Reuscher inflates her hot air balloon right in front of our hotel. But even after this, it is impossible to continue sleep due to the noise of helicopters and hot air balloons.

Erich and me are not allowed to work. Reinhard Mattausch and Günter Oberseider, our ground-crew, as always, perform extraordinary inflation together with the team from Augsburg..

The weather offers the possibility, to fly high in direction of Yugoslavia, but also, to fly low out of the valley to southern Germany, to find an easterly wind component close to the ground there, which may lead us to Belgium or even England. The latter, I consider to be very difficult, Volker Kuinke wants to try the low way. We want to fly high.

The launch is again very impressive, like last year at Salzburg. The national anthem sounds and with 2 - 3 meters per second we climb to 3000 meters. To the north, we can see Mittenwald and Krün, later the valley of the river Inn with the towns of Innsbruck and Hall. We are heading east, then more and more we are turning right. Almost a full moon just some small clouds. We have a spectacular view of the Alps at night.

Our flight passes the Zillertal, the Gerlos-pass, the Salzachtal. Navigation must be done terrestrially, for there is no radio contact with VORs in the mountains. In the valley of the river Salzach we probably drop one shovel of sand too much, it turns right towards the slopes of the Großglockner, the Kitzsteinhorn and the Große Wiesbachhorn, 3564 meters high. Enormous turbulence pull us up at 5 meters per second, then again down at 6 meters per second. The situation isn’t funny! Erich dumps sand like a world champion, I am occupied with fixing our position, comparing the heights of the mountains in front with our altimeter and reading the vario. The flight goes parallel to the high alpine road of the Großglockner.

After the balloon has stabilized behind this main ridge of the Alps and our heartbeat had become normal again, we can see the lights of the valley of Gastein. In the lee of the main ridge, the flight slows down, we feel, as if we would not make any more progress at all. At 4 a.m. our position is 7 kilometres south of Spittal on the river Drau. We are exactly above an illuminated radio transmitting tower. The stock of ballast had already shrunk a lot, we hope for the sunrise to come soon. Slowly we move towards the basin of Klagenfurt, covered with clouds.

On the horizon we can see the first signs of the daybreak. Becoming brighter, we see two other balloons above the sea of clouds ahead of us. As we later learn, they are Helma Sjuts/Alex Schubert and Karl Spenger/Martin Messner. We are higher than they are, approach closer and overtake them. The clouds below us appear endless. To the south, like an island, the Karawanken rise above the clouds, to the north the Alps, we had just come over, ahead there is the front ridge to Graz and in the back we can also see the mountains of Italy. The horizon becomes red, the sun has to climb above another layer of clouds, finally it pulls us up with its warmth. Right before we reach Klagenfurt, the clouds end and we can see the ground.

The high altitude turns us further to the right, our heading is now 130 to 135 degrees, we will keep it the whole day. Vienna information passes us on to Zagreb information, crossing the pass of the Seeberg, we reach Yugoslavia. With the sun and the altitude, also our mood rises, but with only four bags of ballast left, we will not be able to stand a second night for sure. We keep the balloon as high as possible to make distance and fly along the valley of the river Save, arrive at Zagreb at 10:30 a.m., as the eagle flies it goes on via Sisak, Dubica to Banja Luka.

With the help of Lufthansa flight number 633 we manage to inform our chase-crew (they are at Villach) and pass a message to our relay station at Nürnberg.

We stay at the altitude until only three bags of ballast are left, they are reserved for the landing. A normal flight with passengers would have come to an end at Banja Luca, the area behind doesn’t look very good for landings. There are mountains again. The 75 kilometres we had flown on behind Banja Luka later assured our 3rd rank.

Below of us some kind of "Black Forest". Navigation on a map of the 1:500.000 scale is a little difficult. Helpful is Sarajevo VOR, giving us a bearing of 324 degrees. First slowly, then faster and faster the balloon sinks. We want to land close to a village, but with three bags of ballast left, we have not much choice. Crossing the ridge of a mountain, we approach ground, the wind is low and often changes its direction. It blows us across a canyon, in which we don’t want to land. A little ballast let us climb again. Across the canyon we approach a larger meadow. Erich strongly pulls the valve, with 2 – 3 meters per second we hit the ground.

At once six young men are there, who carry us away from the barbed wire and help deflating the balloon. Communication is possible only by gestures. We hope to file our landing report soon. While Erich packs the balloon, I walk with one of the young men for half an hour across mountains and valleys to get a tractor. Always when we meet people, they talk to me, but except "dobr dan" and "dovidschenja" I know no word in serbo-kroatian language. With the tractor we return to the landing field. The balloon is already packed. We put it on the trailer, say farewell to the numerous helpers and drive on.

Erich and I wanted to go to the next town Travnik, the tractor brings us 20 kilometres in the wrong direction, to the village where our driver comes from. There is a little restaurant, but no telephone. Our request for something like that is not taken too serious by the people there, they want to have a party first! With the radio of the doctor, we can finally make contact to the militia, who reaches us 6 ½ hours after the landing. Now a lot of paperwork has to be done, the witnesses are questioned and the balloon is sealed in a garage.

By police car, we are brought 40 kilometres to Travnik to a hotel. Finally, at 1:30 a.m. I can report our safe landing by telephone. I also can reach our chase crew at Zagreb, then deep and healthy sleep comes.

Next morning at 8 a.m. Erich wakes me up. He had already been downtown and bought two toothbrushes and toothpaste. To our big surprise, Helmut Kocar, the crew chief of Joschi Starkbaum suddenly shows up with the crew at our breakfast. They had been at Sarajevo, the ATC there had sent them to us. My idea, that if the chase crew of the Austrian competitors are here, their balloon can’t be far away, was wrong. Joschi wins the race with 241 kilometres clear ahead and a landing at Titograd, close to the Albanian border.

I spend the rest of the morning writing post cards and buying all the stamps, they have on stock at Travnik, while Erich goes for the balloon together with the police. Shortly after 1 p.m. our chase crew shows up together with the observer Maximiliane Gogel and a little later, there is also Erich with the balloon. After the equipment is packed on the trailer and we have lunch, our return trip starts 24 hours after the landing.

To sum up. At 17 hours and 44 minutes it is my longest flight. With 611 kilometres it is my furthest balloon flight. It’s the same for Erich. It was the most difficult, but also most interesting flight. The third place pays for all the efforts. Preparations for the 32nd race 1988 have already begun, we are happy to be there again.

One can feel quite a lot of adventure in the report of Thomas. Even in the civilized world of 1987 there are areas without telephone, where the doctor has to use the radio in case of emergency. Even wilder, it happened to the winners of the race. Of this, the observer shall tell now, German Erich Ruckelshausen, living in Austria.

But first, an explanation of the subject "observer": They are an independent witnesses and reporters to the race organization. They were not known at these long distance competitions until the 1986 race. But it proved well to use them. Before 1986, the competitors sent a landing confirmation with the address of two witnesses living at the landing area to the race organization, who then had to find out the exact landing spot using the available maps. The observers duty is to visit the landing spot, clearly mark it to his maps on the field and to be prepared for requests from the race organization. They may not be of the same nationality as the competitor, so it is assured, that they are neutral.

With Starkbaums ground crew on a Gordon Bennett chase

On the phone (as often, I have not understood the name of the person calling), I’m asked, if I had time to take part at a Gordon Bennett Race as an observer. Of course and with fun, for until now, I had seen gas balloons only from the distance.

The reception party at Seefeld in Tyrol on Friday evening appears very solemn for somebody, who had only to deal with hot air until then. I am reminded of the difference between motor and glider pilots, but here you meet many well known faces from the hot air group. At a sophisticated dinner I learn, that the Gordon Bennett Races are more important than the gas world championships. I cannot decide if this is so.

Trucks carry the gas, to inflate the round balls, fixed to the ground by nets and sandbags. Strange procedures can be watched. Gert Scholz had become a "master of glue", with an endless number of tapes he tries to seal the envelope. I have doubts, if this will turn out well. Seeing the result, Gert must have done good work.

