Original report By Oscar Erbslöh about his flight to victory
printed in “Illustrierte aeronautische Mitteilungen 1907”
After I came out the winner among 22 balloons in the international balloon-race at Bruxelles on September 15th, 1907, the “Berliner Verein für Luftschiffahrt” sent me together with two other German representatives, Hauptmann Hugo von Abercron and Paul Meckel, to America as pilot of the balloon POMMERN, to take part in the second Gordon-Bennett-Race on October 21st, 1907 from St.Louis.
At no previous flight, have I received so many good wishes when I left, with me on my way, and never before I have I made so many preparations as for this flight for the Gordon-Bennett-Cup 1907. Soon after the race from Paris in September 1906 was over, the wish raised in me, to take part in this years flight. I say thanks to the Deutschen Luftschiffer-Verband, for their selecting me as its representative, as well as to Baron von Hewald and Hauptmann Hildebrandt, who placed their big balloon POMMERN at my disposal. So they made the victory this year possible for me.
A very friendly welcome, we German aeronauts found everywhere in America, gave us a feeling of safety and a confidence of victory, because we knew, that not only the Germans back home, but also many German Americans would be happy about a German victory.
The preparations, made by the Aero club of America and the Aero club of St.Louis for the launch, were above all criticism. On the evening of October 19th, the committee gathered all people involved in the race at a big banquet at the Jefferson-Hotel, where the best dishes and drinks were served in a decoration of flowers and balloons. Also well worded speeches, made by competent representatives of the nations, clubs and committees were not missed.
The day of October 21st. saw all competitors well prepared. Because of the possibility, that the wind-direction might lead the balloons to the Great Lakes, feverishly activity unfolded in the past days, to line the baskets with plates of cork to allow them to carry the crew and instruments to swim in case, the balloon would fall into the water. Also other preparations were not missed; so besides swimming-belts an axe and a saw were provided, to chop the balloon and the aeronauts out of the dense undergrowth in case of a landing in a primeval forest.
So on said Monday morning all pilots came to their balloons, which were spread out and had their different parts assembled with great care on the big inflation-field at Forest-Park in St.Louis. It was a strange sight, to see all these balloon-giants, which would soon enter a hard fight against each other, lying so peaceful side-by-side, the German one close to the French, the American as neighbour to the English one.
At 10 a.m. inflation of the balloons began. With the help by the soldiers of Lt. Col. Evans, who had been ordered to the field with 400 men by President Roosevelt, inflation passed according to the plan, so that at 11 a.m., when the balloons were half-filled, the gas could be cut off again. This interruption was necessary to assure a normal gas-pressure for the housewives of St.Louis to prepare supper. We aeronauts also used this break for supper, that lasted till 2 p.m. to finish our food for the journey and to strengthen us once again with a warm meal. Our breakfast basket was filled with some sandwiches, eggs, ribs, some cold chicken, bread, sausages and chocolate. Three bottles of burgundy-vine should warm us at night, for the morning we had warm coffee in a thermos flask and during the day we wanted to drink cold tea and cider. During breakfast at the Jefferson-Hotel, the German crew discussed the meteorological conditions with Professor A. L. Rotch, Director and founder of the Blue-Hill-Observatory, who had close connections to the circle of German aeronauts for many years.
Although bad weather had been forecast in the past days, we had wonderful sunshine and a totally clear sky. The wind came from southeast, but it was detected that in the upper levels the main streaming could be expected from the southwest. Some experts even claimed to know that one could probably pass between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Well prepared, I went back to my balloon at 2 p.m. together with my companion, Mister H. Clayton, the assistant of Professor Rotch, and soon after inflation was continued and completed. Now nine balloons stood side-by-side in the sunshine, my balloon POMMERN distinguished from the others by his ball-shape and his lemon-yellow colour, while the others carried colours from yellow to dark-brown and had a more bulb-shaped envelope.
The whole impression was wonderful, not at least improved by the amount of elegant ladies, brightening the stands reserved for the aero club, the V.I.P‘s and the high-society of St. Louis. But also the stands on the other side of the field, accessible to the public for an entry-fee, delivered a colourful picture and in the streets around thousands of people crowded.
