17 Sep 2016

It’s a Team Sport: What makes a Gordon Bennett Team?

There may only be two pilots in each basket at the 60th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett but it takes a whole team to get them into the air. We talked to Team Lithuania to find out who's behind the scenes and what they do...

There may be only two people in the basket, but those pilots are going nowhere without a dedicated ground and support crew.

LTU 01 is father and son team Robertas and Laurynas Komza from Lithuania. This is their first time in the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett, and they are the first team from Lithuania ever to enter.

To find out what it takes to put together a team to enter the Gordon Bennett, we asked Robertas Komza to introduce himself and his team?

Robertas Komza, second right
I’m the chief pilot. I’m the only gas balloonist in Lithuania. In fact I only got my licence in August 2015. The rules state that you must hold a gas balloon licence for a year before the race, so I just made it in by a week. I trained in Gladbeck – to get your licence you must be a hot air balloon pilot and then complete a minimum of five flights and 16 hours. In the USA it’s different – there you need to complete two flights with an instructor.

Laurynas Komza
This is my son and he is a qualified hot air balloon pilot too. I don’t know if it’s a unique case, but I think it’s pretty rare to have a father-and-son team flying together in the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett.

Rimvydas Baranauskas, middle
This is my Team Chief. He does everything – organising, fixing things, making sure we are in the right place at the right time. It’s his job to make sure that we are the best we can be.

Mindaugas Judzauskas and Arunas Bronusas, second left and far right
These guys are the team drivers. We just have the one vehicle but any team needs at least two. If the balloon is flying in a straight line at 100km/h then you need to be covering a lot of ground on the roads. If we end up in Crete by the end of this week it’s their job to come and get us!

Virmantas Smatas, not pictured
The team meteorologist. Unlike some teams we only have one meteorologist – he stays at home in Lithuania. He’s a young guy, only 22, and he works at the airport. When we started talking about and promoting the Gordon Bennett in Lithuania he got to hear about it and got in touch. He’s a smart guy. I took him for his first balloon flight a couple of weeks ago and he liked it.

Danielius Komza, far left
This is son number two, and he is the team photographer and videographer. He’s a little young to be flying balloons yet but one day he might, and I will be the one doing the driving! Staying in touch through social media and publicising what we are doing is essential if we are to build on what we do here. We’re all pretty new at this but we’re in it for the long term!