The launch field right next to the wonderful chapel of Seefeld has found extraordinary frame with this surrounding. I had known this little church only from the air, when it had to serve as turn point for my glider flights from Turnau.

The observers get announced, to which crew they belong and can make contact with "their" balloon. I find myself at Starkbaum/Scholz, defeaters of the title. At that moment, I don’t get the idea, that this means my membership to the long distance drivers. When I found out, that the crew would leave immediately after the launch of the balloon, I became a little jealous about those comrades, who may sleep some hours or even the whole night, before their crew chases the balloon.

It has been dark for a while, when balloon after balloon is lifted to a platform, illuminated by floodlights. The national anthem sounds, the hands are put off, and the balloon flies away. For a long time, one still can see the flashes of the strobe lights. Where will they fly? Even in this late hour, I would not have dreamed, that one of the balls would land at Regensburg, but others close to the Albanian border in Yugoslavia. With a little baggage I enter the brand new chase vehicle.

At once we leave with a speed like hell. Soon the car is chased up to the Gerlos-pass. The driver takes the bends even sharper, as they are in nature. My effort, to sleep on the back seat, is in vain. I feel sick. The balloon travels with quite a good speed.

At daybreak we are at Spieled on the Austrian/Yugoslavian border. In a poor room, chairs still on the tables, we manage to get a breakfast.

The balloon gains a lead, but this seems to be no problem. Wrong! After we had crossed Put, coming from Marlboro, our driver stops on an open road, because it’s time for radio contact. Like they were grown out of the earth, suddenly two soldiers with levelled machine pistols stand in front and beside of the car! We were quite astonished. Just driving away was impossible. Much later, we learned, that behind a huge corn field, there was a military station.

Who could have known this? We had only seen a little farm, no warning signs or anything else. We only had time to tell the balloon, that we are in trouble and go to be captured Then the use of the radio was prohibited.

We had to wait long, until the police came to guide us back to the police station at Put. Our armed friends of course had no idea of any common foreign language. They also could not show any friendly faces. It takes an eternity, until a whole commission from Marlboro arrives. Good for us: Someone speaks German!

Our offence must be a big one, we have individual interrogation. First aggressive, later a little more friendly. I am very angry. With some sound of excuse, we are finally set free. This bad joke had taken about five hours. The balloon is far away of course.

The organization of the race must be blamed for not supplying the crews with copies of the permissions of the different countries. This should include the remark, that radio contact is permitted.

At 2:15 p.m. we may leave Put. According to a request, the crew does at 3 p.m. at the airport of Zagreb, the balloon shall be at Banja Luka. At 6:30 p.m. we have the first, but also last radio contact with Starkbaum/Scholz. Position of the retrieve Sla Brod, position of the balloon east of Sarajevo. Well, we know at least the direction.

Trying, to do something for our empty stomachs in Sarajevo at 11 p.m. becomes a piece of art. We discover a restaurant, offering pizzas. The poor illumination protects them from a critical inspection. I believe, this was good. The waiter was very quick, not missing at soccer game with the use of two tv sets.

Stefan, our driver, loves his job. With the four wheel transmission, he bumps across unpaved roads through fields and forests to the top of the hills in the middle of the night. From there, he wants to contact the balloon by radio. Of course, it doesn’t work. Helmut sleeps during this shaking, I can’t manage it.

On Monday morning at 6 a.m. we are at the airport of Sarajevo. From AIS we can get the information: Our balloon has landed at the mountain ridge of Vlasic near Travnik. Thanks goodness! But something is wrong. Have they flown back? The spot is about 100 kilometres northwest of Sarajevo! Strange! It takes some time, until we have found the only hotel in Travnik. In the door, we meet Thomas Fink. Our question: "Oh, you are also here?" – the answer: "What do you mean with also, we are the only ones here!"

Our faces don’t look very intelligent at that moment. But soon we’ve got it: AIS at Sarajevo had mixed up our balloons. A good breakfast together makes our disappointment disappear. But, where in hell is our balloon?

After an almost endless time waiting we manage to phone. They are at the Albanian border. We have to hurry up, so that they don’t have to wait too long. So we choose the direct way. Doing this, I learned a lot about road and dam construction in Yugoslavia.

I think, we bumped along these gravel roads for about 100 kilometres. Huge clouds of dust mark our "road". Finally, there is again a paved road, but soon it will become dark. Then the huge lake comes in sight, enormously wide swampy areas, almost nowhere a house or other roads, the dangerous border close by, and all of this framed by high, steep, totally tree covered mountains. How can a balloon land there? How can we find our friends?

After a long search, we come to the nice village of Vipazar. The owner of a restaurant, who speaks German welcomes us – he knows everything!! The balloon has landed at morning (6:46 a.m.) on a narrow road. The balloon was confiscated and is now at the police station. Joschi was arrested. Scholz could escape to phone out of this region at Bar, about 60 kilometres away. That was the way, how we could get news about the landing. Then Gert Scholz gave himself up to the police, to clear up the case together with Joschi. Short time ago, they have been set free again. At this "German" restaurant, we eat three kinds of fish from the huge fresh water lake, of which three quarters already belongs to Albania. A happy end! Joschi had reserved rooms in a quite noble hotel. We sleep like deaths.

On Tuesday morning we first have a good breakfast. Then Joschi and me drive to the landing site. I don’t know, how one can land with such a huge balloon on such a narrow little road, without destroying anything. We meet an eye witness, who had seen the landing. He writes down his address for me by his own hands. He was impressed, when the balloon climbed down a steep slope to the street to land there. So am I! Still today, I can’t believe, how one can fly balloon in such a terrain, but to know how comes from experience!

Hair stands on end when we heard, how the police handled the balloon at the transport after confiscation. The envelope was just pulled to a very rusty truck. No question, what could have happened, if on this wreck one edge of a tin plate would have been bent up. This situation had only one advantage: We did not have to care for carrying the balloon away from the landing spot.

Quite comfortable we start our way home. All are satisfied: Starkbaum/Scholz have won the cup for the third time. This had happen only once in the past: to somebody from Belgium in the 1920th. An extraordinary performance – with a hired balloon.

After another night at Mostar we finally reach home. The "racing community" is over and we return to where we came from.

We have now seen the flight of rank 3 from the air, the flight of rank one from the ground. Something must be added to the flight of Joschi Starkbaum/Gert Scholz. Their track in a medium altitude (about 8.000 ft) made the balloon drift a little further to the east as did Fink/Märkl. They were faster and stood out of the turbulences in the area of the Grossglockner. In the first night, it looked, as if they could make it to Hungary, but at Sarajevo the wind turned more to the right, which made accurate checks of the position necessary, because of the impassable border to Albania. Turning further right, flying to Greece also had to be given up. Behind Titograd, which they reached at the middle of the night, they had to descent. At poor visibility, Starkbaum discovered a basin shaped valley, which he could illuminate with his lights and in which he could stabilize the balloon hovering until daybreak. Only the bats have been shocked about this unwelcome guest to their home. At sunrise, Joschi Starkbaum dumped a little ballast and flew the balloon across the ridge, cruised for another 2 ½ hours to find an appropriate landing field until he finally decided for the little road due to a lack of other opportunities.

What happened to the others? 10 balloons were ready for take-off at Seefeld. The American crew Jaques Soukup/Mark Sullivan withdrew. Having no experience flying balloon in the mountains, they considered it too risky, to fly at night. This decision earns our respect as safety comes first in any kind of air traffic. From the nine launched balloons, eight choose to fly high across the Alps, only Bradley/Reinhard stood low, flew as forecasted out of the mountains at Mittenwald, but made only 176 kilometres in 18 hours of flight and landed at Saal near Regensburg.

