05 Oct 2023

Preparing for a long-distance flight from Alberquerque: 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

By Ruth E. Wilson (AUS), Gas Balloon Pilot and member of FAI Ballooning Commission Public & Media Relations Sub-Committee.

Right now in Alberquerque, USA, 17 teams from nine countries are settling into pre-race planning mode, prior to launching their gas balloons at the 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett, the oldest and most prestigious event in aviation.  

  • Launch time: 1800 MDT on 7 October (0000 UTC on Sunday 8 October)

2012 Alberquerque gas balloon launch
Launching in Alberquerque in 2012 (photo from Debbie Spaeth, Chair Public & Media Relations Sub-Committee, FAI Ballooning Commission (CIA)

The teams specialists will be intently studying weather profiles to help them decide on the most favourable flight path to give them the longest flight distance from launch to landing. This of course, is the goal for each team: to fly the furthest non-stop distance from the launch site.

Electronic equipment will be fully charged… The balloon basket will be set up for maximum comfort, in the hopes that the pilots may stay airborne for two to three days… Chase crews will plan their routes with appropriate maps and sustenance to carry them to their pilot’s landing place… Lists of important communication contacts and numbers are prepared and shared… And this is just the start.

Gordon Bennett pre-flight planning

On flight day, the team’s first duty is to fill the nominated number of sandbags with the supplied sand for the race. Quantity will vary from team to team depending on the weight factor of the basket and the gear the balloon’s envelope has to carry. Generally, 50 to 55 bags of sand each weighing 10 kilos will be shovelled and weighed for each competing team.

There are lots of ways to follow this flight full of adventure, skill, courage, survival and luck:

Follow the race

Image credits: FAI / Marcus King (free for editorial use)