32nd Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

Bregenz, Austria, October 23, 1988


1Josef Starkbaum
Gerd Scholz
AUT1110.90 km41:09:00Klenike, Skopje (F_YUG)
2Stefan Makne
Grzegorz Antkowiak
POL677.50 km43:07:00Split (F_YUG)
3David Levin
Jim M. Schiller
USA648.60 km20:14:00Slovanska Pozega (F_YUG)
4Hans Jörg Fröhlin
Christian Stoll
SUI646.10 km18:13:00Podravska Slatina (F_YUG)
5Lawrence Hyde
Charles Dewey Reinhard
USA645.10 km19:35:00Nova Graditzka (F_YUG)
6Helma Sjuts
Alfred Derks
GER644.10 km20:26:00Banja Luka (F_YUG)
7Karl Spenger
Alfred Nater
SUI631.10 km20:39:00Nova Graditzka (F_YUG)
8Gustav Vormbäumen
Bernd Sundermeier
GER629.70 km20:36:00Nova Graditzka (F_YUG)
9Ireneuz Cieslak
Waldemar Ozga
POL629.10 km17:52:00Virovitica (F_YUG)
10Thomas Fink
Erich Märkl
GER623.80 km19:53:00Virovitica (F_YUG)
11Randy Woods
Gordon Boring
USA599.90 km18:58:00Kutina (F_YUG)
12Peter Vizzard
Steve Griffin
AUS591.80 km17:31:00Garesnica (F_YUG)
13Gerold Signer
Silvan Osterwalder
SUI583.90 km20:40:00Dubica (F_YUG)

Book Article

From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen 
(The Gordon Bennett Races) by Ulrich Hohmann Sr

Start: Bregenz/Vorarlberg, Austria,  October 23rd.

The fifth Gordon Bennett Cup, donated by Poland in 1935, had found its final resting place in Austria after 52 years. The first race for the sixth cup surpassed in its preparation and organization all other former races, launched from Austria. The new trophy was sponsored to the Austrian Aero Club by the world renown company of Swarovski of Wattens/Tyrolia, who made a gas -balloon from high quality lead crystal designed by young Dagmar Weiss. It is a cup of a beauty, words can’t express it.

Organization and competition management were hosted in the opera house at Bregenz and on the beach of the Bodensee. From its stage, a floating platform in the lake, the balloons should launch in a wonderful setting. The sunbathing lawn of the public swimming pool next to the opera house served as the place for inflation. All members of the crew and the observers were accommodated next to this place at the Mercure hotel with direct access to the gambling casino, which was little used, for all people involved thought about the strain ahead and tried to gather as much sleep and rest as possible.

Exactly three weeks before the launch of the Gordon Bennett Race, the fifth Gas Balloon World Championships at Augsburg had finished, the four teams from USA and Australia had used these two events for a longer stay in Europe. Already at Augsburg, they could admire the brand new balloon of Joschi Starkbaum, which also came to its first action at this Gordon Bennett Race. Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz had become world champions at Augsburg in a superior manner. But bad for them in connection with the Gordon Bennett Race was, that Gert Scholz had broken his ankle at the last landing of the world championship, and nobody could imagine, that he would fly as co-pilot with this handicap. Everybody was very surprised, when Gert, after an operation and with his leg in plaster, clearly explained 2 ½ days before the race: "I am flying!" The question, asked him hundreds of times in those days: "Isn’t your leg in plaster a hindrance to you", he answered quite calm: "Only if I’m walking, and I won’t get the chance to do this very much in the basket up there".

Yes, Joschi and Gert had finally got a new balloon. The times, flying for their victories in a hired balloon were over. The British balloon manufacturer Thunder & Colt had build it according to the demands of Joschi, light and with some surprising new items, such as a rip-out panel sealed with Velcro. Balloon manufacturer Woerner from Augsburg contributed basket, net and load ring. All together they formed the new, snow white OE-PZS POLARSTERN. Between 10 and 15 bags of ballast were gained by this reduction of weight, another five bags were "earned" by the pilots with a strong diet. If there would not have been the plaster on the leg of Gerd Scholz, nobody would have had doubts, that they will win again.

