24 Sep 2016

How to survive 48 hours - or more - in a 1m2 gas balloon basket

Gas balloon racing teams often spend days in the air - sharing a tiny space and sometimes dealing with stressful situations. Here, Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett pilots explain what makes a partnership capable of surviving a long-distance flight in such cramped conditions.

Team GBR 2 - John Rose and Clive Bailey

Most of the pilots taking part in the Gordon Bennett championship have been flying together for years.

But Rose and Bailey, who finished 13th after spending more than 33 hours in the air, had only flown together a couple of times before taking part in the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2016.

“We’ve known each other for years, but the first time we flew together was when we arrived in Germany a couple of weeks ago to do some training flights,” Bailey said.

“We both know the importance of working together as a team, though. And John makes a mean cup of Horlicks!”

“The key is to stay safe while having fun,” Rose added. “I think we will do it again.”

Team USA 1 - Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo

Husband and wife partnership Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo (Team USA 1) have been flying gas balloons together since 1997.

Their top tip is to pick a partner you trust completely. “The secret is to really trust each other,” Fricke said.

“That way you can sleep easy while the other person is flying - although we both stay awake at important moments such as during our cold, but beautiful night flight over the Alps in this year’s race. One of our rules is that if one of us says it’s time to land, that’s what we do.”

Frock and Cuneo finished fourth in this year’s championship, clocking up 1,031.83 kilometres in just under 41 hours.

“Barbara’s definitely the brains of the operation,” said Cuneo, jokingly flexing his biceps. “I’m just the muscle.”

Team SUI 2 - Nicolas Tièche and Laurent Sciboz

Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2016 silver medallist Laurent Sciboz does not believe you have to be close out of the basket to have a good relationship while flying.

“It’s important to have a friendship that works well during the flight, but you don’t need to be great friends to make a good partnership,” he said.

“Nicolas and I have been flying together for five years. We both make decisions; we have to because one of us is generally sleeping while the other one is flying.”

His partner Nicolas Tièche, meanwhile, believes that it is vital to share the same “vision of risk”.

“In this race, for example, we both agreed that it was too risky to try to continue to Greece - even though we knew that Team SUI 1 had gone there,” he said. “It’s important to agree at moments like that.”

Tièche and Sciboz flew 1,589.95 kilometres in this year’s race, landing in Cortone in Italy after just over 51 hours in the air.

Team GER 3 - Himke Hilbert and Dominik Haggeney

German pilot Himke Hilbert says flying with her husband Dominik Haggeney is just like being together at home - just in a smaller space.

“We did disagree the first time we flew in the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett in 2014,” she said.

“I wanted to try to cross the Mediterranean, but he thought it was too risky and said we should land. Moments like that can be difficult because you are both so tired, but we did not have any fights this year.”

The couple finished in 15th position after covering almost 440 kilometres in 18.40 hours.

“For me, lying together is about building up trust during training flights and knowing you can rely on each other’s decisions,” Haggeney said.

Pictured clockwise from top left: John Rose/Clive Bailey (GBR2); Peter Cuneo/Barbara Fricke (USA1); Nicolas Tièche/Laurent Sciboz (SUI2); Dominik Haggeney/Himke Hilbert (GER3)