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Gordon Bennett Race 2008 - Team Hora / Löschhorn

“Do you want to go and see Kansas City?” With these words Tomas wakes me up. Well, I can do that, on the other hand he didn't have to wake me up for that. He didn't - the real reason for waking me up was that the ballast consumption had increased dramatically and it is now questionable whether it will last through the night.

We discuss the possible causes. Cooling of the ballast gas? Wasn't it always claimed that with this new material the lifting gas would no longer heat up so much during the day due to solar radiation? And if it is the cooling - then the consumption must stop at some point. But it didn't. Is the balloon leaking? It can't be damage, we've been in the air for two days - and then it would have been leaking all the time. But maybe it did? Years ago, the Dutch team's balloon was shot at - did that happen to us? - Tomas said he heard a shot beforehand. Or is there something wrong with the parachute valve? The launch check hadn't revealed anything unusual, except that it felt easier to pull. I decide to test it after all. I pull the parachute line very carefully - after a pull of just under two centimetres, gas flows out of the top with a loud hiss. That is not normal. What to do now? Climb to increase the pressure of the parachute by inflating the balloon again, and maybe get it tight again? But what about the descent? Would it then leak even more and would we no longer be able to control the descent? After it was clear that we would not be able to reach the morning with the steadily increasing ballast consumption, we decided to land.

Briefly we discuss the possibilities: Landing in a lit and also built-up area, trying to head for an airfield, or simply landing in the pitch-dark pampas. We decide on the latter.

We will land in the next five minutes. If we don't get back to you within 15 minutes, take all necessary steps. Toma's phone call to the Command Centre of the Gordon Bennett Race in Albuquerque is short and to the point - there is nothing more to say at the moment, everyone involved knows about the risks of a night landing.

It is shortly before half past two in the morning - local time. The night is starry, but the narrow crescent of the waxing moon just after new moon has already set. Outside the illuminated towns it is pitch dark. We are now down to 100m above ground over the town of Warrenburg in Missouri, still doing just under 40 km/h.

We zoom low over Warrenburg. As long as we had the competition in mind, we were happy about the speed. Now we'd prefer it slower. On the outskirts of Warrenburg runs a high-voltage line, we hope that there won't be a second one behind it. After we have crossed the line, I pull the parachute until we are sinking at 3m/s. The tow is up. The tow rope lies on top. We can't see it because it's pitch dark, moonless night. But Tomas has his hand on the tow, and feels the typical jerk as it drags across the ground. Another 50m or so to the ground, and we're sinking at just under three metres - in 20 seconds we'll touch down - and still all we see is black night.

Two seconds before touchdown, some texture comes into the black - the ground. Then we touch down, pull the parachute through to deflate - the basket makes another short jump and then stops - everything went well - everything remained intact - relieved, we shake hands, congratulate ourselves on the happy delivery.

In the light of our headlamps we realise that we have landed in a bean field. Our pursuers Pavla and Petra are close by by now, so Tomas sets off. His attempt to find his way out of the bean field fails several times - high barbed wire, stream - so he decides to call Markus in Germany - you have our position, can you look up in Google Earth how I can get out of here. He can and Tomas finds the road and our pursuers. They radio me to come now too and we would look for a hotel. I, however, had meanwhile rebuilt the bed in our basket and was already lying down - with the great starry sky above me. So I denied the need for a hotel room, and said for the two hours until sunrise it wouldn't be worth it either.

We had spent a long time preparing for our third participation in the Gordon Bennett Race, fine-tuning our equipment and know-how. The balloon was lent to us by our Finnish friend Ben Mattson, it is the first gas balloon in the history of Finland. It is only his second flight, the maiden voyage having been made four weeks earlier from Stuttgart.

The balloon is made of a new material, and it is the third balloon made of this material. This balloon no longer produces the electrical conductivity with a graphite layer on the inside of the envelope, but new techniques have made it possible to produce the conductivity with a transparent layer. The advantage of this is that the balloon no longer heats up so much during the day due to the sun, and therefore does not cool down so much at night - and therefore uses less ballast.

Our team consisted of Tomas Hora and Volker Löschhorn in the basket, Petra Oberzig and Pavla Popovich in the chase vehicle provided by Mercedes-Benz. On site in Albuquerque we were supported by Jan Diller, Anneliese Lelonek, Jürgen Oberzig, Patricia and Marc Gerhardt. Dominik Haggeney was again the weather man for us on the PC.

Well prepared for the adventure of the 52nd Gordon Bennett Race, we are eagerly awaiting the start. But the start is a long time coming - unfavourable weather prevents the planned start on Saturday evening, and there will be no gas balloon on Sunday either. On Monday we finally take off, but very weak winds are forecast - standing party around Albuquerque. We first head south, and then north again. When we reach the mountains, we climb up to take advantage of the westerly winds to get through the corridor between the Santa Fe Mountains and the Sandia Mountains. This works quite well, while the majority of the balloons struggle over the high mountains.

We achieve a feat by using the Night Low Level Jetstream of the Great Plains to break away from the field. The Night Low Level Jetstream is an effect in the night inversion area that was also first noticed and studied in the Great Plains. It helps us to gain a lead of five hundred kilometres over the other teams. So we start the third night with a lot of optimism - with this starting position we should be able to place ourselves right at the front! Until the technical problems of our balloon dashed all hopes.

But after the game is before the game, and the 2008 Gordon Bennett race was certainly not our last. Now we have to clarify with the manufacturer how it could happen that the parachute leaked.

Author: Volker Löschhorn

en/gordonbennett/2008_hora-loeschhorn.txt · Last modified: 2023/09/07 13:26 by 2003:6:637f:d12c:a039:53f1:b653:fe5a