The drawing had decided, that I should take off first, which I did not like at all, because I had preferred to have two or three balloons in front of me to help me recognize the wind speed in the different altitudes.
Exactly at 4 p.m. the sporting commission gave me the signal for take-off and with 41 bags of ballast we lifted quite quick into the air, accompanied by the sound of the national anthem “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”, “Good luck” shouts from our friends and the hurray of the crowd. Within five minutes the other balloons followed according to the plan and we left St. Louis with the feeling, that everything had been organized best.
I was filled with satisfaction and a lot of confidence by the fact, that the amount of ballast I was able to take with me proved the high quality of the gas, and with my companion I shared the opinion, that we might make a record-breaking flight. At first it was necessary to figure out, in which direction we would have to fly to cover a sufficient distance because that was the only goal, and the winner would be the one with his landing-place furthest away from St.Louis.
We had flown off in a north-westerly direction and had seen 4 other balloons raising after us. But we climbed faster than the other balloons, so that we soon came through layer of haze in which the other balloons went out of our sight. We knew, that we would find a streaming from the southwest or west in higher altitudes and decided, to climb as long as we would have reached this streaming, to avoid a loss of time by an unnecessary flight back to the northwest. At 1500 m we turned to the desired direction and decided, to stay at this altitude for the night. At 5:30 p.m. the sun had set with magnificent colours you can only enjoy in the basket of a balloon and half an hour later the moon came up, brightening the landscape beneath us with his silver light.
For us it was very useful and comfortable that it was the time of the full-moon, the strain, to stay two nights of 12 hours each in complete darkness without any recognizing of the landscape would have been to big. So this help was welcome, because besides the moonlight we only had a strong electric floodlight with two packs of batteries for 12 hours each to allow us an accurate study of the map. We had been well equipped with maps, a large packet of about 30 pounds weight contained everything we needed, but unfortunately the maps in America are not as well as I was used to from Germany, so navigation became very difficult.
We spotted our track as well as possible and calculated to reach Massachusetts or Connecticut if we could keep the present direction to the northeast. From St. Louis we had first made a semicircle to the west, but when we over flew Alton we took the right course. We had to pay attention not to get off this course which let us in 23 hours via Hamilton to Washington, Ohio. Since we were not absolutely sure of our position we descended down to the trail-rope and got the name of the village we had just over flown by shouting to the farmers. This was the one and only time, we got a correct answer to our questions “What‘s the name of the next town?”; mostly we received instead of an answer the counter-question “Where do you come from?”, and when we had answered and asked again, we were too far away already and could nothing hear anymore.
Up to an altitude of 500 meters conversation by shouting works well, especially if one uses, like we did, a mouthpiece. After we had flown over quite monotonous areas, where one farm was next to the other, we reached a range of hills and a picturesque landscape of towns, villages, rivers and forests in the afternoon. A special attraction was the splendour created by the autumn colours of the forests, something I have never seen so magnificent in Europe. Much to soon the day came to its end, and when we over flew Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. it was already completely dark. In the darkness, this huge industrial town impressed us a lot. A giant sea of light spread below us and the fires of the big smelting furnaces dazzled our eyes. The noise of the factories, coming up to us, created a striking contrast to the silence, in which we had flown the hours before. Here we dropped, as over all the towns we had passed, the telegrams, showing time, altitude and name, which had been given to us in the purpose to announce as quickly as possible, which track the balloons had taken.
We had improved our course by climbing from 1500 to 2000 meters and were heading more to the northeast. Our speed, being 18 miles per hour on the first day, accelerated to 28 miles. It had cost about 12 bags of ballast, to bring the balloon into the second night. Such an operation is one of the most difficult on a long balloon-flight, but thanks to the good gas and the huge stock of ballast we managed quite well, to keep the balloon up.