There was a little delay at the launch. The balloons would be launched from the floating stage in the lake. A huge motor cutter was ready, to carry the balloons there from the sunbathing lawn. According to "Murphy’s law", that something, which can fail, will fail in the worst moment, the motor of the cutter broke down exactly when the first balloon had to be transferred. If such a motor had broken down, no engineer on the world is able to restart it in front of thousands of spectators, 100 journalists, 26 pilots, 120 crewmembers and nervous officials waiting. (The next day, it started at once, as well as it did at a test the afternoon before). A little break down, the only one. The problem was solved quickly. The balloons had already been carried from the pool to a place close to the landing stage and this landing stage went out to the water for about 20 meters. So the floodlights were turned a little more to the west and the balloons were launched from there. The flight became about 50 meters longer. Here is the launch order:

8:14 p.m. GER D-Humana Gustav Vormbäumen/Bernd Sundermeier
8:20 p.m. AUT OE-PZS Polarstern Josef Starkbaum/Gert Scholz
8:22 p.m. USA HB-Motor Columbus David Levin/James Michael Schiller
8:24 p.m. SUI HB-BJB Solvay Gerold Signer/Silvan Osterwalder
8:26 p.m. POL SP-BZO Polonez Stefan Makne/Grzegory Antkowiak
8:27 p.m. AUS D-Halfeneisen Peter Vizzard/Steve Griffin
8:29 p.m. GER D-Continentale Helma Sjuts/Alfred Derks
8:31 p.m. USA D-Beldrive Randy Woods/Gordon Boring
8:33 p.m. SUI HB-BER Quo Vadis Hansjörg Fröhlin/Christian Stoll
8:35 p.m. POL SP-BZR Polonia Ireneusz Cieslak/Waldemar Ozga
8:37 p.m. GER D-Augsburg Thomas Fink/Erich Märkl
8:39 p.m. USA HB-BGN Bad Zurzack Lawrence Fred Hyde/Dewey Ch. Reinhard
8:41 p.m. SUI HB-BFC Jura Karl Spenger/Alfred Nater

The story of the flight of most of the balloons is told quickly, it was almost the same as the year before, with a longer "run-up" for the jump across the Alps, but for many pilots nearly identically to 1987. This is shown by the fact, that German competitor Helma Sjuts got the same bed in the same hotel as after her landing in 1987. (It was gas balloon flight number 750 for Helma!) But some things are different and should be mentioned. Having a look at the results, one can see that there was only a difference of less than 25 kilometres between rank 1 and rank 10. And looking to the map one can see, that the villages of Nova Gradiska and Virovitica experienced an invasion of balloons.

Balloon D-AUGSBURG flew cross the Bodensee to the Bavarian foothills of the Alps, passed the town of Kempten in the south, from where the pilots could see the famous castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau with their binoculars. Then they passed between the lakes of Kochel and Starnberg, crossed the Blomberg and flew over the well known brewery inn at the Tegernsee. At Kufstein, they crossed back into Austria and headed straight towards the mountain peak of the Watzmann passing Kössen and Lofer. This was the highest obstacle at their flight. They could over fly the main ridge of the Alps at the pass of the Tauern, then they suffered from extremely cold, until they got warmed up by the raising sun over the basin of Klagenfurt. A little before 9 a.m. Yugoslavian territory was reached, but at that time they already floated above a closed layer of clouds, and soon the first signs of an approaching cold front from the north could be seen above them. A little after 4 p.m. they discovered a hole in the clouds over Virovitica and landed with three bags left beside a road where their chase crew arrived one hour later. The police were satisfied with a short glance at their passports, but that was all. Of course, it was a wonderful flight, a crossing of the Alps, 623,8 kilometres and nearly 20 hours in the air, but adventure? In our days with all the electronic possibilities for surveying, bearing and guiding in air traffic, it seems, as if the adventure came back from the air to the earth. In the old days, looking back to 1936, after they had stood the flight, the pilots, not knowing, to which place the winds had blown them, had to fight their way out to helpful people by themselves and then had to care for the salvage of the balloon. Today, the chase crew and observer are on the landing field and have had more adventures on their chase than their pilots in the air. This closes the circle. Our Mister James Gordon Bennett had already sponsored a cup for car racing in 1900. Did he have an idea, what could be experienced with cars and balloons together later?

Erich Ruckelshausen, whom we know from last year, was there also this year. He tells from his chase and the occurrences before the launch.

As place for launch, Bregenz was chosen. Not only, because it is a very charming and wonderfully situated town of the shores of the Bodensee, but also, because it is the most westerly town in Austria. Due to the dominating winds in our latitudes, one had to count on far flights to the east or southeast of Europe. Therefore, the organization had requested permission for the balloons and the retrieve crews in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia und Poland. Hard to believe, but they were successful! All competitors were supplied with copies of the permissions from these sport loving countries. So we could hope, that we would not, like the year before, have to look into the muzzles of machine pistols or the unfriendly faces of soldiers and policemen.

Meteorologist Dr. Herbert Pümpel, who was very committed, thought that the main weather situation and so the main wind direction would be the same as the year before, but offered some more possibilities of variation. Perhaps Czechoslovakia or Poland, more probable Hungary, Yugoslavia was a "hot tip", Italy was also not bad, rumour even mentioned something about Sicilia. I don’t know if those were honest, who talked about North Africa. Anyway, there was much tension.

Before it started to become serious, there was something to laugh about at the main briefing, but the reason was pure, bad malicious pleasure. The organizer explained, why some seats in the room were empty: In the fiesta of the Gordon Bennett Cup some hot air balloons had flown from the beach of the Bodensee that day. St. Peter had blown some of these colourful roaring balls to the lake, where they ran out of gas over the water. Not at the right time of the year, as it is end of October, some of the aeronauts went swimming, and some landed on boats. One envelope is coating the lion monument at the entry of the harbor of Lindau, and one Englishman tells me, that he managed to reach the beach with his basket, but his envelope decided to have a bath in the lake. According to the local press, 21 balloonist needed dry clothing that day. Later we learn, that "journalistic license" of a reporter made a dramatic search and rescue action for the international press, even making some Gordon Bennett gas balloons falling to the water.

With some tension I am waiting for the announcement, which balloon I have to observe. I know, it won’t be the long distance fliers Starkbaum/Scholz because with them, I had the honour to stay two nights and two days almost without any sleep the year before (that I was the one, who had to fix the landing place of the winners, was only a little consolation). Last year, Gerd Scholz had to seal their hired envelope but with their new balloon they will fly even longer!

Finally I know it. I am ordered to a Polish balloon. I’m not very happy about that, for I know, how many problems with the material our friends from these "countries of progress" have.

After we had discussed our plans at the last briefing on Sunday evening, I could take a deep breathe. We will stay the night at our hotel in Bregenz! Well, why not always this way! Now it’s me, who puts some pressure on the demand, not to leave for the chase too late the next day.

The two Polish retrieve cars will stay together, because only Jurek speaks English. The other car is driven by Jack, the school director from Lezno in Poland. With him is Hans de Vos from the Netherlands as observer. Their pilot is Makne, who had won together with my pilot, Cislak, the Gordon Bennett Race from Paris in 1983. Co-pilot of Makne is Grzegory Antkowiak, who was the chief -observer at this years European Hot Air Balloon Championships in Poland. So four of us already had met at Lezno.

A little after 8 p.m. one balloon after the other lifts off. My balloon is number 10. On the dark sky, one can see the flashing of the beam lights. Thomas Fink, third the year before, does not climb high but flies low across the water. Then a lot of Swiss dialect can be heard. Spenger is the last one to start. But what is this? His co-pilot is not Martin Messner, with whom he won the cup in 1984 and made second place last year. Martin wishes Spenger a good flight. "Why don’t you fly with him?" we ask. "I have to do my military service" is the answer. "Can’t they give you a few days off?" we ask. A loud laughing from all our Swiss balloon friends around. "You have no idea of our military service! They give no mercy!"

My hurry at the breakfast next morning is silly, for the Polish seem to have all the time of the world. In the competition centre nothing is known about our balloons. Generally, the flight seems to go to Yugoslavia, but also Hungary or Czechoslovakia are possible.

A big surprise when we left. I climb into an almost brand new Polski Fiat, having run only 16.000 kilometres. At a quarter past eleven and with beautiful weather we drive in the direction of Innsbruck. The Polish have strong nerves, they do not fill up gas until half of a litter is left in the tank. We call Bregenz from the airport of Innsbruck. Three balloons have not reported, including our two.

At 4:15 p.m. we are at Salzburg. The weather had become worse. Our car proves not to be as good as it appeared. After three fuses blew, something must be wrong with the poor headlights, and some displays also don’t work anymore. We drive under the roof of a gas station. They try a lot, but nothing improves. Valuable time is lost. At about 6 p.m. I ask the petrol pump attendant for a car electrician. Yes, there is one, in Salzburg West, but he may have closed already. I am afraid, he is right, but we try it. The repair station at Salzburg West is dark, but the owner lives next door. He wants to get rid of me, work finished for today, employees are already at home, he himself has a date this evening! – I can persuade him to "have just a look". Then he becomes ambitious. He does not take a rest until a new wire is installed and an additional light is put on the trailer. Now we are again legal participants of road traffic.

After 8 p.m. we arrive at Settled and do something for our stomach which we had ignored since breakfast. After some difficulties which we already got used to, we finally can phone the competition centre at Bregenz: Lots of the balloons had landed at Zagreb, Starkbaum/Scholz are still in the air and seem to be leading, our balloons are missed – wonderful! From former days I know the hotel quite well, I can get a special rate. Even if the balloons are missing, the Polish ground crews keep totally calm. With a good beer, we finish the day.

Tuesday. After 8 a.m. we are again connected to the competition centre. We must decide now, if we drive further to the east or turn more southwards. In Bregenz they know absolutely nothing from the Polish balloons. We are the fools. So some balloons had landed near Zagreb, we decide to drive south. The post office at Clawing is our next rest. At 10:45 a.m. the guys at Bregenz tell us, balloon "Romeo" (It’s the "R" in the call sign BZR) has landed close to the Hungarian border at Virovitica. The pilots can be found in the only hotel in town. Thanks goodness! But what is on with Makes "Oscar"? – He should have reported a position south of the Ablation. That may become funny!

We speed up now. At 12:30 p.m. we arrive at the border at Spieled. We loose another hour with refuelling, changing money and phoning. In Bregenz they still don’t know any details about balloon "Oscar".

Up to Marlboro, the driving is slow and arduous, but a highway seems to be under construction. In bright sunlight, the castle of the town of Put is in front of us. Just one year ago, Starkbaums crew and me had to withstand unpleasant interrogations for five hours at the police station there. At that time we lost radio contact with the balloon by this inevitably stop. Today we feel free and easy, because we never had any radio contact to our pilots. The radios are only used for funny talks from car to car.

Darkness comes, but Virovitica is not far away. Our careful driver Ed switches on the headlights. In the next village: Stop – Police! Oh no, not the same again as last year! May I see your drivers license? But then everything resolves quickly. For Yugoslavian conditions, there is too much light on Eds noble limousine. A little turn on a switch, and everything is fine. I (with my experience) can breathe again.

Our target looks like a big city. The hotel is found quickly. Pleased and not at all impatiently we are welcomed by our pilots: They landed yesterday at 2:30 p.m. – a quite wide awake and good humoured crew. So that’s another way it works! And then we can listen to the report of pilots Cieslak and Ozga about their adventurous balloon flight:

In a low altitude they used the drift to the east. The main ridge of the Alps was crossed in the area of the Dachstein. The high wind speed created rotors there, balloon and pilots had a serious fight. Flying on would allow a landing in Hungary. The pilots of the balloon SP-BZR therefore changed their radio contact from Zagreb to Budapest – that, together with a mix up of the call signs, was the reason for the wrong information, SP-BZO was south of the Ablation. But finally the balloon drifted again to Yugoslavian territory. Three hundred meters away from the border, just behind a lake, twenty meters from an unpaved road, the basket touched ground in a field with lots of vegetation on October 24th, 1988 at 2:27 p.m.

The decision for landing was made, because Zagreb had reported a cloud ceiling of only 100 meters. With only 2 ½ bags of sand left, they did not want to come out of the clouds over a town or a huge forest. And after 10 hours above of the clouds, they had enough of this flight. People working on the fields helped the pilots who had fallen from the sky. This was good, because the next farm was 3 ½ kilometres away, and the little village with a telephone, Budakovac, even one kilometre more. The police confiscated the balloon and put it to a barn. Then, as friends and helpful hands, the "Milicija" brought our pilots to the hotel in the town, 25 ½ kilometres away.

And there, we want to stay over night, too. Of course, we are hungry as well. Jurek tries, using his knowledge of the Serbokroatian language, to book some rooms at the front desk. They are very unfriendly. All rooms are booked out. Really, before 6 p.m.? Finally, we have to be satisfied, that at least our pilots may stay there. But we may make a phone call. And what do they tell us at Bregenz? – They still don’t know anything of the second Polish balloon! Starkbaum/Scholz are on the ground north of Skopje, looks like another victory, the fourth in a row, a great performance.

We ask the Milicija to help us homeless persons. After some phone calls they organize a hotel in a village, 30 kilometres away. There they are friendly, the meal is good, beer and a bottle of Polish vodka create a wonderful atmosphere. For the normal standard of the country, the rooms are quite good, the linen are clean. After having had a shower, I sit down on the closed top of the water closet. With a dry cracking, it gives up its service. The hinge can’t be used anymore in the future.

After a long breakfast on Wednesday morning, we drive back to the hotel of the pilots. On the lawn in front of the house, Swiss Hansjörg Fröhlin and his crew are just repacking their balloon into a good package. I ask the pilot: "Did you sleep here?" He: "Yes, of course". – "When did you arrive?" – "Between 9 and 10 p.m., we had no problems." The Swiss team did not even get in touch with the police. I tell the story of the "totally booked out hotel" to Jurek. The Polish man is not astonished at all: "It’s the same where we come from!" Now I begin to understand. If Dutch Hans de Vos or me would have asked for rooms yesterday, presenting our passports, we would have got them, but people from a country of the "Socialist Brother"? That’s not good for business. There are, however, three categories: Capitalists, "Socialist Brothers" and own citizens. I had learned something new.

With tension we wait to be connected to Bregenz: Makne and Antkowiak have landed near Split! At last! This looks damn good for the ranking. Now we feel better. – Comrade Hans de Vos and his crew leave for Split, we for the landing spot of balloon SP-BZR, accompanied by the Milicija.

Following the police car, we rush through several villages with a speed of 80 kilometres an hour. There are children on the road, lots of geese. The corn harvest is in full run. On the farm, everything works well, a lot of people are there, also witnesses of the landing and the policeman, who confiscated the balloon and brought the pilots to town. I get my signatures from the witnesses for the competition report. Everything takes quite long because of language problems and my unreadable map. My crew chief wants to help me and fixes the landing spot on the map. As we find out later, 20 kilometres too far. Finally we have a look at the place together with the Milicija. A little further on is Hungary. I am satisfied, the landing spot is fixed.

The balloon stored in a barn is packed well and the trailer is loaded quickly. With a warm handshake, we say goodbye. Police cars for a fast passage up to Virovitica, from there we continue with legal speed.

