Report from Willi Eimers
19:25 240m 46 bags – Stuttgart – 180° 4km/h – Take-off
Launch was carried out in a big hurry. Just 60 minutes after, we had left the last briefing. Also, one of the launch masters had mixed the number of our place on the launch field (6) with the drawn sequence of our launch (9). He threatened us, that we would have to launch last, if we would not report ready for launch immediately. This happened, when number 3 was just taking off. Fortunately, he realized his error later and excused himself. This rush for my crew and me kept us away from doing a final check-up. Short before take-off I realized, that the bag with my ICAO maps was missing, including all the new TPC maps. Maps for $300, bought extra for this Gordon Bennett Race, were nearly left in the chase car. Claudia, young and fast, brought them to the balloon in two minutes. Also fateful, even if only of a value of $ 2,50, was leaving behind our toilet. When was the last time you been without a toilet for 50 hours? I don’t want to say more!
The balloon was vented a little, to allow a rapid climb to the ordered altitude of flight level 60. The calculations for this by launch master Gerhard Hurck were good and correct. The balloon climbed steadily without any dropping of ballast and we could look after other things. We even could have vented the balloon much more, for at 850 meters the climbing stopped. Dropping another 8 bags of water ballast was necessary to bring the balloon up to FL 60.
19:48 1000m 44 bags – Untertürkheim – 150° 6km/h – Dumping 2 bags
It was difficult to continue climbing. It’s not easy, to give away so much ballast at the very beginning of such an important and long race. One bag that had been balanced to exactly 10 kilograms, brought us only 100 meters more in altitude.
20:30 1900m 38 bags – Esslingen – 145° 14km/h – good visibility
We are exactly in the departure sector of the airport Stuttgart-Echterdingen. I watched two planes landing. The balloons were far to the East of the field, while the planes landed coming from the West. I could not really understand, why this subject was blown up so much at the briefing. The order to maintain altitude of FL 60 was of no problem at this launch, because only up here a low but useful drift was present.
21:30 2200m 36 bags – Plüdershausen – 065° 18km/h – radio contacts
Due to the many towns, the metropolitan area of Stuttgart can be compared with the Ruhr Region or the Düsseldorf area. From everywhere big cities sent their lights up to us. Visibility was more than 40 kilometres. Down on the roads, there was Saturday evening traffic, but we were not interested in it very much. We were competitors in the Gordon Bennett Race, and had more important things to do than to watch the state of Baden-Württemberg from 2200 meters.
We had radio contacts with D-SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG and D-KARSTADT. Our GPS didn’t work. Klaus Hagl also reported difficulties with it. Thomas Fink however claims he had received four satellites. I was afraid, that our GPS was broken, so I was angry and stored it away. When I tried it again next morning, it worked flawlessly. Later I learned, that in this night, no satellites could be received for a few hours. This position of satellites is very rare, but it may happen. The next 35 hours, my GPS worked without any interruption.
23:00 2300m 32 bags – west of Aalen – 075° 20km/h – stable flight
We had temperature measurements during the entire flight. Temperature at this moment inside the envelope 3.6°C, ambient temperature 2.1°C. The basket was coated with polystyrene foam. Due to the failure of our GPS during the first night, navigation was difficult. Stuttgart airport loved to help us by transponder. VOR would also have been possible. The controllers at Stuttgart were very kind and obviously had their fun, guiding the balloons through the night.
00:40 2660m 31 bags – Wallerstein – 060° 20km/h – Temp. envelope 3,9°C
02:16 2000m 30 bags – Gunzenhausen – 065° 19km/h – Temp. I. 5,2°C, A. 4,4°C
Below us at an altitude of around 1800 meters, clouds started to form, which would be very wet. Flying into them would mean dumping of ballast. So I had to pay attention. But with a single shovel of sand, the balloon could easily be kept on its present altitude. My co-pilot Bernd Landsmann had gone to sleep. Our bed was a board of 1.8 by 0.65 meters, laid on the edge of one half of the basket between the rig lines. An insulation mat made it soft. For bad dreams, we tied ourselves up with the handling line using a special rescue knot from the fire brigade. I want to say, that this bed performed well. During this first night, both of us slept alternately 3 to 4 hours each.
