18 Sep 2016

Basket case: Team USA-03 invites us round to see their new place

It’s been a busy morning and early afternoon in Gladbeck as pilots prepare their balloons and baskets for launch. We invited ourselves round to Team USA-03 to see their new baby – a brand new lightweight Woerner basket...

As soon as the briefing was over this morning in Gladbeck pilots and teams started to prepare their baskets and balloons for launch late this evening. Each team has a dedicated launch position in the field here, where they are expected to set up camp, sort gear and get ready for take off. Balloons had to be ready for inflation by 1pm, which meant two hours of work.

First out of the trailer for most pilots was the balloon basket. Immediately you can see the different approaches. Some pilots have a traditional wicker basket, while others have what can only be termed a racing basket.

Mark Sullivan and Cheri White (USA 3) attracted a lot of favourable glances with their basket. A lightweight one it has sides made of lightweight honeycomb aluminium alloy with a traditional wicker base. Wicker baskets have always been used in ballooning because they are naturally light and also provide a degree of ‘crumple-zone’ protection in the event of a heavy landing.

“This is my 20th time in the Gordon Bennett,” Sullivan said. “Adventure” and the fact he “loves flying in Europe” keeps him coming back.

“It’s a Woerner basket,” he explained while standing in his basket arranging things. “It’s light, really light. It takes about 30kg off the total weight, so it’s the equivalent of having three bags of ballast.”

As well as GPS, oxygen system, flight electronics and a flashlight, they have a small bed. The basket is not big enough to lie down in, so it has a small “kick-out panel” in the side that allows the pilot to lie down and stretch out, their legs outside the basket but enclosed in fabric.

“One pilot can sleep here, the other can sit here. One flies, one rests. We start with three hour shifts, and if you get tired we move it into two hour or even one hour.”

And the obvious question, how do you go to the toilet up there? “That’s the question they always ask! We have a porta potty and a Lady-J, that’s it.” Enough said!

And finally, what does Team USA-03 think about the weather?

“It sucks! Weather is quite challenging. They have high wind warnings along the Italian coastline. It’s going to be a tough flight. But we’ll do what’s safe.”