No only Starkbaum/Scholz but also Spenger/Messner flew a second night. Even if they also had to fight hard at the Großglockner right at the beginning of the flight and used up lot of ballast, they took profit from their envelope, about 150 kilograms lighter than the others. They had sufficient ballast on stock. Monday evening at 8 p.m. they were about 100 kilometres south of Banja Luka, when the wind turned and pushed them back slowly. They tried to fly as slow as possible and they were sure, that they could equalize this drift back at higher altitudes the next day. Then they climbed to 5000 meters and flew south-easterly with little ballast to Arilje, where they landed after the longest flight of this Gordon Bennett Race in a remote area at 4:25 p.m.. Before, they had heard a message from the radio, telling them, they would be leading in the race. For Karl Spenger this was a very bad false information, he thinks, he would have had the chance, to make the missing 52 kilometres to Starkbaum. About this fact, and also about the other balloons, Dr. Ernst Iselin has to tell something in his rapport. Ernst Iselin was the president of the international jury.

The 31st Gordon Bennett -Race seen by the jury

Two crews had decided to fly the second night, winning first and second place. Doing this means in our days a lot of experience in night flying, flawless working equipment (the electronic has to work even at minus 20° Celsius) and a perfect coordination among the pilots. They have to have the same high amount of skill, both must be able to handle radio contacts or navigation alone, while the other pilot is sleeping. Only by this, 30 to 40 hours in the air can be done safely.

From our headquarter at Seefeld, we had been able, with the help of ATC, to follow what was going on in the air down to Sarajevo, so we could tell the rough positions of the balloons to ground crews next morning. Most of the ground crews had slept sensibly at Seefeld the first night.

With the exception of one American, all the other eight balloons took the wind from the west and so had been forced, to fly very high already at the first night. Some had to climb to more than 4000 meters to stay clear of the Grossglockner. Already at this moment, the chance to fly a second night became impossible for the more heavy balloons. This set the points for the further development of the race. Signer/Osterwalder, who reported their position Rijeka/Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea already at sunrise, learned this. They then had to fly low for a heading more to the left, which reduced their speed. Starkbaum/Scholz and Spenger/Messner managed, to stay left of the Grossglockner. At Zagreb - Banja Luka they could, superheated by the sun, fly high to make speed. Signer/Osterwalder flying the light balloon HB-BJB more to the right, decided to land at Glamoc before darkness. With the ballast they had left, they could have flow a second night, but their VOR had failed, and without navigation, they could not take the risk. Most of the balloons landed on a line Split – Banja Luka, making between 532 and 611 kilometres. Before the second night came, there was a rumour on the air, telling that Starkbaum/Scholz had landed near Derwanta. Spenger/Messner flew low and back in the ground inversion at the second night, loosing approximately 100 kilometres. At morning, they allowed the sun to pull them up again. But their VOR had failed also, so they had to be careful, not to approach to the coast of the Adriatic Sea without taking notice. They arrived at Arilje at noon, where they decided to land, because they were thinking, they had been the only crew who had flown the second night.

But it turned out, that the landing report of Starkbaum/Scholz was false. In reality, these two experts also flew through the night, reached Titograd before daybreak, where they descended and waited for sunrise to land. They could not fly on, for a crossing of the border to Albania would have let to disqualification. They made 52 kilometres more than the Swiss team, not at least because their navigation equipment still worked.

For this reason I want to praise American Dr. Hyde. He navigated with LORAN and had a sextant with him as a back up. Both performed flawlessly in determination of the position.

What can we learn of the history of the 31st Gordon-Bennett-Race?

Point one: Never fly a Gordon Bennett Race without having put your electronic tools including batteries to a deep freeze for one night and then checked it.

Point two: There are navigational tools working without electronic. But to use them, you must know the stars and know how to handle a sextant.

Point three: Never trust position or landing reports of the competitors! They may be an error or foul play.

All crews agree: It was a hard test. To cross mountains of 3000 meters at night, with particularly covered moon, the strain to select the right tactics, to determine position, to withstand the cold and tiredness, was an ultimate demand. Congratulation to all participants of the 1987 Gordon Bennett Race!

And a very special congratulation to three time winners Joschi Starkbaum and his co-pilot Gert Scholz. This had never happened before in the history of the Gordon Bennett Races: Three times in a row with the same companion. As Erich Ruckelshauen had mentioned in his report, there was someone from Belgium in the 1920, who had managed this; unforgettable Ernest Demuyter. But in 1922 he had Alexander Veenstra, in 1923 and 1924 Leon Coeckelbergh as companion. Austria, until 1938 only four times in the race, became a great power in ballooning by these two pilots. Here is a short portrait of these two successful sportsmen:

Josef (called Joschi) Starkbaum is 53 years old at this time, he became involved in ballooning aged 39, when he saw a balloon from the cockpit of his airplane (he is captain of the AUSTRIAN AIRLINES). He was so fascinated of the man or women in this open basket, that he sacrificed his annual holidays, to extend his license to balloons in England. Before this he was involved in car racing and many of his friends followed him to ballooning, Gert Scholz for example belonged to this circle. Joschi soon drew attention in hot air ballooning: the first crossing of the Alps in a hot air balloon on April 20th, 1974, altitude record in three AX-classes, two times European champion, once vice world champion, uncountable victories in other hot air balloon competitions are connected with his name. The experiences, he had gathered in the hot air balloon, helped him a lot in gas ballooning. The next year, 1988, he’ll become, again together with Gert Scholz as co-pilot, world champion in gas ballooning for the first time. They will defend this title at the championships in the USA in 1990.

Gert Scholz, born the same year as Joschi, trades with cars and owns a big repair station. His success as organizer of many balloon competitions is at least of equal value as his active participation. Short before this Gordon Bennett Race, the world championships in hot air ballooning at Schielleiten/Styria had finished, which he had, similar to the European championships a year before, brought to Austria and organized by himself. The annual BP Balloon Trophy held in the Alps is also of his credit, the same as new developed combination competitions with parachutists, the "Para-Balloon Cup". Gert Scholz is the ultimate co-pilot together with Joschi Starkbaum. I don’t know any gas balloon pilot, who can imagine, that one of them could have gained these successes without the other.

30th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Salzburg (AUT) 1986

Start: Salzburg, October 18th 10:00 pm     

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

It was a double jubilee, the 30th race 80 years after the first launch in Paris in 1906. The gas balloon still flew the skies, but how much else had changed in air traffic! The year 1985 had been the year of catastrophes in civil aviation, in eight crashes 1359 people lost their lives, 520 alone on a flight of Japan Airlines from Tokyo to Osaka. 1986 began with another catastrophe. On January 28th, US space shuttle CHALLENGER explodes a few seconds after take-off at an altitude of 17 kilometres, causing death to its crew of seven and stopping this successful NASA space program for years. All of this proved already, that technological progress had reached the limits of human capability to rule it, but at the end of April, this became even more evident. The explosion in the Soviet power plant of Chernobyl changed the world and the thinking of mankind. This also influenced the Gordon Bennett Races, for the Americans were represented by only one team and Poland unfortunately stayed away totally. From the race itself, the air sports magazine of Austria shall report.

The 1986 Gordon Bennett Race was untypical: Normally, one has to save ballast, stay aloft as long as possible to cover a long distance. This year, the race was more like a maximum distance with scoring area, it was necessary, to cover the longest possible distance before crossing the border to the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia. So this race became quite exiting, also for the spectator on the ground.

Because of the victory of Starkbaum/Scholz in the year before, when the Mediterranean coast also had put an early end to the race after the launch in Geneva. The Austrian Aero club was host this year and event director was Wolfgang Gruber. The launch on the exposition park in Salzburg.