03:55 2200m 29 bags – south Allersberg – 075° 20km/h
05:45 1900m 29 bags – Rhine-Danube-channel – 080° 22km/h – Temp. I. 4,2°C
06:55 1700m 28 bags – 8km NW Regensburg – 090° 19km/h – sunrise
Transponder check with Nürnberg, who gave us a warm welcome. Radio contact on frequency 135,725 MHz.
The first night was over. Both of us did not feel cold. But the huge amount of ballast, we had to dump, was frightening. Could this Gordon Bennett Race last long? From 50 bags, 10 kilograms each, we had already used up 22. What effect would the high altitude of the first night have on further flight? Crews flying the races out of Lech always had moaned that they were forced to high altitudes at the beginning of the race because of the mountains. Nevertheless, they still covered times in the air of more than 44 hours. Will my record of 44:22 hours, set up together with Klaus Marienfeld in 1985 at the race from Geneva, be reached or even broken this year?
Even if it became bright now, we sat more on our chairs instead of looking outside. From 2000 meters, the landscape looked similar everywhere. The sorrows about using the high amount of ballast made us forget the beauty of the Bavaria Forest far below.
08:20 2710m 27 bags – airfield Mittenau-Bruch – 090° 22km/h – breakfast
09:00 3140m 26 bags – Cham – 085° 25km/h – radio contact Nürnberg
Because of our good breakfast, Bernd decided to take a nap afterwards. Our board bed had been removed already hours ago. Well warmed up by the sun, the flight was a real delight for both of us. Surprisingly, our GPS worked again flawlessly. We had used almost no ballast within the last three hours. I hoped, this would keep on for a few more hours. Later I found out, that the other crews had had to face the same problems. All had spent a huge amount of ballast during the first night. Our balloon was tight. Temperatures inside 13.8°C, ambient 13.2°C. We had visual contact with two balloons. One of them very far ahead, the other approximately 20 kilometres. Unfortunately, I could not detect, who they were. I had left my binoculars at home, a mistake, as I knew now.
09:30 3200m 26 bags – north of Lam – 090° 22km/h – entering Czech Republic
10:35 3352m 25 bags – 49°16’58’’N;13°08’00’’E 093° 24km/h – GPS o.k.
11:20 3282m 25 bags – 49°16’00’’N;13°21’00’’E 094° 22 km/h – T.22°C, – sun
Our GPS receiver now worked flawlessly. This is a miraculous tool. You always know your accurate position, direction and speed. The altitude may be of minor priority. I think, after the introduction of the transponder system 15 years ago, GPS is the most important innovation. Of course, it doesn’t make much sense, to mention only the coordinates in a flight report, even if they indicate the most accurate position. So here is the translation to more comprehensible locations: At 10:35 we were at Nyrsko/Czech Republic, about 10 kilometres behind the border. Besing was the name of the place we were closest to at 11:20. The landscape below was used for agriculture. As already mentioned, from an altitude of 3200 meters it is difficult, to grasp a country and its differences to your own home.
13:50 3110m 25 bags – Pisek – 086° 25km/h – very warm
To avoid being burned by the sun, we had built up our shelter. In its shadow, it was comfortably warm. Your head doesn’t heat up so much. Something which often leads to a feeling of weakness and tiredness in the evening. In a Gordon Bennett Race the crew has to maintain their fitness for two or three days.
14:45 3000m 25 bags – north Bechyne – 082° 23km/h – no use of ballast
15:45 2589m 25 bags – south Tabor – 072° 21km/h – 391 km from Stuttgart
16:05 2400m 24 bags – 5km east Chynov – 092° 17km/h – radio contact to chase crew
16:29 800m 22 bags – airfield Vezna – 020° 4km/h – thermals
We brought the balloon into a decent to find out, if there weren’t other, perhaps faster winds in lower layers. There were none! At about 700 meters above sea level or 200 meters above ground I stopped the fall having to fight some medium strength thermals. Stopping the fall and the climb to the previous altitude did cost three bags. Quite a lot, I think. But now we knew, that moving ahead was only possible up here. We could see up to five balloons. One balloon was about 10 to 15 kilometres behind of us. We could only identify Swiss balloon ZIRKUS KNIE, being ahead a little more than 10 kilometres. After our decent and climb manoeuvre our position had worsened. ZIRKUS KNIE increased the distance for another 10 kilometres and was now 20 kilometres away. But I didn’t care about that at the moment as I now knew about the missing winds in the lower layers. During the rest of the flight I would catch up again with ZIRKUS KNIE and finally overtake them by more than 80 kilometres.
