America – finally winner of the Gordon Bennett-Trophy (1932)

Basel (Sunday), September 25th, 1932

Eimermacher (Münster) best German

The Gordon Bennett Race is finished! Surprisingly quick the first landing reports came in, telling of the early landing of the German favourite, the only German racing balloon DEUTSCHLAND, while a big part of the other balloons were not heard from for long time. They had landed first after 30 – 40 hours of flight and more than double of the distance ahead of the Russian border.

We don’t want to discuss or carp why balloon DEUTSCHLAND landed so soon. Due to the flight report, its pilot, Erich Leimkugel from Essen, had expected fast wind speeds in high altitudes. Fighting heavy cumulus clouds which again and again took the sun from him, he sacrificed all his ballast and had to admit after his early landing, that his strategy of flying high up to 7000 meters had not meet his exceptions. Higher speeds had been in lower layers around 2000 to 3000 meters, as was proven by the tracks of the winning balloons. Anyhow, the weather condition were not at their best. There were a lot of disturbances in the atmosphere from Spain up to Poland, which brought, after a short clearing up, mostly heavy clouds, rain showers, snowfall and local thunderstorms. This weather condition required the highest efforts from the performance of the pilots and demanded good knowledge and experience in meteorology. The clear victory of the Americans has of course its main reasons in their perfect light weight material, but also proves, that they, with good training, could deal well with unknown meteorological situations. Normally, we search the reason for the superiority of the Americans at Gordon Bennett Races in their home country not only in the better material but also in their better knowledge of the meteorological situation there. They have demonstrated, that they are also at home in non-American air.

Remembering the impressions, we got on the launch field at Basel, it is correct, that the image, a balloon gives, is often connected with its performance. I don’t talk of POLONIA, which appeared in a bright silver colour or little French MOUSSE, which attracted the love of numerous ladies with its red stripes on the lower part of the envelope and which could have won the title “Miss Gordon Bennett” at a beauty contest, but the range of yellow colours on the envelopes, telling more or less their whole story of life, showed us, what we could expect. Most of them, unfortunately not the German STADT ESSEN and BARMEN, have been without a single patch, totally new, like the clothing of the ladies at the brilliant party the night before. Ferdinand Eimermacher was quite right, when he stood in front of his balloon in his old, proved suit and his famous cap, which had survived all his flights and said: “I feel as I’d wear tails and cylinder”.

DEUTSCHLAND and ZURICH, both build by Riedinger in Augsburg, showed up nettles and so saved a lot of weight for worthy ballast. The two big favourites, having won the Gordon Bennett Race several times, Belgian Demuyter and the American van Orman, have both kept the old net system, but used other new technical features. The expected success, we had put into the nettles balloons, was not achieved. At this place, we also have to add, that being nettles has no influence on the climbing speed, as it was written by a newspaper from Cologne, or creates a higher cruising speed, as it was told by a paper from Essen. The climbing speed of a balloon however is only a question of the loss of weight and reaching a fast layer of wind is just the knowledge of the pilot. Here it proves, if the meteorological skill and the experience of the pilot are sufficient to keep the best altitudes for his flight.

A pilot could really loose his courage, seeing how unequal the weapons for this fight were. So the performance of Eimermacher must be counted double, even having the worst material to his disposal, he was not depressed and flew his balloon through all difficulties with tough stamina and a want for victory to the seventh place. When I said in my report from the launch of the balloons, that the victory does not only depend on the material, but first of all on the quality of the pilot, this was again proved by Eimermacher. We can take a glance to the difficulties, he had to face, by his report:

Soon after launch, he had climbed from 500 meters to 2000 meters, to keep up the speed with a bank of cloud, leading him across the Black Forest at a speed of 75 kilometres an hour. By doing this, he escaped this weather. When darkness came, he slipped along the Bodensee and soon after he saw the brightly illuminated town of Augsburg below him. Another thunderstorm came up, clattering rain and snowfall did cost a lot of ballast. He managed, to keep the altitude between 2000 and 2500 meters, going ahead with the best speed. It started freezing, the wet sand in the bags became useless. At the Bohemian Forest he was lifted to 3500 meters by the upstream and was totally in clouds. Very soon it cleared up again, but strong lightening accompanied the flight. At morning, a little after 5 a.m. they crossed Prague with a speed of about 80 kilometres an hour, at daybreak the shadows of the Riesengebirge stood ahead of them. Already 20 of 32 bags of ballast had been used up during the night. Worthy food and the mountain equipment, taken with them for a landing in the Alps, were dumped as ballast at the next fall, to keep the balloon in this beneficial layer of winds. Oppeln was crossed. The sunbeams pulled the balloon up slowly, finally allowing to save ballast. Even if they met less wind speed in the higher altitude, they now had to stay as long as possible high above the clouds to get out of the way of new thunderstorms. New cumulus clouds lifted the balloon up to 6000 meters, until at 11 a.m. the clouds reached to an altitude, the balloon could not reach. Another wall of clouds forced the balloon, with only three bags of ballast left, to land. In a quick decent which could no longer be reduced by the dump of ballast (Eimermacher talks of 6 meters per second) the balloon fell to the earth through the unbroken clouds. Lot of concentration and a big tension of nerves were needed, to reduce the fall close to the ground and land safely. Eimermacher did it in a masterly manner. At 300 meters, the last emergency ballast, the oxygen bottle, went overboard. STADT ESSEN landed safe at Lodz.