Friday, October 17th, 1986, 4 p.m. first briefing. After wonderful, bright weather the weeks before, a change, which might influence the start was forecasted. Second briefing, Saturday, October 17th at 9 a.m. A first decision is made. The possibility for launch is given, even with the fog present. Launch preparations are made and sand bags are filled. At 1 p.m. the next briefing. Decision is made to launch, the balloons begin with inflation. At 8 p.m. the last briefing and latest weather information: Ground-fog, but clear sky, full moon. Only the wind direction is still unfortunate: Wind from the west, probably turning to the north, that means in the direction of Czechoslovakia, which unlike Yugoslavia or Hungary, had not permitted balloons to enter or to fly over its territory. So all hoped for a drift to the east and a window to Hungary. Ten p.m.: Launch of 12 balloons (9 in the race, 3 out of competition) from five nations in five minutes sequences.

An impressive image, the balloons ready for take-off illuminated by the floodlights. A lot of spectators have gathered. The launch sequence had been drawn at the first briefing. Every balloon is launched from the same place – when a balloon had taken off, the next one is carried to the launch platform, and under the sound of the national anthem they head for the sky.

Then, for those who stood back, watching the race, a long wait began. Balloons and competition centre had contact with ATC, and the balloons were equipped with transponders. The first information came in at 4:30 a.m.: Surprisingly with quite different position reports; while the most moved exactly to the west, towards Lower Austria, there were also position reports from the Mühlviertel (Mill-Quarter, a county of Northern Austria) as well as from Germany. During the morning, it came out, that the wind was not with the pilots, the window to Hungary could not be reached and the border to Czechoslovakia stopped the hunt for distance. The landing reports of 10 balloons had come in, but people waited until noon for the Starkbaum and the American Levin reports. Then after 5 p.m., with beginning of darkness, their landings were also confirmed.

Below the landing times, landing places and flight tracks of the different balloons:

Jojo Maes/Wulf Bergner, Germany, 6:06 local in Affetschlag/Bad Leonfelden in the Mühlviertel, close in front of the Czechoslovakian border, after a flight via Oberndorf, Burghausen, Passau, Mühlviertel; "iron curtain" well visible because of strong illumination; landing at first daylight.

Peter Peterka/Werner Pfenninger, Switzerland, landing 7:08 UTC in St.Michael am Bruchbach near St.Peter in der Au, Lower-Austria. First fast flight to the east via Thalgau (22:40), east of Moon-Lake(23:18), south of Gmunden (0:45) and Grünau im Almtal (01:12) in altitudes up to 1800 m above sea-level, then to the valley of river Enns between Weyer and Altenmarkt (02:50), then a longer stop in this area and final decision to land because of rising fog.

Silvan Osterwalder and Gerold Signer from Switzerland landed at about the same time in the same area: 07:15 UTC at the carthuse Gaming.

Germans Thomas Fink and Erich Märkl also drifted over Thalgau, Attersee, Traunsee, Windischgarsten to the east to St.Valentin, which they reached at 08:37, but then they turned north via Perg in the direction of Czechoslovakia, so they decided to land before reaching the border area, landing at 11:38 UTC in Schirrmannsreith near Geras.

Karl Spenger and Martin Messner, Switzerland, Gordon Bennett winner from 1984 and among the favourites, also landed at 11:30 local, close to the Czech border at Roschitz near Pulkau in the northern part of Lower-Austria and had covered the longest distance at that moment.

French Jean Jacques Muchery and Thierry Villey did not reach these distances, for they landed at 13:30 UTC at Wiesing near Zell on the river Pram in the vicinity of Ried im Innkreis (Inn-Circle, another county in Austria).

Not to the east, but first to the west and later to the north flew the Germans Carlo Schröter and Hans Peters: Without ground sight (fog) they passed Oberndorf, Altötting, Eggenfelden and Landau in the direction of Straubing, then via Regensburg and Burglengenfeld to Fraunberg near Schwandorf. Landing at Fraunberg, Bavaria, at 13:51.

Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz drifted east and then had a stop for several hours, until they could continue east. Starkbaum finally managed, to avoid being pushed northwards too early, but also he could not catch the window to Hungary. Landing at 16:20 UTC at Paasdorf near Mistelbach and so again longest distance and a new victory.

"Lost" for some time was American David Levin with his co-pilot Frank Rider, he landed at 16:55 UTC 300 meters north of Rust in the Field of Tulln.

This ended a difficult, but also exciting and the shortest Gordon Bennett race. By the new victory of Starkbaum/Scholz the race will be held in Austria again next year, then probably from Carinthia (this turned out wrong, it became Seefeld in Tyrol). For Starkbaum/Scholz this is the chance, to win this cup for the third time in a row to gain final possession of this challenge cup with so much tradition. For the Austrian Aero-club this is quite an expensive prospect – in this case they would have to sponsor a new cup.

So ended the report from the Austrian Air sports magazine. How this race was seen by somebody, who was only involved in it from far away, is told below. The author was in charge as coordinator of the German teams, he had to inform brides, wives, and other relatives, who stood at home as quick as possible, about what happened, but also assure contact between ground crew and pilots, if they had become lost for any reason. (Mobile phones were not very common and very expensive at that time).

Sunday morning, 7 a.m., the phone rings for the first time. The retrieve of GERMANY 2 reports: "The balloons have launched at night, GERMANY 1 has probably crossed the border to Czechoslovakia, we had listened to radio calls with ATC Munich and Prague, which may indicate this. GERMANY 2 is in the area of Steyr, he will land at Enns, to keep clear of the border."

What is to do? – This report does not seem confirmed enough, to chase the staff of the German embassy at Prague out of their beds on Sunday morning, 7:15 a.m. So first of all, a phone call to the competition centre at Salzburg! Nobody is there. After several efforts in vain, AIS in Vienna is called. They should know it, if a balloon escapes across the border. At AIS, it is like in an anthill, finally somebody, who feels responsible for that, is on the phone – he knows of nothing, but promises to look after it at once.

A second call 20 minutes later. Thanks goodness, all clear. Even if GERMANY 1 is unknown there, they have a landing report of a D-GATZWEILER at 5:09 near Ried im Innkreis. Also, there is a D-GEROLSTEINER in the air above Straubing as well as a D-AUGSBURG near Ottenschlag, so no border crossing.

By telephone all those, who are interested in these news, are informed. Then waiting for hours. Finally, at 3 p.m. D-AUGSBURG reports back to earth. They have landed two hours ago at Geras in Lower-Austria, and there is a lack of phone boxes in this area. They could not have gone further. From the landing field there are only 5 kilometres to the border river Dyei (known as Thaya in Austria). It is all fine, but Ried im Innkreis can’t be the correct landing-place for GERMANY 1. They had radio contact after 5:09, and if they had not crossed the border, they must have landed very close to it.

How did AIS Vienna get the false landing-report? Calling there once again? Let’s wait, it will all come out. They have landed, that was sure, and in the worst case, they will survive a night in a Czech prison.

The next call comes in at 8:15 p.m. D-GATZWEILER is on the ground, 300 meters from the border fence at Bad Leonfelden. We take a deep breathe, everything came out fine, all balloons have landed. The result does not seem important at the moment.

How have times changed! 50 years ago, Carl Götze/Werner Lohmann flew from Warsaw to Karelia in Russia in 33:45 hours. Today, 13 hours and 220 kilometres was the limit because of different ideological opinions! A little spark of hope and improvement is already there, even if nobody managed a permitted flight to Hungary, Yugoslavia or Rumania this year.

Monday morning, 10:30 a.m. – there they are! Our bridge head in the balloon club of Salzach-Inn, engaged press manager Gernot Jauernik, has got the results. The landing report from Ried im Innkreis came from French Jean Jacques Muchery and Thierry Villey while D-GEROLSTEINER was above Straubing and fought its way along the ADIZ up to almost Nabburg. As we found out later, he never exceeded an altitude of 850 meters, thus flying a completely different direction.