17:41 3000m 20 bags – 5km east Pelhrimov – 078° 25km/h – Temp. 26°C
18:53 2200m 16 bags – west Jihlava – 090° 20km/h – radio contact with Prague
19:33 2500m 16 bags – east Jihlava – 090° 22km/h – cool
A tarpaulin against rain, constructed by Klaus Stukovnik, pilot from Düsseldorf, had been mounted to the load ring. I had lowered this tarpaulin at the beginning of the second night. The basket was not completely closed, however this tarpaulin proved perfect. It kept away the humidity coming out of the clouds that formed in that high altitude. So we were able, to keep some of the wearing cold from the basket.
The decision, to fly a second night was easy with our amount of ballast. Difficult was to foresee how much ballast we would need to compensate the cooling of the gas during the night. The balloon had flown the whole day in the hot sun.
Finally, the consumption of ballast created by the cooling of the gas was 4 bags with 10 kilograms each, much less than expected. Who knows the reason? Flying very high during daytime, the gas didn’t heat up so much but stayed quite cold. So the spread of temperatures when the night came wasn’t so large and thus kept the amount of ballast small.
Remark: Low flight in warm air at daytime = high shed of ballast for the night cooling; High flight in cold air at daytime = low shed of ballast for the night cooling.
20:20 3000m 16 bags – south Nad Sazavou – 070° 25km/h – haze
21:40 3200m 15 bags – 15km south Svitavy – 075° 22km/h – board bed
The night has caught up to us. It was very humid outside. Bernd first went to sleep on our board bed. I had both chairs and the complete lower part of the basket for myself. In the beginning, I had settled our altitude alarm on 2800 meters. But it rang frequently because the balloon fell below this altitude again and again. So I changed it to 2500 meters. If we had fallen below this altitude, a loud alarm would have sounded. So I didn’t have to control altimeter and variometer permanently. There would have been crews, flying a longer period of time, in which the pilot on guard had dreamed away. With this altimeter alarm, he would rarely be able to finish his dreams. I think this tool is an important contribution to safety on duration flights.
00:13 2500m 15 bags – Zabreh – 066° 24km/h – Temp.I:4,7°C;A:2,4°C
We had travelled 557 kilometres until now. Our chase crew tried to keep up with us on the roads in the Czech Republic. It was difficult for them, even if we were not flying faster than 20 to 25 kilometres an hour. Every hour, we radioed the coordinates of our position. That is quite comforting considering our difficulties to pronounce the names of the towns in these countries. On our board bed we had a down filled sleeping bag designed for temperatures down to minus 20°C. It worked well.
02:55 3200m 15 bags – 5km SW Opava – 073° 22km/h – Temp.I:+1,8°C;A:-4°C
04:45 3000m 15 bags – 10km NE Raciborz – 065° 24km/h – entering Poland
06:22 2800m 13 bags – Katowice – 074° 22km/h – stable flight
Below the huge industrial region of Katowice appeared. Blast furnaces and big industrial plants could be recognized. Twilight began, so everything looked very grey. Clouds had formed, covering the sun. A sun, we had waited for eleven hours! Bernd was in good mood and wide awake. We removed our board bed because I wasn’t tired. Our chase crew was quite angry, they had to make a detour of more than 80 kilometres because a border crossing was suddenly declared to be under road construction and closed. We heard and saw nothing from our competitors at that time.
