The 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett—-the world’s most prestigious gas balloon race that’s also known as the FAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship—is set for Saturday at 6 p.m. MDT (1 a.m. Sunday UTC).
The event will be hosted by the renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, with 17 crews ascending to the skies in pursuit of victory.
Established more than a century ago, the Gordon Bennett race stands as a timeless testament to the allure and challenge of long-distance gas ballooning. The competition attracts highly skilled and celebrated pilot teams from across the globe who come prepared to endure the rigors of a race like no other.
In the unique event, the team that covers the greatest distance from its starting point wins. While it may sound straightforward in theory, the Gordon Bennett race is anything but easy. Victory hinges on exceptional physical endurance, unwavering morale, mental resilience, and an extensive understanding of wind patterns and weather conditions. Pilots face extreme temperatures, fatigue, and dehydration during their challenging quest for the longest distance flight.
Each participating team consists of two pilots supported by a dedicated ground crew. This year, France, Germany, and the U.S. have fielded three teams each—the maximum allowed. Austria and Poland are represented by two teams apiece, while Lithuania, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have pinned their hopes on a single team.
Germany’s Wilhelm and Benjamin Eimers, a father-son duo, are the team to watch. Having secured victory in Albuquerque last year, they are undoubtedly among the most accomplished gas balloon pilots. Wilhelm Eimers boasts an impressive record, having participated in the race a record 29 times with five victories.
The race pays tribute to James Gordon Bennett Jr., who was renowned for not only founding the now-defunct International Herald Tribune but also for generously sponsoring air sports. Seeking the expertise of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), Bennett organized the inaugural Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett on September 30, 1906, at Paris’ Tuileries Gardens. The event’s immense success led Bennett to entrust FAI with the race’s organization, while his name continued to be synonymous with the esteemed trophy.
Throughout its storied history, the race has seen remarkable feats in terms of both duration and distance. In 2005, Belgium’s Bob Berben and Benoit Simeons shattered a distance record set in 1912 with an impressive flight covering a total of 3,400.39 kilometers. Last year, Wilhelm Eimers and Bernd Landsmann soared for an astonishing 92 hours and 11 minutes to secure victory—an accomplishment that took longer than completing the first Pacific Ocean crossing. Typically, Gordon Bennett teams remain airborne for approximately 50 to 65 hours.
The 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett promises to be a captivating spectacle, showcasing the unwavering spirit of adventure and enduring legacy of its pioneering founder.. and his dedication to air sports.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Plane & Pilot.