Two items in the results have to be commented on in this race of 1986. Balloon DEUTSCHLAND 1 (D-GATZWEILER) was penalized according to the rules by a subtraction of 30,4 kilometres of his covered distance. The balloons were not permitted, to touch a belt, about 5 kilometres deep, along the Austrian – Czech border. The second point is in the distances: Here, the organization worked very accurate and measured the covered distance down to three decimal places. (Exactly to the meter). So baskets normally have a size of 1,20 to 1,50 meters, they must have taken the middle of the baskets ground floor for measurement. Unfortunately, the landing times had not been fixed in the same manner, so the times in the air could only be calculated by the reports of the competitors

29th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Geneva (SUI) 1985

 Start in Geneva, September 28th       

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

In 1985, a series of victories without precedent , even in the Gordon Bennett races began. Ernest Demuyter had won six times, but not in a row and with different partners. Austrians Joschi Starkbaum/Gert Scholz, 1984 already on rank 2 at their first competition, became unbeatable for the next six years. In the beginning, the material was not important, they flew in rented balloons until 1987. In 1988 they got their own balloon, POLARSTERN.

Switzerland had gained its third victory after 1908 and 1921. In 1985 the invitation was to Geneva. The Swiss could not have selected a better place. This international town of an Henri Dunant, former headquarter of the League of Nations, gave back to the Gordon Bennett race the flair and importance of the old days. For all who were present, it was impressive, how the balloons were carried to the common launch platform in a five minutes sequence and then disappeared in the night followed by the tunes of their national anthem. 12 of 13 balloons went to high altitudes at once. There they found the north-easterly wind, carrying them down the river Rhone. In the early morning, they entered the Mistral and flew southwards, reaching the Mediterranean Sea in the afternoon. Those, who had launched a little later or who had not found the faster wind at once in the morning, was unlucky. The wind calmed down and later turned via West to South. Then they had to land quick, so not to give away a part of the distance they had already achieved.

Austrians Starkbaum/Scholz flew to the limit. At Sanavy sur Mer near Toulon they found the place, which gave them the victory with 342 kilometres in 21:09 hours. Swiss Spenger/Messner tried everything, to repeat the victory of the year before, but their landing place was a little more to the west and even 2 kilometres shorter than Polish Makne/Ozga. The three top finishers were, with the exception of the Polish co-pilot identical to the year before, only the ranks had been changed.

The Germans Wilhelm Eimers/Klaus Marienfeld tricked themselves out. After the launch, they stood over Lake Geneva at a low altitude the whole night. Wilhelm Eimers had the intention, to catch up the field from the back. "Let them all land, then I know, where to fly to make some more distance" he thought. In the morning, he went off for his journey, and found out in the evening, that the wind was carrying him back. Realizing, that he could not win anyhow, he turned the race to an endurance flight for his own. With 44:20 hours he made the longest time since the restart in 1983. The 68 kilometres he achieved could have been made easily by walking in the same time.

In the third race since the restart, German pilot Volker Kuinke shall report. In this race he finished "only" 10th, but there were no large differences to those further ahead. Volker Kuinke was the youngest pilot among the competitors, he was 24 years old. As co-pilot he had chosen Helma Sjuts, almost exactly 42 years older and the only woman in the race. This unequal pair harmonized wonderful and is still today getting into raptures about the:

Miraculous Balloon Voyage to the Provence

Gordon-Bennett 1985 was for me:

  • Great tension and anticipation,
  • intense preparation (including staying not less than 15 hours in the balloons envelope to close even the smallest hole),
  • enormous financial expenses, I could not have spent alone without the help of Helma and our crew!

Weather in Geneva was super, when the balloons were inflated for the Gordon Bennett race. Everything was organized perfectly, I was surprised. Also the crew of D-DÜSSELDORF was, like all the others, in the best mood.

There was a special atmosphere on the launch field, a wonderful situated sport park in the southeast of Geneva. Many volunteers inflated the balloons, all coming from Europe. Some would be flown by Americans, to save the huge transportation costs, they preferred, to hire balloons here.

At the briefing, our mood was no longer as light as before. We learned, that the high pressure weather would continue, but with only little wind from Northwest. This was bad news for us. We had figured out before where we would love to fly. Everything but not a Northwest, pushing us to the mountains at night. And now exactly Northwest! Also later, the forecast of the meteorologists did not change. The tension was also felt with other competitors. The mood changed visible. Autographs, easily given before, now became a nuisance.

Helma and me had to care only a little for inflation. Everything was done without problems by our crew, with Bernd Dechene as balloonmeister. The time for take-off came closer, D-DÜSSELDORF had drawn number 3 for take-off.

Nervousness could be felt by many competitors. One could not agree, which flying tactic would be better: Either to climb to high altitudes at once, to stay out of the humid air close to the ground, which would mean to sacrifice a lot of ballast at the beginning, or to fly low, but also slower, so not to fly to the Alps at night, but this would also cost a lot of ballast. Both tactics had advantages and disadvantages. Helma and me were afraid about heading for the Mont Blanc at night. Not afraid of the mountain itself or the high altitude, but afraid that we would not manage it, to reach the necessary altitude with a 1000 cubic-meter balloon of the old construction. I did not believe, that I could climb over Mont Blanc with 22 bags of ballast and 3 containers of water. The balloons of other nations, with light material and nets made from plastic are much better saving ballast as our German balloons.

Back to our flight: After the launch we wanted to make the decision, to fly high or low. Helma and me together prepare the basket. We both chase away a media girl from America, who had fallen in love with Helma, the only female competitor. Polite but firmly I told her, that at the last preparations for launch, we neither have the time nor the nerves for an interview.

Ten minutes before launch our collision warning lights fail. One of the water containers was leaking and the plug must have fallen to the water puddle on the basket floor. The result: One fuse after the other burned through. Willi Eimers interrupts his launch preparations at D-KARSTADT to help us. He managed, to make the lamps burn again. Then the documents of the balloon are missing. Heinz-Georg from our crew rushes to the car, parked 300 meters away. Well, no start of a balloon ever had cost me more nerves than this one in Geneva.

Finally, it is our turn. D-DÜSSELDORF is carried to the launch platform, a small field illuminated by floodlights, surrounded by officials, the press and spectators. By loudspeaker everything important about the content of the basket and the yellow ball above it is announced. At the same time, my launch aid goes through a check-list with me. O.K., everything is on board!

After the balloon is levelled out, the national anthem is played. I see eyes twinkling, to wish us luck. A newspaper reporter gives me her card, flashlights flare. I am too much under stress, to realize everything around and the solemn take-off. Right after lift-off I become myself again. Relieved, exhausted, but also with big joy: We had managed it, to come into the air together in a Gordon Bennett race, the youngest and the oldest competitor!

The many preparations, telephone calls, two training flights come to my memory again. We had learned to work hand in hand, knew each other better now, let’s hope this will payoff now.

After us, the French balloon takes off. Softly the sound of the Marseillaise and the applause of the spectators reach us.

To our relief we realize, that the wind does not come from northwest as forecasted, but from north-north-east. We fly very low. The balloons above us are faster, so up to them! We manage to pass the first obstacle, the Mont Salève ridge. Everywhere we now see little valleys, villages, bedded in the large blocks of the mountains. The friendly moon shows up in full size and illuminates everything. A mysterious game between moonlight, shadows and darkness. Huge fir trees, looking like frightening giants. For me, the aesthetic worth of a balloon flight is very important. This fascinating flight was like a dream.

We could not see many of our competitors. I try to keep the balloon in a layer, good for our intentions, which was not so easy. Flying a balloon in the mountains is something completely different to flying on the plains, as we were used to. From everywhere, close by and far away, we hear cow bells ringing, many voices and unreal it sounds from all sides.

We keep our direction to the southwest. Soon we imagine about landing on a beach in Portugal. D-DÜSSELDORF slips down to a valley. Underneath the rushing of a creek. Not far from us one other balloon, but no trace of the others. We approach the village Aix-les-Bains. Over the huge Lac du Bourget we stop. The waves on the lake and the pale moonlight, broken by the movement of the waves indicate, that there is more wind down there. I allow the balloon to fall, and on it goes. On the shore, steep mountain slopes rise. The balloon follows the terrain by itself. But still we need too much ballast. Helma is busy fixing our position with the VOR. It worked perfect.