In 19 hours of flight Eimermacher has covered 1053 kilometres, while the winner, the American Settle, flew 1536 kilometres in 41 hours. This makes an average speed for Eimermacher of 55 km/h and of 37 km/h for the American. If Eimermacher had the additional ballast, the lighter balloons had, he would be on a top position for sure, because by using the faster layers he was well ahead of his rivals, who flew across his landing spot not less that two hours after his landing. Eimermacher and his co-pilot Dr. Kaulen jr. had performed extremely well, considering the circumstances, under which they entered the race. Almost all the other balloons landed on Monday, PETIT MOUSSEE (France), 14.AVRIL (Spain), GDYNIA (Poland), BELGICA (Demuyter-Belgium) and STADT ESSEN (Eimermacher-Germany) came the furthest. Only the two American teams GOODYEAR VIII (van Orman) and U.S.ARMY (Settle) flew through the second night and landed Tuesday around 10 a.m. in the area of Kowno and Wilna. That they managed to miss the Russian border is very welcome for an easy calculation of the results. Interesting is the landing of the balloon GDYNIA in the middle of the city of Warzaw on an island of the river Weichsel. It is a big rarity that a balloon lands in his home harbour after 1300 kilometres of flight. We can understand, that this landing at Warzaw was a real sensation. Eimermacher talked very well about the warm welcome by the population at the landing and the reception by the officials and the Polish aero club. They got a welcome as sporting friends there. Eimermacher was right, when he told in a radio-interview: “Really, the balloon, floating free across the country and borderlines may better be used than an airplane, to scatter the differences among peoples”.

I have to add something to the previous report of Bernard Brickwedde: It was written before the final results came out. Eimermacher did not reach rank 7 but 9, the distance he covered was not 1053 but 1005 Kilometres. (American Settle reached 1550, not 1536 kilometres). Van Orman/Blair stood in the air longer than all the others, landed after nightfall but reached 200 kilometres less than their fellow citizens. But these differences do not minimise the correctness of the other statements.

Some more words about two other teams: Swiss von Baerle and Dietschi stood almost all the time in an altitude of 20.000 feet. There they had sun, but temperatures reached not more than minus 9 degrees Celsius. They suffered from lack of oxygen, had headache and felt weak.

What happened to Demuyter? – He was not in his best condition at this race. In our modern language: He had a mental problem. His balloon was still a little old, that’s right, but leaking, as he stated after the race, it was surely not. He could not have stayed in the air for 21 hours with a leaking balloon. 965 kilometres he covered, only good enough for rank 10.

The Americans had finally won the third Gordon Bennett Cup! Only four years after winning the second cup. No other nation had interrupted their series of victories. The superiority of the material and the teams was depressing. For the material, the Goodyear company was responsible, their engineers were always working on making the balloons still lighter. For the teams the US forces were responsible. Their young officers could face heavy strain with ease.

Finally, there is a message from the newspaper “Baseler Nachrichten” of October 31st, 1932, which they got from “United Press”: ‘The balloon races for the Gordon Bennett Cup, finally won by the United States for the second time this year, shall not stop but continue in 1933 thanks to a new donation. The Federation Aéronautique International has already been offered new cups from various sponsors to replace the Gordon Bennett Cup. Out of these offers, the Federation will probably choose the cup offered by the American Clifford Harmon, president of the international airmen association. Harmon has connected his offer with the condition, that this cup and the international balloon races for the cup will further on keep the name of Gordon Bennett. Harmon himself had taken part in six nomination races for the Gordon Bennett Race. He still holds the American ballooning records for duration (48 hours 26 minutes) and altitude (8000 meters). Both records he set up in the year 1909.’

(The F.A.I. later decided to take a cup from the newspaper “New York Herald Tribune”, Clifford Harmon’s cup was accepted as highest award for pilots in general and was given in 1935 also to the German pilots Götze and Lohmann.)

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