08:03 3440m 12 bags – NE Zawiercie – 060° 30km/h – between cloud layers
09:39 3660m 12 bags – 3km SW VOR Jedow – 065° 25km/h – shimmering of ice
11:47 4600m 10 bags – 15km SW Kielce – 060° 26km/h – sun – warm
We had to climb to avoid an early landing. Speed and direction was still excellent. Between 250 and 300 kilometres were left to the end of the competition area (border of Russia), with 25 – 30 kilometres per hour we had to stay up until evening. Thus we had to handle the ten bags of ballast left very economical. But the balloon collected more and more of light snow from the clouds above. I was afraid, that this snowfall might increase. Allowing the balloon to fall would mean, that the snow would turn to rain, something we had to avoid in this situation of short ballast. So a decision had to be made. I calculated and decided: 7 bags of sand 10 kilograms each, 10 litres of water, life raft 18 kilograms, emergency ballast about 20 kilograms. “That is still quite a lot”, old Ferdinand Eimermacher would have said. How often had I read his reports from Gordon Bennett Races! Of course, I still don’t know, how they landed safely from 6000 or 7000 meters without any ballast, but they told, they did. I wanted to keep a reserve anyhow. But I had to reach the sun, another 1000 meters above. How much ballast would I need for that? If I were not successful, the flight would end with the next decent. And this decent will come quick underneath the clouds with snow and rain. So, dump the water, also two bags of sand, and check the content of our food bags. Overboard it went: Canned beer, 4 x 0,5 litres (non-alcoholic); three cans of water, 0.33 litres each; sandwiches; apples; pears; bananas; sausages; and some more smaller items. Everything was cut to pieces and the cans were emptied. The balloon climbed to 4800 meters and reached the sun. We had made it. I was prepared to use one more bag to keep the altitude during daytime.
12:45 5100m 7 bags – airfield Kielce – 046° 16km/h – radio contact to Warsaw
Our flight was stable, but slowed down. Via Warsaw Radar we could listen to the radio contacts with the other balloons. From time to time the controller reported the accurate positions of the balloons. So we knew, where they were and who was still in the air. All balloons reported from far in the Northwest, only American balloon D-ASPEN, requested weather information from far behind at Krakow. The balloons in the North mostly flew lower as we did, stood still or flew back with slow speed. Ground wind was reported at 12 – 15 knots from 150°. Had the wind already turned? Here, up at 5000 meters, we moved ahead. Not very fast, but with 15 kilometres an hour to the North-North-East was much better than backwards.
Warsaw Radar had given us a transponder code, so we let our transponder, which was equipped with mode Charlie, run for more than five hours. Our solar panel produced enough electricity and one accumulator of 12 V 10 Ah was still full and unused. So Warsaw did not call and betrayed anything about us. Only once Warsaw called in, surprisingly not with my call sign D-COL, which I had used for Warsaw but with my full name, D-COLUMBUS. How could this happen, we asked ourselves in the basket. The answer was found quick, but was wrong: They had the flight plans. The real reason was, that our launch crew from Stuttgart, being back home, had phoned Berlin AIS to request if Warsaw still had D-COLUMBUS in the air. So they sent out a call with the complete call sign. After that, we had our peace again until the landing. Warsaw did not impose conditions for any of the balloons, no matter where and in which altitude they were.
14:10 4910M 7 BAGS – SOUTH STARACHOWICE – 096° 11KM/H – VOLKER KUINKE HAS LANDED
The direction and speed became worse and worse. But as long as we didn’t fly back, we wanted to keep on flying, until 44:20 hours in the air were beaten. That was my time in the Gordon Bennett Race 1985 in Geneva. The balloon flew stable in that altitude. I had to help only twice with one or two little shovels of sand. For a while, we had no clouds underneath, but 20 minutes later it was again very cloudy. From 5000 meters, you couldn’t see much of the unknown country. One field after the other strung together – lots of room for a landing. Our chase crew reported, that the ground wind had increased. Meanwhile, they had caught up with us and waited for our landing. I waited for my crew with a very special need. Within the last hours I tried not to think about food. Amazing, how much a body can suffer.