At Les Abrets, from nowhere, we loose the wind. Very slowly, we fly to one or another direction. We don’t like this, so we climb higher. The result is little change. The terrain underneath becomes more flat. Ground fog lays like a big carpet on the landscape. Sometimes, the rooftop of a farmhouse sticks out of the fog. We hover above a landscape out of a fairy tale. From far away, I hear a church bell ringing, it is 7 a.m. Everything else is quiet. Helma and I discuss, what would be best way to come out of this unfortunate situation, D-DÜSSELDORF stands almost still. The farm dogs around must have heard our talks, and soon they all bark.

We have to sacrifice some ballast, but at the altitude, it becomes a little faster. With about 20 kilometres an hour, we now fly to the west. At daybreak, I take a little rest. When I look over the edge of the basket an hour later, a gigantic view is offered to me: The whole chain of the French Alps covered with blazing morning light lays to our feet. The power of the sun warms up the gas and pulls up the balloon to 2000 meters. Rising above all. Mont Blanc shows us his face. What a huge mountain! We now swim on an inversion layer, without using any ballast. But we already know, that we would not be able, to stay another night. Our hope is, to continue at 30 kilometres an hour to 210 degrees and to fly as far as possible to the south, eventually to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Crossing Grenoble D-DÜSSELDORF flys to the valley of the river Isère. Slowly, the sun warms our bones. Far back, I see another competitor, it is D-GATZWEILER. No trace of the other balloons. The wonderful view of the Alps captures us. We cross huge valleys, see little villages bedded in there, and the huge chains of the Pre-Alps. The flight becomes faster and faster. Our balloon had already reached the valley of the Rhone. We leave behind the Pre-Alps. Under us a wonderful landscape. Suddenly, we see a balloon, lying down there on a field. With the binoculars we find out, it is D-AUGSBURG. Jojo Maes calls us by radio: We learn, that also he had not seen another balloon the whole day. Ground wind is very gusty, we shall take care! Really, very quickly we now fly down the Rhone – the Mistral! I have to contact Marseille Info by radio now, this is the direction we are heading. I enjoy the flight. When will I have another chance, to fly across the Provence? A landscape, I’ve never before seen from a balloon: Very old little villages and towns, one feels pushed back to the times of the Roman Empire. Everywhere vineyards, olive trees, fruit plantations. The fields are not laid out straight to a plan, but are almost a labyrinth of geometry. In between, like snakes in the fields, hedges and alleys.

Slowly we approach Avignon. I love to see all that, I had once admired on a vacation. We can well see the Palace of the Pope and the Pont d'Avignon. On it goes, southwards. Now we think about landing in the Camarque and I remember the movie "Voyage in a balloon", but it should turn out completely different. The sun is already low and makes the Rhone, rushing to its mouth, golden. Except D-GATZWEILER and D-AUGSBURG who had already landed, we had not seen a single balloon the whole day. Had they all landed? Our faithful ball can’t keep the altitude any longer. The gas cools down, this miraculous day comes to its end. Soon D-DÜSSELDORF has dropped a few hundred meters, and the flight direction changes to our disadvantage. Not further on to the south, in the direction of the Camargue, no, we suddenly fly east-south-east, every meter shortens the distance, we had already made, and I have almost no more sand, to put this to an end. So down! Our chase-crew has managed to get visual contact, wonderful for a fast landing. In a low altitude we cross Salon de Provence exactly to the east. Damn... no possibility for landing in sight. Everywhere smaller and larger power lines, and our high speed! Always a huge field comes in sight, there is a power line on it or D-DÜSSELDORF passes close by. I already think about landing in the pine forest, when finally some huge fields appear in our direction. Dumping the trail rope and nothing but down. At first, the trail rope is pulled through a vineyard, a road comes in sight, on which, like ordered there, two men stand, who promptly grip the rope, and are pulled across an harvested field of sunflowers. Only with that I manage a smooth landing with the vent.

We had managed it, mother earth got us back! We were lucky and satisfied. Helma and me changed pulling the vent-line. The balloon laid almost empty on the field, our two helpers hold the basket. Suddenly, the basket turned over. I was astonished and turned it up again. Bang, it turned over again. Helma did not like this game, crept out of the basket and realized, that one of our volunteers thought, that only with a turned over basket the balloon could be deflated correctly. Helma took the strong Monsieur with her to look for the chase crew, because of flying low and fast in the mountainous area, radio contact had been interrupted. Also, we had landed in a very lonesome, remote area. Meanwhile, I showed the two other guys from the Provence that stood with me, how the game "packing a balloon" works. Doing this, the mosquitoes, like on my vacation in Arles, loved me very much. Fiercely I beat at them, while I tried to explain the two helpful Frenchmen, how to fold such a balloon. The approaching darkness made this more difficult. When Helma returned with Monsieur we had packed the envelope rough and ready. Helma looked a little frustrated, for the chase crew had not yet reported at the relay station in Geneva. Well, Helma had phoned our landing report. Now I tried my luck. Together with Monsieur Richaud, who had brought his daughter with him to the landing place as reinforcement, we went off. Even having had French lessons at school for eight years, I had enormous problems with communication. Also Helma, at least retired director of a high school, did not deal very well with the dialect of the Provence.

Reaching the home of Monsieur, I was welcomed by a little dog, who growled at me and showed his teeth. Monsieur Richaud wanted to convince me, that with the CB radio in his car, I could surely reach my chase-crew. I talked with mouth, hands and feet to make him clear, that he can’t talk with the CB-radio to a jumbo jet above us. I think, he finally understood it. – Helma had given the phone number of the Richaud family to Geneva, and a little later, the chase crew reported. We agreed, to meet in the village of Lambesc close by, because the house of the Richauds was very hidden and remote, far away from roads, in the middle of a pine-forest. Meanwhile, Monsieur offered me a cup of coffee and asked me, if we want to stay the night at his house. I did not know, if I should agree, because the house did not look like having lots of room to sleep. He realized my hesitation: "No, not here! If have an empty vacation house near by, there is enough space." I accepted this with thanks. With Monsieur Richaud and the chase crew, we met at Lambesc we returned to Helma, who had fallen asleep next to the basket. Together we went to the wonderful vacation house, where Madame and daughter Richaud had already cared for a meal and the beds. After a shower for refreshing and the dinner we slept deep in the huge French king-size beds, while the full-moon looked through the window, wishing us a good night.

The Gordon-Bennett race 1985 was over for us. For Helma and me, it had presented a balloon flight, any pilot would dream of. The next morning, we packed the balloon completely, took some honey from Monsieur Richaud with us and finally went home. Arriving at Geneva, we looked to the map on which all the landing-spots of the balloons were marked. Of course, we’ve had bad luck. If the wind had not come so directly from the west during our landing, we could have landed more south and would have performed better. But one should consider the distances. There are only 35 kilometres between second and tenth place, not very big dimensions. Whatever people may tell – Helma and me have done everything we could do. And there is a much more important result: In this week when we all were together, crew and pilots, we understood each other extremely good and became friends – even or because of the big difference in age. I think, this is much more important and of more value than any better rank in the race.

Volker Kuinke

28th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Zurich (SUI) 1984

Start: Zurich, October 13th    

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

Gordon Bennett Races had lost nothing of their fascination. It had become more difficult than in the old days, to stay within the set borders, but as we had seen, long flights were still possible. According to the rules, Poland was in charge to host the race of 1984, but renounced. This was, beside financial problems, also for political and geographical reasons. Right in the middle of nations that did not love ballooning very much, the balloons would soon have reached their limits. Poland gave back the honour of hosting the race to the F.A.I. and Switzerland stepped in and helped out. This country, rich in ballooning tradition, already had hosted the race in 1932 as a substitute, when the USA had not been able to host it. The race was invited to Zurich and the date was put to fall, because then the tendency for thunderstorms is less, as the statistics of the past 15 years, contributed by the Swiss meteorological institution, showed. The day of the launch was decided by the moon, for at full moon navigation is much easier for the pilots. The time for the launch was set by the air traffic control of the airport Zürich-Kloten which was close to the launch field. The controllers did not want to have balloons in the sky as long as there was the evening airplane air traffic, so the first balloon could not launch before 11 p.m. Short after midnight, all were on their journey. But before this happened, the organizers of the race had to solve a lot of other problems.