During the night we crossed the Allegheny’s at Altoona and had a magnificent view to the slopes, valleys and canyons looking wonderful in the bright light of the moon. Of course, we had to pay a lot of attention to our balloon, not to come too low and be cut of from the wind by a mountain. While manoeuvring, we lost our wind-direction and drifted away south-easterly. We knew, keeping this direction, we would have to land on the coast of New Jersey and tried everything, to reach at least the state of New-York. Alternately we had slept for one hour this night, but the desire to go as far as possible, did not allow us to rest longer. At the break of the third day, an extreme gentle landscape spread below us. It was the area of Philadelphia, where one attractive country-home is close to the next. Here we also heard the typical music that accompanies the daybreak, the crowing of thousands of cocks, which lasts longer than an hour. As the cocks hail the morning, it is the job of the dogs, to announce nightfall by permanent barking, every aeronaut knows these concomitants very well.
There was still thick fog in the valleys of Philadelphia when we approached this town at a very low altitude and the tops of the factory chimneys seemed to rise above the veil of mist for only one food (???? Help Uli) . Grey smoke climbed out of the chimneys and mixed with the white fog. Slowly this big town woke up from sleep and one signal after the other announced the beginning of the shifts in the factories. In all tones the sirens reached our ears, and soon they made such a noise, that we could hardly understand our own words.
In the east, the sun rose with a wonderful sparkling and we intended to wait for the warming influence of the sun-rays to the gas in our balloon, which should lift us to higher altitudes. But when we came to the higher part of the town, we nevertheless had to drop some ballast to avoid collision with the top of a church-tower, crowning the town. Now we made the last effort, to head further north by allowing the balloon to climb up to an altitude of 3200 meters. But we only met a very small change to the northeast. So we totally had to give up the hope, to enter Connecticut by flying over the town of New-York, and had to be satisfied by a landing on the coast of New-Jersey as far north as possible. Still far away, we saw the Atlantic Ocean, and at a distance of about 10 miles from it, I pulled the valve followed by a quite moderate descent down to Asbury Park. I tried to discover a suitable landing-spot right on the shore, but by not seeing one, I decided to land downtown on an uncontested square. But we could not land on this first-selected field due to a number of power-lines blocking our way; we almost got caught in them. By dropping ballast I managed to clear the basket, already touching the wires, we went up again, and after another venting we landed safe and unhurt on a crossroads while the envelope fell on a field covered with bushes. I had opened the balloon using the rip-out panel, so the gas escaped immediately. When we crawled out of our little basket that had been our host for 40 hours, a large crowd had already gathered close around us. Beginning to pack the balloon became possible only after I had closed off the field with ropes and the aid of two constables. Now it became difficult, to recover the balloon, because it’s net was caught in the bushes. I had to peal the balloon out of the net first and had it then carried to another open space by a lot of people, lending a helping hand, where it then was folded and packed.
When inspecting the net, we had regretfully detected, that a souvenir-hunter had cut out a part of it; also a flag was stolen, after I had refused to sell it, but had given another one to a fellow German as a present.
Packing the net was similar to the envelope. When the work was done after about one hour and everything was loaded on an express-coach, some helpful gentlemen took us to the next telegraph office with their automobile. There we filed our telegrams and had the landing confirmed by an official person. It was a surprise for us, when a group of honourable citizens of the town gathered and Asbury Parks Major climbed a table to welcome us to his town with a well-worded speech. The representatives of the town then invited us for a meal while we received a message by telephone, that another balloon has landed south of Asbury Park. So we again climbed an automobile and went out looking for this landing-spot, but we didn‘t managed to find it. For an accurate fix of our own landing spot, we drove there again and had eye-witnesses of the landing set up a wooden pole, on which we marked the day and the time of our landing.
Even if we had not covered the large distance we well had wished to, we left Asbury Park with the feeling, that we had performed everything to gain victory. When we reached New-York, we learned that we had won the Gordon-Bennett-Cup with a distance of 876 3/4 miles.
During this flight, I received the best impression of North-America concerning flying balloon and hospitality. I only regret, that this country was not even bigger, to allow me, to fly my balloon to its full range and breaking the world-record for distance. With its twelve bags of ballast left, the balloon was not at all at the end of its power.Return to 2nd Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett