11th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Geneva (SUI) 1922

Start: Geneva, Sunday, August 6th        

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

The two Swiss officers, Paul Armbruster and Louis Ansermier, had brought the race to this alpine country for the second time after 1909. As the winners in 1908, Schaeck and Messner, tried to succeed separately in the following race, but none of them managed to do so. Good teams should not be torn apart, there are only a few examples, where both took profit from this. Of course, the second man in the basket is in the shadow of the fame, so it is understandable, if he wants to show up in the list of the winners as pilot-in-command by himself.

Favourites of course were the Belgian Ernest Demuyter and the American R. E. Honeywell. Demuyter had kept his second man in the basket from 1921, when he had to bury his hopes for victory because of the soldier who involuntarily travelled with him. We will meet Veenstra several times later. Honeywell would have earned the victory, it should have been his turn. He takes part for the fifth time, in both 1913 and 1920 he reached second place. Now he had chosen Wade as co-pilot, who had reached rank 2 with Lahm in 1911. Bienaime, winner of 1912, and Labrousse, co-pilot of Demuyter at his first victory, also were considered as candidates for the first places by the experts.

For the Swiss competitors the president of the aero-club had the idea for a special incentive. For the best fellow citizen he offered the brand new balloon "Thuna" of 900 cubic meters as prize, but only if he would rank among the first five.

The town of the League of Nations did everything, to deal with the race in the best organising manner. The list of the officials contained totally 228 names. Never before a race was hold so early in the year, probably they wanted to spare the cold nights in September or October from the participants. Doing this, one had to accept that thunderstorms could endanger the balloons. In mid-summer these weather conditions are met more often than in fall. From August 1st on the competitors were in town, from then on the count down was running. 50.000 cu m of gas was necessary for the inflation of the 19 balloons, now everybody hoped for success. Weather was quite good in the beginning, so many spectators came to the launch field, but not the same amount as in Zurich in 1909.

Low ground winds allowed inflation of the balloons without any problems, at altitude it blew quicker, promising long distances. But before launch, the situation got worse. Those who took off first flew quite well, the latter ones had to fight with thunder and snowstorms. Several balloons were forced back to earth quite soon after launch. So the still excluded Germans and Austrians could see landing balloons on their territory. For six balloons, the flight ended in Austria, five came back to earth in Germany, of course none of them had any influence to the results on the first ranks.

But the Germans had other problems in those days. Their inflation meanwhile had grown to an avalanche. At the beginning of August, the change for one dollar was 860 marks, at the end of the month it was noted already with 1990 marks.

Back to the race: Demuyter used his proved tactics. Go at once to a high altitude, where the fastest wind is. His average speed was 53,3 km/h. Only in one race till then, the winner was even faster: Hans Gericke flying from Kansas City in 1911. In 1912, from Stuttgart, snowstorms are reported, but the average speed of the winner was "only" 47,9 km/h. Although the speed is not measured in a Gordon Bennett Race and therefore has no influence in the ranking, those who find the fast layer and can keep the balloon in it create the foundation for their victory. This becomes clearly visible comparing Demuyter with Honeywell, ranking second again. Honeywell flew half an hour longer, but more than 300 km shorter.

From this flight, Ernest Demuyter gave a report in his book "Randonnées Victorieuses BELGICA". Who could tell more authentically?

Report Demuyter

Escaped BELGICA was never found. Demuyter was still in Bucarest when he received a comforting telegram from his King Albert I.: "When you return to Bruxelles, receive my warmest congratulations for your wonderful victory. With this success in aviation you have made a big contribution to the tradition of the Belgian people, to show courage in the moment of decision!" So the financing of a new BELGICA should be sure. It was and the balloon rushed from victory to victory in the following years.

Captain Paul Armbruster became seventh as the best Swiss competitor, so he was not among the first five. The brand new balloon "Thuna" from the Swiss aero-club was given to the balloon department Romande in Lausanne, as it had been decided before if such a case would happen. The Lausannians felt as if they had got the jackpot in a lottery.

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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.