With a history reaching back over a century, Thursday's Gordon Bennett Cup is regarded as the oldest and most prestigious aviation competition in the world.
The race was first sponsored by millionaire Gordon Bennett, an eccentric playboy who used his media mogul father’s inheritance to also sponsor yachting and motor races, as well as expeditions. The first Gordon Bennett Cup was held in 1906 at the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, drawing a crowd of 200,000 spectators.
Unlike hot air balloons which fly by taking advantage of the density difference between hot and cold air, gas balloons are filled with a limited supply of hydrogen or helium, both of which are less dense than air. Crews of gas balloons don’t regulate the temperature of this gas - rather, they reduce ballast to gain altitude, or release gas through a valve to descend.
The aim of the Gordon Bennett Cup is straightforward - two person national teams will attempt to cover the most distance, as measured in a straight line between their liftoff and landing locations. To do so, they’re given the same 1050 cubic meters (around 37,080 cubic feet) of hydrogen and can only use fine sand or water as ballast.
A gas balloon can fly for several hours on a stable air mass, but its buoyancy is affected by meteorological factors like thermals, clouds and ambient temperature. In fact, the colder, denser night air usually forces Gordon Bennett Cup teams to jettison anywhere from 80 - 100kg of their initial 700kg ballast payload.
The distance record was set in 2005 by the Belgian team of Bob Berben and Siméons Benoît who travelled an astounding 3400km in 64 hours and 59 minutes. The time record was set in 1995 when the German team of Wilhelm Eimers and Bernd Landsmann spent 92 whole hours in their open basket, travelling 1628.1km.
You can follow the teams as they make their way across the European mainland on the YB race viewer here.
We wish everyone in the Gordon Bennett Cup safe travels - YB Tracking is with them every step of the way!