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:
- 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
- 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.