by Joyce and Mike Bundgaard
As observers for the 41st Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon event in Warstein, Germany from September 6 through 13, our experience was filled with copious contrasts, unique flights, and a very exciting conclusion. Fifteen teams from USA, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Britain, Austria, and France competed in this annual race. With many of the same officials from last year's Gordon Bennett, the professional organization conducted flawless filling and perfect launches of the hydrogen balloons.
The object of the Gordon Bennett is simple: longest distance from launch site wins. Our job as observers was to follow with the crew and document the final landing site. All the forecast winds were from the northwest. Since Bulgaria and Turkey were closed for the competition, the Romanian coastline of the Black Sea became the target. Some pilots joked that this year's race was a Judge Declared Goal within a Boundary. And that is exactly what it turned out to be.
Six teams flew just over 1700 kilometers and landed in or very near the small Romanian town of Mangolia located on the Romanian/Bulgarian border, on the Black Sea. Never, since the beginning of this event in 1906, have so many balloons landed so close together.
Add to that nine of the longest 25 flights in Gordon Bennett history were flown in this competition. The German team of Fink/Hohl and the Polish team of Makne/Hallas both surpassed their respective national distance records.
The sole French team, brothers Vincent and Jean-Francois Leys flying their homebuilt balloon, landed on the beach of the Black Sea and farthest from Warstein, thus capturing the title for France for the first time since 1912, a great honor for the country which is the birthplace of ballooning.
The US team of David Levin and Mark Sullivan landed 200 meters short and took second place; the third place Netherlands team of Jurg/Van Houten set down just before crossing into Bulgaria and just 100 meters short of David and Mark.
Landing 5.3 kilometers short, Joyce's German team of Hohl/Fink took fourth. Landing just out of town, US pilots Mike Wallace and Kevin Brielmann set down in the summer residence of the Romanian President, right next to the beach. What a spectacular end to their flight. They finished in fifth place.
Last year's winners, the German team of Eimers/Landsmann, placed sixth. They managed to land on a tiny island near Tulcea in the Black Sea. With only one ferry boat a day they had to wait for the next morning to be retrieved.
Two of the three Austrian teams had leaky balloons: the Starkbaum team didn't launch, the Furstner/Sturzlinger team that Mike observed for landed early in Slovakia. The third US team, Troy and Tami Bradley, flew 766 kilometers and took 12th place.
The crews and observers who drove through the poor country of Romania, with its dilapidated, but improving infrastructure, and with people living in small, shoddy houses along the country roads or huge, drab, apartment buildings in Bucharest, had an eye-opening adventure. The contrasts of this former communist country with wealthy, powerful Germany were striking.
This Gordon Bennett was very well run by Markus Haggeney and his staff, the weather was perfect for a long distance flight, and everyone is looking forward to meeting again next yearin Paris?