First of all, there was a problem with the transportation of the hydrogen. The balloons were no longer, like until 1938, filled with coal gas, which had been available in every larger town. Hydrogen had to be brought from a chemical factory to the launch field by a special transportation truck. Seven of these trucks were necessary. They had to be back to their factories in the evening. Originally, the launch was set for Sunday evening, October 14th. But for Sunday, no permission for driving these trucks could be obtained from the authorities for road traffic. What could be done? Inflating the balloons on Saturday and leaving them on the launch field for 24 hours. This would increase the risks. Hydrogen is easy inflammable (it becomes only if mixed with oxygen). Condensed in the special tanks of the trucks little could happen, but a whole night and a whole day on the launch field with the gas in the balloons, an accident might occur. So the organization put the date for launch to Saturday, the night before full moon.

This new date had to be discussed again with air traffic control at Zürich-Kloten. Permission for the flight of the balloons was given with a limitation of the maximum altitude, above the plains of northern Switzerland, only fight-level 80 (2700 meters) were permitted, over the Alps they were allowed to climb up to flight level 140 (4700 meters). At first in other countries the maximum altitude was put up to flight-level 190 (6300 meters). This was a big reduction to the tactical calculations of the competitors. An Ernest Demuyter (and several others) had gained their victories by climbing to high altitudes short after launch, to use the higher wind speeds up there. This was no longer possible due to the much heavier air traffic.

Also prior to the race were the Swiss organizers efforts to drill at least a little hole to the "Iron Curtain". If something like this was tried by a neutral country like Switzerland, the chances for success might be better as if done by a nation, bound to a block. Dr. Ernst Iselin, in charge for the organization of the race, tried it on two different levels: On one side, he approached the eastern countries by the Swiss foreign office, on the other side via the national aero clubs. After lots of applications and requests, may telephone calls and fax messages, the answers came in. German Democratic Republic, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria rejected any fly in and fly across because of "full airspace". Hungary and Romania opened their borders. If the wind would come from the northwest, a runway down to the Black Sea would have been open. Even if there was only a little success in the year 1984, our Swiss friends had put out their feelers, cleared the terrain and set an important foundation for a change of mind in several countries of the eastern block. Balloonists of the whole western world owe them gratitude for this.

The pilots were not involved in the difficult and long discussions prior to the race. They discussed the successful Atlantic crossing of 56-years old American Joe Kittinger one month before (September 18th), who had landed with his balloon ROSIE O'GRADY BALLOON OF PEACE after a flight of 5600 kilometres near Savona in Italy. For the first time, a pilot flying solo had managed the crossing, after flying 84 hours.

Not much attention was paid to the first ladies crew at a Gordon-Bennett-Race. Women’s liberation had never been necessary in ballooning. Already in 1913 Madame Goldschmidt flew the race together with René Rumpelmayer, in the race 1983 Helma Sjuts from Germany and Nini Boesman from the Netherlands were among the pilots. Nikki Caplan and Jane Buckless from the USA were considered as competitors like all the others.

On the day of the launch, Saturday, October 13th, 1984, weather forecast reported a high-pressure situation typical for fall, with high clouds and winds from 80 degrees, it could not have come better. The flight went to west south west and the pilots could decide to fly around the Swiss Jura mountains in the south or in the north. At daybreak they arrived in the area of Lake Neuchatel and drifted to Burgundy, passing the control zone of Geneva airport in the north. At about noon, the Americans Ben Abruzzo and Dewey Reinhard had to solve a dangerous situation. On their new, nettles Raven balloon DOUBLE EAGLE IX the rip panel opened and the balloon started to fall at 5 meters per second. 400 kilograms of ballast, the heavy batteries and the oxygen-bottles went overboard, to stop the fall. They managed a safe landing at Gland on Lake Geneva. At late afternoon, the three Germans, the two Americans still in the race, the French and one Swiss finished the race and landed in the area of Macon - Roanne - Lyon, Swedish Hans Akerstedt landed before nightfall near Clermont Ferrant. The two Polish balloons, two Swiss and the Austrian flew into the second night.

Short after dawn on Monday morning, the Polish balloon flown by Ireneusz Cieslak/Waldemar Ozga had reached the Atlantic coast at La Rochelle. Almost the same spot was the landing field of Swiss Peter Peterka/Rolf Gross six hours later. With 749 kilometres both crews were ranked fourth. Winner of the year before, Stefan Makne and his new co-pilot Jerzy Czerniawski had flown lower in the last hours, getting a heading more to the left, southwards. Northwest of the little town of Royan he reached the sea, 21 kilometres more than his fellow citizen Cieslak and the Swiss Peterka/Gross. It was only good for 3rd rank, the cup, they had hoped for, was missed. The strategy, to fly low and left, was much more consistently performed by the Austrians Josef Starkbaum/Gert Scholz. With their rented, heavy balloon BASEL they could not have flow higher. They crossed the Gironde, then the narrow peninsula Medoc and landed directly on its west beach. 10 kilometres more than Makne/Czerniawski, good for rank 2. For the first time since 1932 an Austrian team was in the race again, and with such a good result.

Winner of the race became Swiss Karl Spenger with co-pilot Martin Messner. Flying 793 kilometres in 43 hours they gained the third victory for their country after 1908 and 1921. The distance they had covered would have been enough for winning also in earlier days in 1924 or 1928. The name of the co-pilot sounds familiar, in the year 1908 it was Emil Messner, grandfather of Martin, who made the dramatic flight across the North Sea as co-pilot of Theo Schaeck. It is unique in the history of these races till today, that two men from one family appear in the list of winners.

Martin Messner reported about this race from the beginning to the end. No view to the preparations and the situation in the basket can be more authentically. Here follows his report.

1. Preparations

On Tuesday, October 9th, we were invited to demonstrate our new balloon, having just got its registration by the civil aviation authority at a press conference. This presentation attracted a lot of interest by the representatives of the media, they were quite astonished by the huge equipment of the basket, the electronic tools for navigation as well as the warm meals in the thermos flasks.

On Friday, October 12th, at 10 a.m., there was the first pilots briefing on the arsenal field in Kloten. Here we met the other competitors for the first time. Most astonishing was the preparation of the Americans Ben Abruzzo and Dewey Reinhard, who had constructed a super light basket from aluminium. In the pilot briefing we mostly got information about the schedule of the race. We discussed the different rules, air-traffic limitations and of course with much interest the meteorological situation. Weather forecast was excellent, a high pressure area was approaching, promising a flight to France or Spain. So in the afternoon, we could concentrate our preparations on a flight in this direction, but perhaps also to Italy, before we went to the welcome dinner at Mövenpick on the airport. We could not enjoy this solemn party, visited by a lot of prominent people from earlier ballooning days, very much, because our thoughts were already on a flight to far away countries.

On Saturday, October 13th, at 10 a.m. we were once again called to another pilot briefing. Most interesting was the weather situation, which was still perfect. During the morning, our inflation team started with the laying out and filling of the balloon. The good preparation and the very reliable inflation team from Bronschhofen guaranteed smooth work, so that we as pilots could concentrate on the equipment in the basket. During the afternoon, quite a lot of spectators could be seen, approaching the launch field behind the Kloten airport. Many questions of interest were asked, and it was quite nice, to feel the sympathy of the population for ballooning. A dinner, at which we instructed our chase crew, finished the preparations before the final briefing at 9 p.m. Then we had to wait until 10:48 p.m., when the last plane of Swissair landed at Kloten. But we came through this break well with the knowledgeable information given by speaker Planzer.

