9th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Chicago (USA) 1920

The first victory of Ernest Demuyter

Start: Birmingham/Alabama/USA, October 23rd 1920         

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

A break for seven years now came to an end. Four years of World War I had changed a lot in aviation. The balloon had lost supremacy, planes and - much more important than today – airships went out of the war as horrible carrier of bombs but also proved their multiple usability. The balloons, in the war mostly used as survey platforms for attacks by artillery had been shot one by one out of the sky by enemy planes, only tethered balloons, to be used as barriers against planes, seemed to have some future. In Germany, almost 140 balloons had been registered when war began, first in 1921 two new balloons are put to service. Other sorrows were more important, flying balloons was considered to be easily spared. But in other nations as well a lot of discussions rose about flying balloons.

Should the race get a revived Gordon Bennett, the generous sponsor of this event had died on May 14th 1918, aged 77. Of course, his cup from 1906 was not yet finally won. No nation had managed it in the past eight races, to have the winning team three times in a row. This should happen in any case. Ballooning wasn't taken very serious anymore, except by insiders. What do these, almost antediluvian balls, want in the world of progress? Nostalgia was an unknown word in those days. Faster, longer, higher was the slogan. This was proved by the Olympic Games, finishing two month before in Antwerp. Nurmi won three gold- and one silver-medal (10000 m running in 32:45,8; 8000 m cross-country running in 27:15,0; team placing, and silver for 5000 m in 15:00,0), 2606 athletes fought in 154 competitions (at least nine competitions in shooting with military guns!) and then gas balloons fly for the longest distance? This was considered at least as out of date as the tug-of-war, being an Olympic discipline for the last time.

Austria and Germany, guilty for the first World War, were excluded from participation in international sporting events. The F.A.I. had banned both nations from its circle. First in 1927 this decision was withdrawn by the F.A.I., Austria went without participation in Gordon Bennett Races until the year 1931. However, this exclusion was considered to be unfair, but other sorrows were more pressing. The results, seen from today: There are only very few reports about the races of the early 20th in German newspapers. Therefore let's again tell the Belgian Ernest Demuyter, he began this year with a series of victories, bringing to him the reputation as the best pilot of the world for the next 18 years:

Report from E. Demuyter

So far the report from Ernest Demuyter. His first victory in a Gordon Bennett Coupe was of course celebrated with triumph in Belgium, but the rest of the world did not take much notice of this. Gordon Bennett, well, a reminiscence to the pre-war time, but over soon. The race 1920 was taken so unimportant, that the competitors ranking 8 to 11 can't be discovered in any list of results and the flown distances from rank 3 upwards were not measured or calculated but roughly estimated. Look back, dear reader, 1911 the results were exactly calculated down to ten meters, now rounded up or down to ten kilometres was sufficient. But the high regard of this race should soon change again, the air of a Gordon Bennett Race must not be underestimated.

Not only because the first victory of Ernest Demuyter the race 1920 owns a special place in history. Also, with this race, the internal American competition between the balloons of army and navy on one side and those of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company on the other side began. These institutions will use the races in the following years for testing the best and lightest material. Goodyear had created an extra research-department, dealing with the development of the new fabrics. By the way, a victory in a Gordon Bennett Race would have been a good public-relation for all the other products. Also the name of Ward T. van Orman shows up in the list of results for the first time. Aged 26 in 1920, this engineer of the Goodyear company will fly in totally 10 Gordon Bennett Races, finishing four of them as the winner.

Poor Harry E. Honeywell, sent to the race as favourite by the Americans, one has to feel sorry for him. 1912 he became third, 1913 and now 1920 it was "only" enough for the second place. But he had set up a new American record for duration (48:26 h). Demuyter had been much faster in the higher altitude. Flight-duration eight hours less, 16 hours earlier over Detroit, than Medori, Upson and Thompson, who landed there.

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Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

The Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett is the most prestigious event in aviation and the ultimate challenge for the balloon pilots and their equipment.