15:38 5320m 7 bags – north Nowa-Slupia – 140° 4km/h – almost standstill
About two hours before we landed, we saw a balloon rising from the clouds. After a careful observation with our much too small binoculars I recognized the balloon of the Austrian team Starkbaum/Scholz, about 10 – 15 kilometres behind of us. They were in search for the wind, which didn’t exist anymore. Interesting that they didn’t see us, as Gerd Scholz assured me on the awards banquet in Stuttgart. Other balloons were not seen for the whole day.
16:20 4700m 6 bags – 2km north Nowa-Slupia – 160° 10km/h – decision to land
16:35 2600m 6 bags – 1km north Nowa-Slupia – 150° 4km/h – quick fall
When our landing time approached, a cloud was underneath. Considering ATC, the care of Warsaw approach was excellent. We reported our forthcoming landing and got a warm farewell. The transponder was left running. The sun provided enough electricity free of charge.
I started the landing procedure by pulling the vent for about two seconds at 4:27 p.m. The balloon was at an altitude of 4700 meters. Shortly after pulling the vent, our variometer indicated a rate of fall of 0.6 meters per second (112 ft/min.). So there was more than half an hour time for the descent. Now we started calmly, to store away all the equipment. We had different information about the ground wind. Between 5 and 15 knots had been reported before. At 3500 meters we passed the famous hole in the middle of the very humid layer of clouds. At about 3000 meters we had a distant view over Poland. Below, on the ground, was a huge forest area, about 10 by 30 kilometres wide, difficult to land there.
Our variometer indicated a fall of 0.8 meters per second (150 ft/min.). But this did not match with our feeling and the loss of altitude within the last minutes. Shortly before the race I had sent my variometer and barograph to the Winter company for calibration. Reinstalling it, I had equipped it with new hoses, which didn’t fit accurately to the instruments. At normal climbs and falls, this caused no problems. But now the balloon was falling with 5 – 6 meters per second (940 – 1200 ft/min.). The cloud that had been below was very humid; the balloon became wet and heavy. The air searched and found its way past the unsealing hoses to enter the equalizing bottle of the variometer, creating a false indication. At 3000 meters however, this situation was difficult to recognize. First at 1500 meters we realized, that there was a big difference between the reading of our variometer and the true speed of our fall. Ground came closer damn quick, but the variometer reading was just a little more than 1 meter per second (190 ft/min.). For the first time, it became hectic in the basket. We stopped storing more equipment. The first bag off sand went overboard. At 1000 meters the second one. Of course, no change on the variometer. Only two bags and the life raft of 18 kilograms were left. The life raft was prepared and fixed to our handling rope and a “special material rope for mountaineering”. This thin rope should be 30 meters in length, but was not because my co-pilot Bernd had cut away meter for meter to tie parts of our equipment to the basket with it. Only 15 – 18 meters were left. We had over flown the forest and were now above agricultural terrain. O course, we approached exactly at a little farmhouse in this little populated area. But that’s the way it always happens. The farmhouse was of Polish style, but for its owner of the same value as one of these beautiful Bavarian farmhouses. For me it remains mysterious, how to destroy something of 3.000.000, German Marks in this part of the world with my balloon. But that was the amount that had to be covered by our third party insurance. Anyhow, we struggled to land without crop damage. At 600 meters, the last but one bag went overboard.
Our chase crew was nearby and had been informed about the imminent landing. Right now, we couldn’t describe further details because we had to concentrate on the landing.
The trail rope was released 150 meters above ground. In the same moment, the last bag of sand went overboard. And at once Bernd slowly lowered the life raft. Due to the shortages in the “special material rope for mountaineering” this last ballast was just 30 meters below the basket, not 50, as it should be normally.
The farmhouse came closer, but was 50 meters away. The next farm was in a distance of about 600 meters. So the balloon could continue its fall to the ground, for in our flight path was a nice field, inviting us to land there. The landing area was a little hilly. On the fields all around, we saw the farmers, laboriously harvesting the potatoes by hand. We provided a welcome interruption of this work, everybody looked up to the monster, which fell from the sky.
