Gordon Bennett Cup (ballooning)
|English name||Gordon Bennett Cup|
|First award||September 30, 1906|
|First winner||Frank Purdy Lahm|
|Most wins||Josef Starkbaum (seven)|
|Most recent||Wilhelm Eimers, Matthias Zenge (August 30, 2014)|
The Gordon Bennett Cup (or Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett) is the world's oldest gas balloon race, and is "regarded as the premier event of world balloon racing" according to the Los Angeles Times. Referred to as the "Blue Ribbon" of aeronautics, the first race started from Paris, France, on September 30, 1906. The event was sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper. According to the organizers, the aim of the contest "is simple: to fly the furthest distance from the launch site." The contest ran from 1906 to 1938, interrupted by World War I and in 1931, but was suspended in 1939 when the hosts, Poland, were invaded at the start of World War II. The event was not resurrected until 1979, when American Tom Heinsheimer, an atmospheric physicist, gained permission from the holders to host the trophy. The competition was not officially reinstated by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) until 1983.
The record time for the winner of the event is held by Germans Wilhelm Eimers and Bernd Landsmann who remained airborne for over 92 hours in the 1995 race, taking off from Switzerland and landing four days later in Latvia. The distance record is held by the Belgian duo of Bob Berben and Benoît Siméons who, in 2005, piloted their balloon 3,400 kilometers (2,100 mi) from Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States, to Squatec, Quebec, Canada. The most successful pilot is Austrian Josef Starkbaum who won the trophy seven times between 1985 and 1993, while American teams have won on the most occasions, with twelve victories.
The 2010 competition started in the United Kingdom, with the balloons departing from Bristol on September 25. The race was marred by the disappearance of the American team during a storm over the Adriatic Sea on October 1. The balloon was missing until December 6, when a fishing vessel found the cabin containing the pilots' bodies off the coast of Italy. The 2013 event, departing from France and landing in Portugal, was again won by the French in F-PPGB.
According to the official rules, the competition is open to all National Aero Clubs (NACs) "who have met their obligations to the FAI", with each NAC being allowed to enter up to three teams whose pilots are of the same nationality as the NAC. Before this, only two teams from any single NAC were permitted to compete in a single competition. Pilots should have at least 50 hours experience as pilot in command and be authorized for night-time flying. At least one member of each team must be capable of communicating with Air Traffic Control in English.
The team who wins the contest receives the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett trophy and the team's NAC will hold the contest two years later (originally the winning NAC would host the competition the following year). Any NAC winning the cup in three consecutive races will be the final holder of the cup with the subsequent option to offer a new cup.
Resurrected in 1979 by American Tom Heinsheimer, the competition was held without official FAI sanction for four years. Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson secured victory piloting Double Eagle III 987 kilometers (613 mi) in 47 hours from California to Colorado. The following year, the winning team of Jerry Tepper and Corky Myers floated 862 kilometers (536 mi) from the takeoff point in California. The 1981 race was won again by Abruzzo, with different co-pilot Rocky Aoki, who covered 2,168 kilometers (1,347 mi) before touching down, while the 1982 race was won by Joe Kittinger and Charles Knapp who piloted Rosie O'Grady 1,423 kilometers (884 mi). Heinsheimer attempted to gain the copyright over the name "Gordon Bennett" and run the event without FAI sanction. However the FAI were granted exclusive rights to the name in 1983, and the organization officially reinstated the competition later that year. Heinsheimer went on to arrange further contests in the United States which were still reported in the national press as being the "Gordon Bennett Balloon Race" or similar.
In 1923, five competitors were killed when they were struck by lightning while six more were injured in storms. Among the dead were Lieutenants John W. Choptaw and Robert S. Olmsted who were killed when their balloon "US Army S6" crashed in Loosbroek, Netherlands. Sixty years later, in 1983, Americans Maxie Anderson and Don Ida were killed as the gondola detached from their balloon during an attempt to avoid crossing into East German airspace. Anderson and Ida were participating in the "Coupe Charles et Robert" (named for Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, inventors of the gas balloon) which was run in parallel with the Gordon Bennett Cup. Following their deaths, the "Coupe Charles et Robert" was never run again.
On September 12, 1995, three gas balloons participating in the race entered Belarusian air space. Despite the fact that competition organizers had informed the Belarusian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, a Mil Mi-24B attack helicopter of the Belarusian Air Force shot down one balloon, killing two American citizens, Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis. Another of the balloons was forced to land while the third landed safely over two hours after the initial downing. The crews of the two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus has neither apologized nor offered compensation for the deaths.
On September 29, 2010, the 2004 trophy-winning American team of Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis went missing in thunderstorms over the Adriatic Sea. On September 30, the USA retrieval crew suggested that the balloon may have ditched in the sea or have been destroyed by lightning. Debris was found on October 1 by search crews but race control determined that it was not from the missing balloon. Despite this, organizers later stated that the final calculated rate of descent of the balloon had been about 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), and that the team's survival was "unlikely". The search for the missing pair was called off on October 4. The balloon's cabin containing the bodies was recovered by an Italian fishing boat on December 6.
Record breaking flights are denoted by the following: