Report from the Organization of the 20th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

Basel, September 24th., 1932

How the balloons left Basel

Clear blue sky above Basel, when I look out of the window of my hotel room at 7 a.m. We did not have much sleep, we had used the situation to talk to the Swiss pilots, with other foreign friends, so time went by. Still today we remember with happiness, how the Swiss pilots of the balloon HELVETIA had carried the old fame of Swiss bravery out to the little developed airspace by their victory at the third Gordon Bennett Race from Berlin in 1908. Regards and best wishes from the federal council are present also at this year’s event. By the Gordon Bennett Race, Basel has become the scene for a wonderful and great international event. Already in the early morning strong car traffic from out of town started, for a converging rally to Basel had been added to the program.

At 9 a.m. the balloons are ready for inflation. The gas conditions are perfect, for the gas factory, put to service in August 1931 is extremely powerful. The gas for 17 balloons, about 37.400 cubic meters, is produced in horizontal chamber ovens of a very modern coking plant. Adequate measures in the process of the de-gassing keep the weight of the gas very low. The specific weight of the lifting gas, normally around 0,42 to 0,44 compared to air = 1, is today at just 0,38, so the balloons can carry lot of ballast with them.

Balloon DEUTSCHLAND leaves with 53 bags of ballast, while the more heavy balloons get only 35 bags. (Balloon STADT ESSEN, flown by Eimermacher, gets only 32 bags). The gas tank contains 50.000 cubic meters, so every balloon gets equal gas from the storage. The inflation tubes are connected to a ring pipeline of 200 millimetres diameter. In every tube, a fan is installed to pressurise the gas in the pipe up to 300 millimetres head of water. The power of these fans is at 10.000 cubic meters an hour, so the whole inflation may be done within three hours.

The field for inflation is well organised. Mail and telegraph office are there in a sufficient amount. The post office is crowded already in the early morning. Balloon BASEL will carry the mail, this attracts collectors. All the announcements as well as the information for pilots, the press, volunteers’ a.s.o. are done by large loudspeakers from the TELEFUNKEN company, erected on eight poles. Also, all the inflation spots of the balloons are connected to the technical management by field telephones. Grandstands with 21.600 seats are on the north side of the field. Because from there you look towards the sun, they are little occupied. Also the spectators don’t have the calmness, to stay there doing nothing. So much can be seen, discussed and heard, that they are always on the move. Peacefully, the 17 balls lay side by side. STADT ESSEN, BARMEN and DEUTSCHLAND lay close together, right in front of the stand for the honourable spectators. Compared to the brand new DEUTSCHLAND and the quite well BARMEN, STADT ESSEN gives a bad impression. We can’t understand, why the much better balloon ERNST BRANDENBURG was hired to the aero club of Austria. Unfortunately, it is not just the appearance, STADT ESSEN is also weak from age. Many helping hands have sealed it again on the Loddenheide in Münster in several weeks of work. I remember the words of Eimermacher: “Everybody, who knows me, also knows that I’m not representative in my sports dress. But the balloon STADT ESSEN is still less representative than me. I feel, as if I would stand in front of my balloon in tails, so shabby and repaired it looks”.

The best impression is made by the Swiss balloons, especially by the new ZURICH, a nettles balloon constructed after the balloon DEUTSCHLAND. Also Poland starts with new balloons, one of them is coated with metal, the only one out of all. America and France showed up again with their lightweight silk balloons. U.S.NAVY drops out for unknown reasons.

Slowly the balloons, appearing in the different shades of their yellow envelopes, are filled. From the command tower, the technical management orders, by loudspeaker, to fill quicker or slower, and calls the volunteers, who become lazy at this calm ground wind, back to service. So the large audience participates with all that happens. At 11 a.m. a press conference is held in the media tent, visited by about 150 reporters, cameramen drive across the field in their cars, photographers try to catch the best photos, autograph hunters are at work and disturb the patient pilots. Some ignorant people later detect to their annoyance, that they did not get the signature of the pilot but of the balloonmeister as souvenir.

At 2 p.m. pilots gather for briefing. Barographs are sealed, the newest weather reports are handed out. – It becomes more and more busy on the launch field. Meanwhile, a rain shower had made the balloons wet, but the sun is already drying them for lift-off.

At 3.30 p.m. the lift-off of the smallest balloon in the world, of only 170 cubic meters (compared to 2.200 cubic meters of the competition-balloons) is scheduled. It is not ball-shaped but more cylindrical. The small, light basket barely reaches up to the hips of its pilot, Charles Dollfus from Paris. With two bags of ballast the balloon starts under the cheers of the applauding spectators, to serve as a guide for the racing balloons. While at morning the wind came still from the south west, this balloon now flies with a pure south wind. But wind can change speed and direction very easily. So we can’t talk about presumed landing places.

The program is always on time. We acknowledge the perfect organisation and the discipline in the performance. One balloon after the other prepares for launch. At first DEUTSCHLAND comes to the platform in front of the grandstands, with Erich Leimkugel and Richard Schütze in the basket. 53 bags of ballast are already there, but still the balloon has lifting power. A bunch of flowers is handed over. Exactly at 4 p.m. DEUTSCHLAND lifts under the sound of the national anthem and the vivid applause of thousands and thousands of spectators. Slowly it moves northwards in 100 meters altitude, still climbing. The loudspeakers announce the names of the balloons and crews prior to every start, and the flag of their nation is raised on the flagpole. As second, L’AVENTURE (France) starts with Marius Marquant and Maurice de Brucker. After inflation, they had to seal a slit, they suddenly discovered, and had requested their competitors for glue by the loudspeakers, otherwise they could not be able to fly. As third, POLONIA (Poland) appears, the only balloon with metallic coating.

On the launch-field among other prominent people the well know aviator Mittelholzer had come. Cameramen are busy, getting everything on their film. Ground wind has become completely calm now, so launch can be performed smooth and quiet. At stronger winds, it would have been impossible to carry the balloons to the crowded platform. But now everything works in perfect condition. Fourth balloon is BELGICA under most often Gordon Bennett winner Ernest Demuyter, who is welcomed with enthusiastic applause when carried to the platform. When opening the appendix, it shows, that the rip out line is not clear. His co-pilot mounts to the load-ring and clears up the ropes. Under frenetic applause Demuyter lifts off, he again seems to be in perfect condition. An enormous reduction of weight is the transportation of oxygen in some rubber balloons, fixed to the net, while our balloons have to carry compressed oxygen in heavy steel-bottles. In general, the equipment of the other nations is first class compared to our material.

A triple engine motor plane circles over the launch -field to film the balloons from above. It flies close circles, follows the balloons, and is back to the field for the next take-off. Spain approaches the platform with the balloon 14de AVRIL flown by Capt. Antonio Nenez, followed by France with the balloon PETIT MOUSSE flown by Georges Ravaine and Rene de Grain. With great enthusiasm balloon ZURICH is now pulled to the platform. Balloon and basket appear in perfect condition. The fittings of the basket and the storage of the radio bearing equipment, the oxygen supply, the map table a.s.o. are exemplary. As the Americans, also the Swiss baskets have inflated rubber hoses at the front and the under side to make the basket floatable and to absorb the shock of a hard landing. Balloon ZURICH was build this year and is a present of the AUSTRIA cigarette -company, which also brought out a special cigarette for the Gordon Bennett day. Under the bright delight of the spectators, ZURICH starts. Now the two German balloons follow, BARMEN flown by Otto Bertram and Alexander Dahl and STADT ESSEN flown by Ferdinand Eimermacher and Dr.Kaulen jr. Each basket gets a big bunch of flowers. With big applause, the balloons lift up.

Meanwhile, ground wind has turned to the north west, so all the balloons now fly off to the opposite direction and cross the field again at about 100 meters of altitude. Unfortunately, the Spanish balloon has to dump some ballast exactly over the field, but with laughing the spectators span their umbrellas on which the fine sand drums.

Eimermacher leaves with about 32 bags of ballast, but not out of courage, even if the material of the balloon is bad, the most important factor for victory still is the personal quality of the pilot.

At the 10th position, Swiss balloon VICTOR DE BEAUCLAIR, flown by Col. Huber, leaves a little bit too heavy and has to drop the content of a whole bag of sand from one meter on the head of an officer. At the 11th position comes U.S.ARMY flown by Lt. Settle, vividly welcomed by his American friends. It follows the most feared van Orman with the silk balloon GOODYEAR VIII, also in a very good shape. Van Orman is prepared for everything, a big zodiac is stored at the load ring, which may become a big help for him at the present wind direction. His basket is also made floatable. As well as former winner Demuyter, van Orman is also acclaimed very much. It follows BASEL flown by Dr. A. van Baerle and Dr. E. Dietschi, the president of the organising team, ERNST BRANDENBURG for the Aero-Club of Austria with Dr. E. von Etthofen. LAFAYETTE announces, it can’t start right now because of a damage to its net and would need a rope maker, so Polish GDYNIA flown by Franciszek Hynek starts first.

Launch ran smooth with no accident. Every four minutes a balloon could take off. Also LAFAYETTE is soon ready and leaves at last. Launch had taken only one hour and eight minutes, a very good performance on this small field.

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