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2010 Articles

JUN 15 2010
The 54th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett International Gas Balloon Race Media Launch

This September Bristol will become the launch site for the oldest and most prestigious aeronautical race in the world. The 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race will see balloon teams from around the world take off from Great Britain for the first time since the race began in 1906. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and Sir Richard Branson have both agreed to be event patrons for this unique event. Sir Richard Branson said: "It gives me great pleasure to be patron of the 2010 Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett, the world's oldest aeronautical contest. This is the first time that it has taken place in the United Kingdom in its 104 year history. The pilots will be airborne for three or four days without landing and, in seeking to fly the greatest distance, will go for thousands of miles, crossing several countries. I know from some of my own long-distance balloon flights what a challenge and adventure this can be. I will be watching the live tracking on the web site with great interest. I hope the balloonists will have a long and safe journey and that everyone will enjoy the spectacle of the launch day and follow the event to its conclusion."

The history of the race is a long and prestigious one. In 1906 the flamboyant James Gordon Bennett Jr, an American press baron and adventurer - the same man that sent Stanley to find Livingstone - came up with the idea for the race. The rules were simple; fly across frontiers through night and day, as far as possible from the launch site. In conjunction with the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the first race saw the 16 entrants set off from Paris, where Gordon Bennett lived, which gave the event its official title, the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett. The balloons took off and headed in the direction of the English Channel. The British entrant was the honourable Charles Rolls, co founder of Rolls Royce. He landed on the Royal estate at Sandringham, as befitting such an individual, but was beaten by an American who landed in Yorkshire. As the rules dictate that the launch country be decided by the winner, the 1907 race started in the United States, much to the delight of Gordon Bennett.

Over the years the balloonists' endeavours have led to some astonishing achievements and stories. In the last century there have been a number of fatalities, even balloons shot down, although every effort is made today to ensure safety. In previous years flights from Europe have ended up at the North Cape of Norway, the south west tip of Portugal, the Black Sea and Northern Africa. It is hoped that westerly winds will prevail in September allowing for some long distance flight across Europe.

Flying as a team of two in a small wicker basket with a living space of 1.2 meters for many days and over a distance of thousands of miles is certainly an endurance test. The flight is not comfortable for the crew. There are no on-board facilities and the toilet is at best generally a bucket! There is a fold down seat that runs along one side of the basket which adds a little comfort. At the end of the basket is a small trap door just big enough to fit your feet through. The purpose of this trap door is to allow the resting pilot to lie down on the basket floor to be able to get some sleep stretched out with their feet dangling outside the basket. This obviously only happens at height. There haven't been any reports of the crews becoming legless... this generally occurs after the flight! The teams will be equipped with sea survival equipment, warm clothing, sleeping bags, safety equipment, flight instruments and radios to keep in touch with ATC and their ground crews and, most importantly, many, many bags of sand for use as ballast. Food will all be cold: safety means that no one will use a flame under a balloon full of hydrogen! Each team flying from Bristol will be presented with a small luxury hamper from Harvey Nichols, just so they have a few home comforts.

The Gordon Bennet is a race for older generation gas balloons, which are very different to the everyday hot air balloon like the ones that I fly. As its name suggests, a hot air balloon is full of air that can be heated by the burner to create lift. A gas balloon is normally filled with hydrogen so is naturally buoyant and has no burner. The balloon carries ballast bags of sand which can be emptied over board to create lift. To descend a vent is opened to release gas. A gas balloon does not need to carry fuel to power a burner so, unlike a hot air balloon that can fly for just a few hours on its fuel, a gas balloon can fly for days. Filling the envelope with hydrogen takes several hours and the gas balloons will usually take off after sunset. One thing that the two forms of ballooning do share in common is that their flight direction is governed by the prevailing winds. Landings in water do not qualify so each team has to make the most of the meteorological conditions.

The 2009 Gordon Bennett began in Geneva with 16 teams, and the winners were the French Team who flew for four days and landed near Lagos in the extreme South West of Portugal. World records were broken in 2009 with team GB2 - the all female crew of Janet Folkes and Ann-Ruth Rich - flying for almost 70 hours and breaking the world record for female flight duration. Three European teams landed in Algeria, entering the record books by making the first three cross continental flights between Europe and Africa.

Since the inaugural race in 1906 no Briton had won, that was until 2008 when the GB team of well known explorer David Hempleman-Adams and Jon Mason won the event which was held in America. They travelled 1098 miles in over 74 hours, flying from Albuquerque in New Mexico to the shores of Lake Michigan, north of Chicago. At the Media Launch David explained that prior to filling the balloon with gas they had to fill 70 bags with sand. Half of these were used to tether the balloon to the ground prior to take off with the other half used as ballast for the flight. At the end of the flight he had just over a bag of sand remaining. By winning the race in 2008 they won the honour of hosting the race in their home nation.

Twenty two teams consisting of two pilots (pilot and co-pilot) and a retrieve crew from 12 countries will compete in the 54th Gordon Bennett. There are more teams entered from more countries than there has been since 1909, signalling a possible renaissance for the gas balloon. The balloons will take off at dusk from Ashton Court in Bristol, the home of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Great Britain will be represented by three teams. The pilots in command are David Hemplemen-Adams, Dr Colin Butter and Janet Folkes. Germany, France and the USA are also entering three teams, with Switzerland and Finland two apiece. Single entries have been received from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Japan, Netherlands and Russia.

Cameron Balloons based in Bristol are building a brand new design gas balloon especially for David Hempleman-Adams to fly at GB 2010. According to Don Cameron, "This balloon is the first of its kind. The balloon sets a new standard of safety as the hydrogen is kept rigorously separate from contact with air. In addition, a specially designed automatic pressure relief valve at the top of the balloon will operate as required at altitude. It is a difficult balloon to build, as hydrogen is a very small molecule and our new fabric has to be exceptionally gas tight as well as lightweight. Even sewing it together is difficult as every seam has to be sealed with a special tape so that gas does not leak out the stitch holes!" The balloons specialised fabric has been designed with a highly reflective coating to help reflect the sun's rays and reduce heating of the balloon and gas during the day. This will reduce the amount of ballast that needs to be released at night to keep the balloon flying. The balloon will hold about 1000 cubic meters of hydrogen and is 14 meters wide and 20 meters tall from the top of the balloon to the base of the basket.

The launch date is planned for September 25th but as with all ballooning this is weather dependant. On departure day each balloon will ascend one by one with the teams' national anthem being played. They will take off at dusk and hopefully the light from the moon will light the land sufficiently to guide them. Then who knows where the wind will take them???

For those of you who can't make the launch from Bristol full live GPS tracking of each balloon will be provided on the Gordon Bennett 2010 website www.gordonbennett2010.com the perfect opportunity for everyone to become balloon spotters!

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2010-06-15 - Jo Slade
Great article, it will be a really exciting race in September with more teams attending than in any Gordon Bennett race since 1909. Follow the race live from 25th September
www.gordonbennett2010.com



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