The Gordon Bennett Race 1987 seen by the Jury

Two crews had decided to fly the second night, winning first and second place. Doing this means in our days a lot of experience in night flying, flawless working equipment (the electronic has to work even at minus 20° Celsius) and a perfect coordination among the pilots. They have to have the same high amount of skill, both must be able to handle radio contacts or navigation alone, while the other pilot is sleeping. Only by this, 30 to 40 hours in the air can be done safely.

From our headquarter at Seefeld, we had been able, with the help of ATC, to follow what was going on in the air down to Sarajevo, so we could tell the rough positions of the balloons to ground crews next morning. Most of the ground crews had slept sensibly at Seefeld the first night.

With the exception of one American, all the other eight balloons took the wind from the west and so had been forced, to fly very high already at the first night. Some had to climb to more than 4000 meters to stay clear of the Grossglockner. Already at this moment, the chance to fly a second night became impossible for the more heavy balloons. This set the points for the further development of the race. Signer/Osterwalder, who reported their position Rijeka/Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea already at sunrise, learned this. They then had to fly low for a heading more to the left, which reduced their speed. Starkbaum/Scholz and Spenger/Messner managed, to stay left of the Grossglockner. At Zagreb – Banja Luka they could, superheated by the sun, fly high to make speed. Signer/Osterwalder flying the light balloon HB-BJB more to the right, decided to land at Glamoc before darkness. With the ballast they had left, they could have flow a second night, but their VOR had failed, and without navigation, they could not take the risk. Most of the balloons landed on a line Split – Banja Luka, making between 532 and 611 kilometres. Before the second night came, there was a rumour on the air, telling that Starkbaum/Scholz had landed near Derwanta. Spenger/Messner flew low and back in the ground inversion at the second night, loosing approximately 100 kilometres. At morning, they allowed the sun to pull them up again. But their VOR had failed also, so they had to be careful, not to approach to the coast of the Adriatic Sea without taking notice. They arrived at Arilje at noon, where they decided to land, because they were thinking, they had been the only crew who had flown the second night.

But it turned out, that the landing report of Starkbaum/Scholz was false. In reality, these two experts also flew through the night, reached Titograd before daybreak, where they descended and waited for sunrise to land. They could not fly on, for a crossing of the border to Albania would have let to disqualification. They made 52 kilometres more than the Swiss team, not at least because their navigation equipment still worked.

For this reason I want to praise American Dr. Hyde. He navigated with LORAN and had a sextant with him as a back up. Both performed flawlessly in determination of the position.

What can we learn of the history of the 31st Gordon-Bennett-Race?

Point one: Never fly a Gordon Bennett Race without having put your electronic tools including batteries to a deep freeze for one night and then checked it.

Point two: There are navigational tools working without electronic. But to use them, you must know the stars and know how to handle a sextant.

Point three: Never trust position or landing reports of the competitors! They may be an error or foul play.

All crews agree: It was a hard test. To cross mountains of 3000 meters at night, with particularly covered moon, the strain to select the right tactics, to determine position, to withstand the cold and tiredness, was an ultimate demand. Congratulation to all participants of the 1987 Gordon Bennett Race!

And a very special congratulation to three time winners Joschi Starkbaum and his co-pilot Gert Scholz. This had never happened before in the history of the Gordon Bennett Races: Three times in a row with the same companion. As Erich Ruckelshauen had mentioned in his report, there was someone from Belgium in the 1920, who had managed this; unforgettable Ernest Demuyter. But in 1922 he had Alexander Veenstra, in 1923 and 1924 Leon Coeckelbergh as companion. Austria, until 1938 only four times in the race, became a great power in ballooning by these two pilots. Here is a short portrait of these two successful sportsmen:

Josef (called Joschi) Starkbaum is 53 years old at this time, he became involved in ballooning aged 39, when he saw a balloon from the cockpit of his airplane (he is captain of the AUSTRIAN AIRLINES). He was so fascinated of the man or women in this open basket, that he sacrificed his annual holidays, to extend his license to balloons in England. Before this he was involved in car racing and many of his friends followed him to ballooning, Gert Scholz for example belonged to this circle. Joschi soon drew attention in hot air ballooning: the first crossing of the Alps in a hot air balloon on April 20th, 1974, altitude record in three AX-classes, two times European champion, once vice world champion, uncountable victories in other hot air balloon competitions are connected with his name. The experiences, he had gathered in the hot air balloon, helped him a lot in gas ballooning. The next year, 1988, he’ll become, again together with Gert Scholz as co-pilot, world champion in gas ballooning for the first time. They will defend this title at the championships in the USA in 1990.

Gert Scholz, born the same year as Joschi, trades with cars and owns a big repair station. His success as organizer of many balloon competitions is at least of equal value as his active participation. Short before this Gordon Bennett Race, the world championships in hot air ballooning at Schielleiten/Styria had finished, which he had, similar to the European championships a year before, brought to Austria and organized by himself. The annual BP Balloon Trophy held in the Alps is also of his credit, the same as new developed combination competitions with parachutists, the “Para-Balloon Cup”. Gert Scholz is the ultimate co-pilot together with Joschi Starkbaum. I don’t know any gas balloon pilot, who can imagine, that one of them could have gained these successes without the other.

Return to 31st Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett