61st Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett winner—airspace navigation made the différence

Gordon Bennett Cup winner
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61st Gordon Bennett Cup

Airspace Navigation Won the European Gas Balloon Race

French balloon pilots Vincent Leys and Christophe Houver won the 61st Gordon Bennett Cup over the weekend of 8-10 September 2017. Here’s the background of this competition.

It began in Paris in 1906 (it’s the oldest); it was a gas balloon race (It’s considered the première événement); it was sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper. It’s called the Gordon Bennett Cup (or Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett) and its goal “is simple: to fly the furthest distance from the launch site.”

Gordon Bennett Cup 1906 paris

It ran continuously except for interruptions by World War I and then World War II. In 1979, American Tom Heinsheimer, an atmospheric physicist, gained permission from the original organizers to host the trophy. In 1983 the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) reinstated it as one of its sanctioned events.

There are records for time aloft—Germans Wilhelm Eimers and Bernd Landsmann who remained airborne for over 92 hours in the 1995 race, and for distance—Belgians 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.

fribourg 2017 gordon bennet 61st coupe aeronautique

The 61st Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett takes place in Gruyères, Switzerland, from 7 to 16 September. On launch date, 21 teams (13 countries) lifted from a big field.

61 gordon bennett 2017 switzerland

Windy conditions pushed the competitors northeast overnight. That track put many of the balloonists on a track toward prohibited airspace around Kalingrad. On September 9, many crews were compelled to land in Poland in order to avoid violating the Russian restriction. As the sun rose on Sunday only five teams remained were aloft. The winners, Leys and Houver, navigated their way through a narrow airspace corridor between Kaliningrad and Belarus, thus claiming the prize.

Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett balloon race

This graphic depiction of the race is annotated with individual team’s positions and comments like this one—

gordon bennet cup race flights

The win is the second for the pair flying together as a team – they also won in 2013, when they flew 1,402.42km after launching from France. Vincent Leys however has been in the winning team eight times. The win means that the 2019 Gordon Bennett Cup will launch from a location in France.

Gordon Bennett Cup winners

The official final standings:

  1. Vincent Leys / Christophe Houver (FRA01) – 1836.06 km
  2. Kurt Frieden / Pascal Witprächtiger (SUI01) – 1366.78 km
  3. Anulfo Gonzalez Redondo / Angel Aguirre Rial (ESP01) – 1334.24 km
First award September 30, 1906
Editions 59
First winner Frank Purdy Lahm
Most wins Josef Starkbaum (seven)

Gordon Bennett Cup race rankings

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