2. The start

As first balloon the mail balloon with pilot Regula Hug-Messner and Walter Pfenniger launched at about 11 p.m. under the heavy applause of 10000 spectators. (Remark: Regula Hug-Messner is the aunt of Martin and the daughter of Gordon-Bennett winner 1908, Emil Messner).

We had drawn to launch as number 6, directly before the Americans with their super light DOUBLE EAGLE IX, which were considered to be a favourite. Short before 11:30 p.m. our balloon was carried to the centre of the bright illuminated launch field. The balloon was already levelled out, a last check and at 11:32 p.m. we lifted off to the dark sky to the sound of the Swiss national anthem and a frenetic applause from the spectators.

3. The flight

To spent less ballast and to use the wind in the direction of Geneva better, we decided to fly quite low. Although the speed was quite high, we learned at daybreak, that no other balloon were in sight. At sunrise, our balloon climbed higher and higher, and at about 8 a.m. we passed Balsthal, where we got the first information about the positions of our competitors, who already moved in the direction of France. The radio station on Mount Chasseral, especially set up for this race, worked perfect, so during the morning, we learned almost all the positions of the other balloons, and when we finally passed Mount Chasseral we had to face the comment: "Oh, now you are also coming".

So we flew to France in an altitude of about 2000 meters and in wonderful sunshine and ordered our chase crew, who had rested the night in Zurich, to drive there. Shortly after the Swiss border, in the area of Macon in France, we flew above the clouds, which made navigation quite difficult. Radar tracks from Lyon and Clermond-Ferrant, the biggest civil airfield of that region, helped for an accurate determination of our position at any time. Now we needed patience, we had to wait and could enjoy a wonderful flight at a speed of about 30 – 40 kilometres an hour with little use of ballast.

With a warm meal in our stomach, we went for the second night, when we could already hear some landing reports of other crews. We had decided, to fly high the second night, to cover more kilometres. We slept alternately, the tent shaped curtain around the basket allowed us to continue the flight without suffering from the outside temperatures, which were quite low,

Early Monday morning, we were in the area of Limoges, when the superheating made the balloon climb slowly to almost 3000 meters. We had no more information about the other competitors, especially from the Americans. No message, where they were, could be received at that time.

In different radio calls, we learned to our great surprise, that at this time, four other balloons were still in the air. Far ahead the balloon from Austria with pilot Josef Starkbaum and Gert Scholz, a little higher than we, one of the Polish balloons, and short behind us the balloon flown by Peter Peterka and Rolf Gross (SWITZERLAND II).

Now the race became exciting. The winds slowly turned from northeast to south/southeast, so that Jo Starkbaum, who was already in the region of Bordeaux had to land at the Gironde so as not to be pushed out to sea. His landing position was important for us, for we now knew, to where we had to fly to gain a chance for victory. At an altitude of 3500 meters we went along the beach in the direction of Nantes, when the balloon SWITZERLAND II, flying a little lower, drifted away in the direction of La Rochelle.

In the early afternoon we could witness, how the balloon SWITZERLAND II and the two Polish balloons had to land, to avoid being pushed out to the sea by a strong ground wind. Now it was important, to keep our nerves and patience. With very low speed we flew along the coast. We passed La Rochelle, crossed a bay, and came closer to the sea more and more besides of La Roche. Our goal was to reach Les Sables d’Olonnes, without being pushed out to the sea, which was not easy with this ground wind. We were happy when we crossed Les Sables d’Olonnes, because now we knew, that we had made more distance than the balloon from Austria. From 3000 meters we went for the landing, which worked out very well, even with the strong ground wind towards the sea. We landed only 150 – 200 meters from a swamp area on the shore. Soon after our landing, our chase-crew was there, they had made 1300 kilometres in the car, and welcomed us with a big hello and congratulations, for they knew first, that the American balloon, we had feared so much, had already landed close Lake Geneva, so we could prepare for a possible victory.

Never before in this region, a balloon had landed so close to the sea. So a lot of spectators came. From all directions the people came, police, county authorities, newspaper reporters, a.s.o. So it was quite easy, to gain all landing confirmations from officials right on the field.

4. If the final is good, everything is fine

In the beginning, we could not realize all that we had achieved with this extremely strenuous flight. It had been simply beautiful, overwhelming beautiful and impressing, to see the sympathy for ballooning. Our best congratulations went to our competitors, who had nearly taken the victory from us by their tremendous flying performance, especially to Austrians Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz, as well as the balloons SWITZERLAND II with Peterka/Gross and the two Polish balloons.

Our warm thanks also to the excellent organization by the "Ballongruppe Zurich", the authorities, who made such a race possible, the weather men, who presented this wonderful weather to us, our crews, who supported us so much, as well as to all the visitors on the launch field and all our friends, who worked with us these two days.

So far the report of Martin Messner. As an explanation, it must be added, that Karl Spenger builds his balloons by himself, and, as mentioned by Martin Messner at the beginning, went to the race with a brand new light weight balloon. This was the reason for a lot of discussions about the result of the race among balloonists; these discussions have not ended until today. The different opinions however are not limited to ballooning alone, basically they meet the changing views about high performance sports in general. Even if the value of this kind of sports may be questionable, its existence and influence on our daily life cannot be negotiated. Considering ballooning and the results becoming evident in 1984, one can summarize:

  • A modern (light weight) balloon is not alone responsible for success. Starkbaum/Scholz and Peterka/Gross flew the second night using normal, heavy club balloons
  • Even if Spenger/Messner took profit from their light balloon, their first place is based mainly on their long and excellent preparations, their engagement and their training.
  • This race is not won just by the two pilots in their basket up there, their crew and counsellors on the ground contribute a lot. A good team cares for the material, the weather information, the inflation, the collecting of all necessary information and keeps the pilots away from all other influences prior to the launch, so that they can enter the race wide awake.
  • The physical constitution of the pilots is as important as the material. An overweight pilot or co-pilot needs more ballast that a light weight balloon could save.

The five crews, who had reached the Atlantic coast had realized this. The Polish were highly motivated by their victories in 1938 and 1983. Of course, in those days, it was also important for them, that they would get another permission to travel and financial support from their government for the next year only if they had performed well. Peter Peterka had become world champion in gas ballooning in Bern only two weeks before the Gordon Bennett race, (with Jean-Paul Küenzi as Co-pilot); he wanted to make the "double". Josef (Joschi) Starkbaum had talked often about. That in ballooning, he is not only interested in a peaceful flight enjoying the landscape below but in researching the sporting limits of a balloon. (He was an airliner captain of the AUSTRIAN AIRLINES). Martin Messner, a grandson of victorious first lieutenant Emil Messner in 1908, has something in common with Joschi Starkbaum: Both mainly fly hot air balloons and are some of the bests of the world in this kind of sport. The hot air balloon offers an excellent possibility for training, not in the endurance of a flight, but in using the different streaming of the winds and in realizing every change of weather. So with a hot air balloon many more flights can be made than with a gas balloon. It is a good tool for training for a difficult gas balloon race.

Many balloon pilots feel suspicious about this professional attitudes towards the sport. They see their competition in a Gordon Bennett race as a welcome break away of their normal club flying. This is of course their own decision, but it is rare, that they may win with this attitude. The Americans had entered the race with light weight balloons and much ballast. No one found an explanation, why they finished the race on the afternoon of the first day. (Except the accident of DOUBLE EAGLE IX).

The race also brought some new technology. For the first time, the balloons had to be equipped with a VOR-radio (very high frequency omni directional range) and Transponder (Secondary-Radar). These are tools, helping the pilot to navigate, but they also show the exact position of the balloon on the radar screen of the air-traffic controller. The experience gained was valuable. Since then, one cannot imagine a Gordon Bennett race without these tools. And also another pre-condition found its way to the future rules at this race: At least one member of the crew in the basket should know English language, to handle the radio contact with ATC with no problems.

The race had ended on natural, not political boundaries. This was a good result and made hope for good races in the following years.