Monday, October 13, 2008

British Team win Gordon Bennett

Some better and fantastic balloon news from the USA

Adventurer David Hempleman-Adams has told how he landed a balloon in pitch black darkness to avoid plunging into one of the planet's biggest lakes.

The explorer from Box has just won the world's oldest air race with an 1,100-mile flight across the USA which ended on his 52nd birthday.

He and his co-pilot Jon Mason, 35, had been forced to choose between a complete darkness landing or the risk of ending up in Lake Michigan as they scented success in the prestigious Gordon Bennett gas balloon race.

Father-of-three Mr Hempleman-Adams took the decision to land the balloon in the dark rather than risk flying over the Great Lake without enough ballast.

He said: "I know you should never land a balloon at night but we had to make that decision as we didn't have enough sand to go over the lake and the balloon was going down."

The pair made two attempts to land in the drama on Friday at the end of the race, in which the winner is the crew flying the furthest distance.

"It's hard to judge from the air at night what is on the ground. During our first attempt what we thought were small bushes turned out to be 45 ft trees so we had to try again. We flew over the trees and landed near a maize crop."

The pair had taken off on Monday from Albuquerque in New Mexico and landed north of Chicago at 5am on Friday in their balloon Lady Luck.

They did not discover they had become the first British team ever to win the competition named after the man who gave his name to the famous exclamation until they had had a few hours of sleep.

Mr Hempleman-Adams said: "The sheriff picked us up and took us to the local hotel where we collapsed.

"We'd been flying for 74 hours taking it in turns to sleep at two-hourly intervals curled up on the floor of the basket. When we woke there was a note under the door from our chase team which said, 'Well done boys, you've won!'

"We thought we'd come second so it was a very good birthday present."

There were 12 crews in the contest, the 52nd ever held.

Mr Hempleman-Adams said. "It was a very tactical race with everyone trying to outdo each other like a game of poker."

Co-pilot Mr Mason, a consultant clinical psychologist who works in Canterbury, said: "We are a great duo and a foil for one another. David needs someone to restrain him and I need someone to encourage and push me. We arrive at a middle ground. We also work well together because we have different skills. "David is excellent at looking at the bigger picture and navigating while I am good concentrating on the detail doing what we have to do there and then."

He said he accepted the risky decision his co-pilot had made.

"It's easy to highlight the dangers but people do things all the time that are risky that, in the end, become routine.

"Gas ballooning isn't rocket science. You fill the balloon with gas that's lighter than air and you take sand with you. The risk isn't flying a gas balloon - it is flying a balloon for four days in bad weather when you are tired and in the dark."

One of their scariest moment came when the duo were hit by a snowstorm.

Mr Hempleman-Adams said: "We had some difficult weather. During the day it reached 42 degrees but at night it crashed to about 8 degrees and we would shiver.

"Once, we were up at 13,000 ft and it started to snow. The cooling on the balloon made it come down very quickly and we descended to 5,000 ft."

Another brush with death was when the team spotted two jets flying too close for comfort.

"At one stage we were over Albuquerque at 5,000 ft and two jets came in underneath us with only 500ft clearance and scared the daylights out of us," Mr Hempleman-Adams said.

The pair were due to fly back into Britain this morning.

The competition - founded by newspaper tycoon and adventurer Bennett - is described as the most prestigious event in aviation and the ultimate challenge for the balloon pilots and their equipment.

It was started in 1906, when 16 balloons were launched from Paris, but has never before been won by Britons.

It was put on ice at the outbreak of the Second World War and not revived until 1983.

The victory means the race will start from the UK in 2010.

Mr Hempleman-Adams turned to extreme and endurance ballooning after years of conquering mountains and polar regions.

He has climbed the tallest peaks on all seven continents, travelled to both the North and South Poles, completed the first balloon flight to the North Pole and the first flight across the Northwest Passage. He also completed the first balloon flight across the Atlantic in an open wicker basket in 2003. He holds the world altitude record for Roziere (a combination of gas and hot air) balloons at more than 41,000 ft.


Breckland Balloons said...
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jdinflatables said...
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