And we really fell. The fall was still 3 meters per second (560 ft./min.) First when the trail rope and some seconds later our “last ballast” hit the ground, the fall decreased. At 4:45 p.m., after 45:19 hours and a distance of 883 kilometres we landed very safe with a fall of about 1.5 meters per second (280 ft./min.) in a field downwind of a little row of trees.
16:45 380m ½ bag – NW Slupia – Poland – safe landing
Some wind after the landing pulled us a little uphill. The Polish people working on the fields rushed up in crowds, to marvel at this thing that had fallen from the sky. With some efforts I managed, to persuade some Polish people, to hold on. They didn’t understand me. After some more venting, I could leave the basket to take photos of a gas balloon, having landed directly from 5380 meters. Meanwhile, about 150 Polish people, adults and children had come to the landing place. The wind became a little gustier and grasped the flabby envelope. Held by six strong Polish men, the balloon stood fixed. It was difficult, to explain to the Polish, that we had hydrogen inside the envelope. Of course, we had pulled tight the appendix of the envelope before descending from 5000 meters. As long as it was still standing, there were no problems. But what would happen, if I ripped out the balloon. Fortunately, one man spoke German very good and was able to send the people back.
The ripped out balloon still wriggled well in the gusty wind and for the first time, I started to sweat. After eight minutes it was all done. The envelope was empty. We had to keep an eye on our equipment; the Polish kids had fun trying to steal something. Our chase crew was soon on the field and together we started packing, to leave the landing field for a hotel after a little more than 1 ½ hours.
We found a very good hotel. For 1.500.000 Zlotys we had dinner. The next day, we mailed 467 letters balloon mail from the county capital Kielce. After 27 hours of driving back we arrived well in Duisburg. This was followed by a superb awards ceremony in Stuttgart on Saturday, when almost all crews were present again.
Result: Unfortunately, the flight was too high right from the beginning. New countries were crossed, without seeing much of the landscape and the people, as it would be possible in an altitude of 300 or 500 meters. But it was a Gordon Bennett Race. It’s not the beauty of the flight, but the ranking that counts. With 883 kilometres, we had fought for the second place. We still have to improve our equipment. A lighter basket, a lighter net, a little less tools on board supply the ballast, necessary to fly the third night. The USA, this year’s winner, will host the next Gordon Bennett Race. And this country is of a nearly unlimited size. A very special kind of a challenge.
What I was missing in this race: Time, to share experiences with my ballooning friends from foreign countries. It would have been nice, if all crews would have been accommodated in the same hotel or if there had been a tent on the launch field, where common meals could have been used to meet each other.
Of what I dream: That a German crew, such as mine, would win in America, followed by a great Gordon Bennett Race from my launch field “Schwarze Heide” at Dinslaken/Hünxe, with westerly winds around 40 kilometres an hour in higher altitudes and a free flight to the Ural. A dream.
What I learned from the landing:
We had made the descend in about 22 minutes. The advantage of it was, that we did not fly backwards much with the unfavourable wind direction in the lower 2000 meters and did not loose much distance.
Before you begin the descent, everything should be stored away. A landing may happen, as it did in our case, much faster than expected.
We had underestimated the enormous humidity in the clouds; a faulty variometer was another handicap.
After the landing, about half a bag of sand was left inside the drawer. We had not needed our emergency ballast. The appendix was, of course, pulled tight before we started the descent.
A descent from an altitude of 5000 meters with 6 bags of sand, 10 kilograms each and a smooth landing can be done without problems, even if unpredicted humidity from the clouds comes to the envelope.
In old reports you can read, that they made safe descents from 7000 or 8000 meters with no or almost no ballast. For me, it remains a mystery, how this would work. And I don’t want to try it.
At last, a sad postscript remains: The Polish team with pilot Stefan Makne flew a superb time of 62 hours. At the landing, their brand new gas balloon, type Thunder, was dragged across a field by the very gusty wind. Even with the valve ripped out and 80 percent empty, the remaining gas inflamed and destroyed the balloon. The value of $25.000 USD is something the Polish will not be able to collect in the next years. The club at Poznan may need our solidarity.
Willi EimersReturn to 36th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett