Book Article about 3rd Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

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

The past races had provided long-distance flights, the 1908 race put the most adventurous flight into the history of the races. The result and the reports went through all newspapers. Gordon-Bennett-Races became well know and received respect, that only Olympic Games might have today. Someone of our time may not understand this, for there are so many exciting events in the news. Also, in the old days, a journey by air could not be simply booked in the travel agency round the corner. Some comparisons may illustrate this:

The 1908 race created a new world record for flight duration: The two pilots were in the air for 73 hours. The world record for duration of a plane with a pilot and one passenger was put up to 1 hour, 9 minutes and 45,6 seconds by Wilbur Wright just one day before the launch of the Gordon-Bennett-Race. Doing this, he also improved the world record for distance in airplanes to 58 kilometres. One year later, the French Comte de la Vaulx flew 1925 km in a balloon from Paris to Korostychew (Russia). An altitude of 10.800 meters had already been reached by Dr. Süring and Dr. Berson in the balloon PREUSSEN on July 31st, 1901, while Graf Lambert put the world record in altitude for airplanes to 300 meters on October 18th, 1909. In those days, the balloon was the only aircraft, that made sensational performances possible.

Lets go back to the 1908 race. It was, till then, the largest competition ever. With 9 balloons from 4 nations the year before, there were now 23 balloons coming from 8 nations. In addition, the “Berliner Verein für Luftfahrt” called for an international judge-declared-goal race on October 10th, and an international duration flight on October 12th. In these three days, no less than 77 balloons launched. Organization was in an exemplary manner, a huge field for inflation was barred hermetically, 23 connections for inflation of the balloons were available. Every nation got their own lockable shed to store their equipment. For inflation and preparation of the balloons, 47 corporals with 585 other ranks of airmen and infantry were present. The gasworks delivered 22.000 cu m gas per hour, in 2 hours and 20 minutes the whole inflation action was completed.

It was the first time, that Switzerland was represented in a Gordon Bennett Race. The year before, Captain Eduard Spelterini from Zurich had drawn attention on himself and Suisse ballooning with alpine flights and on June 29th this year, the Suisse Victor de Beauclair managed to cross the Alps with 3 passengers on board of the 1500 cu m balloon COGNAC, flying from the Eiger-glacier to Stresa/Italy in 21 hours (in the Gordon Bennett Race he was nominated with H. Biehly as co-pilot). Everybody was interested to see, if these pilots would prove to be matched to the difficulties demanded by this race. They introduced themselves at once, with a sensation.

Punctual at 3 p.m. launch began. The meteorologists had forecast a flight to the southeast, landings were expected in South Russia or Romania. The Consul General of the Russian Czar in Berlin, Wirkl. Staatsrat von Artzimowitzsch, had provided the crews with letters of recommendation in the Russian language. But they were unnecessary. The southeast direction only kept for a few hours, in the night the wind turned 180 degrees and so on the next day, the balloons were up again on the same latitude on which they had launched. Approaching the North-Sea coast, they met with the balloons of the other race, launched one day later. There, for the majority, the race was over.

Soon after launch and also during the 30-hours flight to the coast, some events occurred, that might have created fatal endings. It really was a miracle, that no one was badly hurt. At first, the American balloon CONQUEROR, launching as number 9, hit the barrier of the launch-field, ripped off some boards and lost some bags of ballast. Loosing this weight, the balloon rose up into the air like a rocket. The appendix, too narrow and of a failing construction, could not give way for the quickly expanding gas. In an altitude of several hundred meters, the envelope split. The falling balloon shaped to a parachute inside the net, reducing the falling-speed. On the roof of the house Wilhelmshöherstraße Nr. 7 the basket damaged the tiles, got stuck at the chimney and the two Americans, A. Holland Forbes and Augustus Post, could enter the house by a skylight, but not before they and their balloon had been photographed on the roof.

Another accident struck the Spanish balloon MONTANES near Magdeburg. At an altitude of 2000 meters, the rip-out-panel (designed for a quick deflation of the envelope on landing) opened for unknown reasons. Pilot Herrera y Sotolonga, flying solo in the basket of the 2200 cu m balloon, dropped 40 bags of ballast during the fall, to decrease the force of the impact. He also went out without severe injuries.

All other incidents happened over or in the North-Sea. The American balloon ST.LOUIS crossed the river Weser at 10:15 p.m. and flew into thick fog. At 10:30 p.m. Nason Henry Arnold and Harry J. Hewat saw the sea under them through a hole in the fog. North of the mouth of the Jade, west of the lighthouse, they watered and at about 11:30 p.m. they were taken on board of the pilot boat WANGEROOG. The now empty balloon escaped and was later recovered in Grimsby/England.

Also the Spaniards Juan Montojo and his companion José Romero de Vejade flew out to the sea with their balloon CASTILLA. After about 38 hours, they could not keep the balloon aloft any longer and fell to the water. Fortunately, a fisherman Weiß from Blankenese with his cutter was close by. Here is his report to the competition centre:

“We have been fishing out of Helgoland, seeing in the morning of October 13th, 5 a.m. a balloon crewed with two men, the gondola floating in the water. We headed for it, the crew was waving to us, we put out our boat and took the people with their balloon on board. We had been West to North of Helgoland, 6-7 miles out.

Fishing cutter MARIA S. B. 37, skipper C.Weiß, Blankenese.”

The crew of the German balloon BUSLEY (lawyer Dr.Niemeyer as pilot and factory-owner Hans Hiedemann as companion), sent the following telegram from Edinburgh on October, 15th, four days after launch:

“Edinburgh, 3:24 p.m.

Tuesday night 1 a.m. we left coast in balloon BUSLEY about 8 km west of Cuxhaven with 17 bags of ballast and a sharp wind of 50 km an hour heading for the middle of England. Over the sea, the wind suddenly turned north. We seemed lost. At 5 a.m. northwest of Helgoland we managed communication with a coal-steamer to Edinburgh. The balloon was brought down to the water by venting, but was driven away from the ship by strong wind, so we had to rip-out. Extreme dangerous saving. Got fished out by captain Schach almost undressed. Logbook and other properties lost. Balloon recovered. Dr. Niemeyer, Hiedemann.”

Also the Suisse Oberst Theodor Schaeck and Oberleutnant Emil Messner left the coast in their balloon HELVETIA. Before Theodor Schaeck report, here is some information on his life: Theodor Schaeck, Colonel to the Suisse General Stuff, born in Genf 1856, died in Bern may, 2nd, 1911. After university in Zurich, Karlsruhe, Dresden and Vienna, he started his career as civil engineer on different enterprises in Switzerland and abroad. Then he turned over exclusively to military-science and was appointed colonel to the Suisse General Stuff in 1899. To study aviation, he was detailed to the French aeronautic department in Chalais-Meudon and to the Austrian aviatic troops in Vienna. In 1900 the Suisse aeronautical department was set-up in Bern under his command and in 1901 on his orders the Suisse Aero-Club was founded, where he became president until his death. After 1908 he competed also in the 1909 and 1910 Gordon Bennett Races. In the middle of March 1911 he had to face a surgical operation, but it could not stop the further progression of a fateful illness. He died in the morning of May, 2nd 1911.

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