There is a little traffic jam on the border, but the check is quick. Then we still have to pass Austrian customs. We are the only ones, who are asked to drive aside, even after I explained the situation. No mercy! I grow angry. When I want to leave the car, my Polish friends beg, to keep quiet and let the customs do, what they want to. Obviously, I don’t sound very friendly, when I ask for the intentions of the customers at their office. Again, I explain the situation. Now they almost apologize for the trouble they have made. Much more friendly, they go round our car, and don’t ask for any papers. With a handshake, they wish us farewell. The Polish are very astonished, how citizens and authorities can treat each other here.

So far the report of the observer Erich Ruckelshausen. The duties of an observer have been told in the 1987 report. For reasons of the budget, the national aero club, hosting a race, prefers observer from the own country. But that’s not always possible. The observer, the right hand of the championship director, must be independent. Any possible relation to his crew has to be excluded. Therefore, at international competitions, he has to have a different citizenship as the crew, he is ordered to. He also should not be ordered twice to the same crew. When language problems are considered, it can become quite difficult, to put the right crews and observers together. For his competitors, but also for his observers, the hosting aero club cares for the visa before the race, but he can’t do this for people from other nations. He can only recommend they look after the necessary visa by themselves. Volker Löschhorn, a young German student pilot, who always loves to serve as an observer, travelled for three days from his home town Stuttgart to the German capital Bonn prior to the race, to have the visas for Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union stamped into his passport. So well equipped he came to Bregenz and became observer for the new balloon "Polarstern" with the crew Starkbaum/Scholz. A long journey lay ahead of him. He tells:

On Sunday at 11 p.m. Arthur and Franz, the chase team of the Polarstern, me the observer and a camera team from the ORF (Austrian television) have to start the chase. The Polarstern frequently tells us the position and flight path by radio. They fly over Kufstein and Klagenfurt. In this short night with full moon, driving in the Alps is also impressive to us, and we can imagine, what a fantastic flight the competitors have. At 7 a.m. they already report to be over Yugoslavia. We cross the border at Spieled and drive in the direction of Zagreb. We can’t hope to see the balloons, above us is a closed layer of clouds, over which the balloons fly. The afternoon offers two unexpected encounters. Having a rest a little way from the highway, we meet the chase crew of the team from Australia in a little village. Later, on the highway at Nova Gradiska a balloon suddenly shows up out of the clouds next to us, to disappear again after a short time. In a rest house, we have dinner, to gain some power for the second night. On and on it goes, southwards.

On Tuesday at noon, we are at Vranje, 60 kilometres north of Skopje. We can only guess, what the intentions of the crew of the Polarstern are. Do they want to try to pass the gap between Bulgaria and Albania for Greece and stay in the air for another night, or do they have to land today? At 12:50 p.m. it’s clear: Polarstern reports, that they will start their descend soon and then land at Vranje. A little after 1:30 p.m. we get the landing report and position of the balloon. We ask a native person, who had formerly worked in Vienna and therefore speaks German, to guide us to the landing spot. It is 20 kilometres southeast of Vranje on a hill. First, we drive on paved roads, but the last kilometres are a very rough road, only accessible with four wheel drive. But even on this road, there is busy traffic. On our way to the mountain village, we overtake eight carts, pulled by oxen. Behind the village, we see the balloon, or better, the crowd of people around it. With the aid of our guide, I find two witnesses of the landing, who can write and give me their address. One of the inhabitants of the village owns a watch, I ask him for the time of the landing. The fixing of the landing -spot wasn’t very easy with the maps we had, but it could be done. Meanwhile, also the Militia took notice of us. They guide us to their headquarter at Bujanovac, 20 kilometres away. There is a long discussion with no result. We have to stay overnight. Next morning, all problems are solved and we are on the long way back.

Four times in a row and always the same crew in the basket, no competitor of a Gordon Bennett Race had won that many races up to that year. With Joschi Starkbaum and Gert Scholz the Austrian Aero Club has two athletes, who are with no doubt the best pilots of the world at that time. They may close up or even overcome Ernest Demuyter also in the absolute number of victories. The next races will show. But it becomes harder and harder for them every year. Among the other pilots, ambitions grow and everybody wants to be the first, to beat Starkbaum/Scholz. This rises the value of a victory in this race.