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The Gordon Bennett Cup (or Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett) is the world's oldest gas balloon race, and is "regarded as the premier event of world balloon racing" according to the Los Angeles Times.[1][2] Referred to as the "Blue Ribbon" of aeronautics, the first race started from Paris, France, on September 30, 1906.[3] The event was sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper.[4] According to the organizers, the aim of the contest "is simple: to fly the furthest distance from the launch site."[4] The contest ran from 1906 to 1938, interrupted by World War I and in 1931, but was suspended in 1939 when the hosts, Poland, were invaded at the start of World War II. The event was not resurrected until 1979, when American Tom Heinsheimer, an atmospheric physicist, gained permission from the holders to host the trophy.[5] The competition was not officially reinstated by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) until 1983.[6]

Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett
A silver statue of a gas balloon
SportGas ballooning
English nameGordon Bennett Cup
First awardSeptember 30, 1906
First winnerFrank Purdy Lahm
Most winsVincent Leys (nine)
Most recentMateusz Rękas, Jacek Bogdański (2018)

The record time for the winner of the event is held by Germans Wilhelm Eimers and Bernd Landsmann who remained airborne for over 92 hours in the 1995 race,[7] taking off from Switzerland and landing four days later in Latvia. The distance record is held by the Belgian duo of Bob Berben and Benoît Siméons who, in 2005, piloted their balloon 3,400 kilometers (2,100 mi) from Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States, to Squatec, Quebec, Canada.[7] The most successful pilot is French Vincent Leys who won the trophy nine times between 1997 and 2017, while American teams have won on the most occasions, with twelve victories.

The 2010 competition started in the United Kingdom, with the balloons departing from Bristol on September 25. The race was marred by the disappearance of the American team during a storm over the Adriatic Sea on October 1.[8] The balloon was missing until December 6, when a fishing vessel found the cabin containing the pilots' bodies off the coast of Italy.[9] The 2013 event, departing from France and landing in Portugal, was again won by the French in F-PPGB.[10]



According to the official rules, the competition is open to all National Aero Clubs (NACs) "who have met their obligations to the FAI", with each NAC being allowed to enter up to three teams whose pilots are of the same nationality as the NAC.[11] Before this, only two teams from any single NAC were permitted to compete in a single competition.[12] Pilots should have at least 50 hours experience as pilot in command and be authorized for night-time flying. At least one member of each team must be capable of communicating with Air Traffic Control in English.[11]

The team who wins the contest receives the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett trophy and the team's NAC will hold the contest two years later (originally the winning NAC would host the competition the following year). Any NAC winning the cup in three consecutive races will be the final holder of the cup with the subsequent option to offer a new cup.[13]

Unofficial eventsEdit

Resurrected in 1979 by American Tom Heinsheimer, the competition was held without official FAI sanction for four years. Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson secured victory piloting Double Eagle III 987 kilometers (613 mi) in 47 hours from California to Colorado.[5] The following year, the winning team of Jerry Tepper and Corky Myers floated 862 kilometers (536 mi) from the takeoff point in California.[14] The 1981 race was won again by Abruzzo, with different co-pilot Rocky Aoki, who covered 2,168 kilometers (1,347 mi) before touching down,[15] while the 1982 race was won by Joe Kittinger and Charles Knapp who piloted Rosie O'Grady 1,423 kilometers (884 mi).[15] Heinsheimer attempted to gain the copyright over the name "Gordon Bennett" and run the event without FAI sanction. However the FAI were granted exclusive rights to the name in 1983, and the organization officially reinstated the competition later that year.[6] Heinsheimer went on to arrange further contests in the United States which were still reported in the national press as being the "Gordon Bennett Balloon Race" or similar.[16][17][18]


Conqueror draped over houses of Berlin 1908

The 1908 race in Berlin saw the fall of the balloon Conqueror, flown by A. Holland Forbes and Augustus Post. Conqueror was the largest balloon entered in the race, standing 80 feet high and with a gas capacity of 80,000 cubic feet. Before the race Forbes had attempted to lengthen the balloon's appendix to give the team a strategic advantage. Instead the balloon hit a fence just after take off, lost two ballast bags, ascended rapidly and ripped open three minutes into the race. The pair slashed off ballast as they fell 3,000 feet. Their descent was slowed only as the balloon's fabric caught in the netting and formed a rough parachute. They took hold of the ring above them and lifted their feet as the basket smashed through the tiled roof of a house in the Berlin suburb of Friedenau. Both the men and their instruments survived intact.[19][20]

Hawley and Post following 1910 Gordon Bennett Cup

The winners of the 1910 Gordon Bennett Cup, Alan R. Hawley and Augustus Post, set a distance and duration record of 1,173 miles in 44 hours and 25 minutes,[21] but the pair of experienced balloonists landed in a remote section of Canadian wilderness in Quebec. After a week passed with no word from the team, search parties were formed by the Aero Club of America, but many newspapers reported that the men were likely dead. Instead they emerged after ten days, assisted by two local trappers who had been out on a hunting trip and happened to run into them. Hawley had injured a knee, but otherwise the pair were unharmed and received a hero's welcome upon their safe return.[22]

On September 23, 1923, five competitors were killed when they were struck by lightning while six more were injured in storms. Among the dead were Lieutenants John W. Choptaw and Robert S. Olmsted who were killed when their balloon "US Army S6" crashed in Loosbroek, Netherlands.[23][24][25] Sixty years later, in 1983, Americans Maxie Anderson and Don Ida were killed as the gondola detached from their balloon during an attempt to avoid crossing into East German airspace.[26] Anderson and Ida were participating in the "Coupe Charles et Robert" (named for Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, inventors of the gas balloon) which was run in parallel with the Gordon Bennett Cup. Following their deaths, the "Coupe Charles et Robert" was never run again.[12]

On September 12, 1995, three gas balloons participating in the race entered Belarusian air space. Despite the fact that competition organizers had informed the Belarusian Government about the race in May and that flight plans had been filed, a Mil Mi-24B attack helicopter of the Belarusian Air Force shot down one balloon,[1][27] killing two American citizens, Alan Fraenckel and John Stuart-Jervis.[2][28] Another of the balloons was forced to land while the third landed safely over two hours after the initial downing. The crews of the two balloons were fined for entering Belarus without a visa and released. Belarus has neither apologized nor offered compensation for the deaths.[29]

On September 29, 2010, the 2004 trophy-winning American team of Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis went missing in thunderstorms over the Adriatic Sea.[30] On September 30, the USA retrieval crew suggested that the balloon may have ditched in the sea or have been destroyed by lightning.[31] Debris was found on October 1 by search crews but race control determined that it was not from the missing balloon.[32] Despite this, organizers later stated that the final calculated rate of descent of the balloon had been about 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), and that the team's survival was "unlikely".[33] The search for the missing pair was called off on October 4.[8] The balloon's cabin containing the bodies was recovered by an Italian fishing boat on December 6.[9]

Official winnersEdit


Record breaking flights are denoted by the following:

Record *
Edition Date[A] Starting point Crew Country Balloon name Time
1 September 30, 1906 Tuileries, Paris (France) Frank Lahm, Henry Hersey   USA United States 22:15 641.10
2 October 27, 1907 St. Louis (United States) Oskar Erbslöh, Henry Helm Clayton   Germany Pommern 40:00 1,403.55
3 October 11, 1908 Berlin (Germany) Theodor Schaek, Emil Messner    Switzerland Helvetia 73:01 1,190.00
4 October 3, 1909 Zürich (Switzerland) Edgar W. Mix, Andre Roussel   USA America II 35:07 1,121.11
5 October 17, 1910 St. Louis (United States) Alan Ramsay Hawley, Augustus Post   USA America II 44:25 1,887.60
6 October 5, 1911 Kansas City (United States) Hans Gericke, Otto Duncker   Germany Berlin II 12:28 757.84
7 October 27, 1912 Stuttgart (Germany) Maurice Bienaimé, René Rumpelmayer   France La Picardie 45:42 2,191.00
8 October 12, 1913 Paris (France) Ralph Hazlett Upson Ralph Albion Drury Preston   USA Goodyear 43:30 618.00
9 October 23, 1920 Birmingham (United States) Ernest Demuyter, Mathieu Labrousse   Belgium Belgica 40:15 1,769.00
10 September 18, 1921 Brussels (Belgium) Paul Armbruster, Louis Ansermier    Switzerland Zürich 27:24 766.00
11 August 6, 1922 Geneva (Switzerland) Ernest Demuyter, Alexander Veenstra   Belgium Belgica 25:49 1,372.10
12 September 23, 1923 Brussels (Belgium) Ernest Demuyter, Leon Coeckelbergh   Belgium Belgica 21:00 1,155.00
13 June 15, 1924 Brussels (Belgium) Ernest Demuyter, Leon Coeckelbergh   Belgium Belgica 43:16 714.00
14 June 7, 1925 Brussels (Belgium) Alexander Veenstra, Philippe Quersin   Belgium Prince Leopold 47:30 1,345.00
15 May 30, 1926 Antwerp (Belgium) Ward Van Orman, Walter W. Morton   USA Goodyear III 16:37 864.00
16 September 10, 1927 Detroit (United States) Edward J. Hill, Arthur G. Schlosser   USA Detroit 48:00 1,198.00
17 June 30, 1928 Detroit (United States) William Elsworth Kepner, William Olmstead Eareckson   USA US Army 48:00 740.80
18 September 28, 1929 St. Louis (United States) Ward Van Orman, Alan L. McCracken   USA Goodyear VIII 24:00 548.94
19 September 1, 1930 Cleveland (United States) Ward Van Orman, Alan L. McCracken   USA Goodyear VIII 27:56 872.00
20 September 25, 1932 Basel (Switzerland) Thomas G. W. Settle, Wilfred Bushnell   USA US Navy 41:20 1,550.00
21 September 2, 1933 Chicago (United States) Franciszek Hynek, Zbigniew Burzyński   Poland SP-ADS Kościuszko 38:32 1,361.00
22 September 23, 1934 Warsaw (Poland) Franciszek Hynek, Władysław Pomaski   Poland SP-ADS Kościuszko 44:48 1,333.00
23 September 16, 1935 Warsaw (Poland) Zbigniew Burzyński, Władysław Wysocki   Poland SP-AMY Polonia II 57:54 1,650.47
24 August 30, 1936 Warsaw (Poland) Ernest Demuyter, Pierre Hoffmans   Belgium OO-BFM Belgica 46:24 1,715.80
25 June 20, 1937 Brussels (Belgium) Ernest Demuyter, Pierre Hoffmans   Belgium OO-BFM Belgica 46:15 1,396.00
26 September 11, 1938 Liège (Belgium) Antoni Janusz, Franciszek Janik   Poland SP-BCU LOPP 37:47 1,692.00
September 3, 1939 Lwów (Poland)[B]
27 June 25, 1983 Paris (France) Stefan Makné, Ireneusz Cieślak   Poland SP-BZO Polonez 36:00 690.00
28 October 13, 1984 Zürich (Switzerland) Karl Spenger, Martin Messner    Switzerland HB-BFC Jura 43:08 793.00
29 September 28, 1985 Geneva (Switzerland) Josef Starkbaum, Gert Scholz   Austria HB-BBL Volksbank 21:09 342.00
30 October 18, 1986 Salzburg (Austria) Josef Starkbaum, Gert Scholz   Austria HB-BBL Volksbank 19:11 272.43
31 October 3, 1987 Seefeld (Austria) Josef Starkbaum, Gert Scholz   Austria HB-BBL Volksbank 32:16 852.00
32 October 23, 1988 Bregenz (Austria) Josef Starkbaum, Gert Scholz   Austria OE-PZS Polarstern 41:09 1,110.90
33 September 16, 1989 Lech (Austria) Josef Starkbaum, Gert Scholz   Austria OE-PZS Polarstern 37:33 911.20
34 September 2, 1990 Lech (Austria) Josef Starkbaum, Gert Scholz   Austria OE-PZS Polarstern 33:20 692.50
35 September 21, 1991 Lech (Austria) Volker Kuinke, Jürgen Schubert   Germany D-EUREGIO 44:18 1,039.40
36 September 19, 1992 Stuttgart (Germany) David N. Levin, James Herschend   USA D-ASPEN 45:36 964.19
37 October 4, 1993 Albuquerque (United States) Josef Starkbaum, Rainer Röhsler   Austria OE-PZS Polarstern 59:29 1,832.00
38 September 18, 1994 Lech (Austria) Karl Spenger, Christian Stoll    Switzerland HB-BZH Stadt Wil 31:01 825.14
39 September 9, 1995 Wil (Switzerland) Wilhelm Eimers, Bernd Landsmann   Germany D-OCOL Columbus II 92:11 * 1,628.10
40 September 28, 1996 Warstein (Germany) Wilhelm Eimers, Bernd Landsmann   Germany D-OCOL Columbus II 72:01 1,286.90
41 September 7, 1997 Warstein (Germany) Vincent Leys, Jean François Leys   France F-PPSE Le Petit Prince 45:30 1,732.50
42 September 12, 1998 Paris (France)[C]
43 October 1, 1999 Albuquerque (United States) Phillipe de Cock, Ronny Van Havere   Belgium D-OCOX Belgica II 40:15 1,666.54
44 September 9, 2000 Saint-Hubert (Belgium) Wilhelm Eimers, Bernd Landsmann   Germany D-OOWE Columbus IV 70:49 795.70
45 September 8, 2001 Warstein (Germany) Vincent Leys, Jean François Leys   France F-PPSE Le Petit Prince 77:47 1,626.60
46 August 31, 2002 Châtellerault (France) Vincent Leys, Jean François Leys   France F-PPSE Le Petit Prince 69:59 1,282.30
47 September 14, 2003 Arc-et-Senans (France) Vincent Leys, Jean François Leys   France F-PPSE Le Petit Prince 53:42 1,596.50
48 August 29, 2004 Thionville (France) Richard Abruzzo, Carol Rymer Davis   USA N96YD Zero Gravity 52:52 1,803.36
49 October 1, 2005 Albuquerque (United States) Bob Berben, Benoît Siméons   Belgium N6326T 65:20 3,400.39 *
50 September 9, 2006 Waasmunster (Belgium) Philippe de Cock, Ronny Van Havere   Belgium D-OCOX Belgica 2 66:53 2,449.60
51 September 15, 2007 Brussels (Belgium)[C]
52 October 7, 2008 Albuquerque (United States) David Hempleman-Adams, Jonathan Mason   Great Britain N5054 Lady Luck 74:12 1,768.67
53 September 5, 2009 Geneva (Switzerland) Sébastien Rolland, Vincent Leys   France F-PPSE Golden Eyes 85:18 1,588.29
54 September 25, 2010 Bristol (England) Kurt Frieden, Pascal Witpraechtiger[34]    Switzerland[34] HB-QKF[34] 58:37[22]58:37[34] 2,434.31[22]2,434.31[34]
55 September 10, 2011 Gap-Tallard (France) Sébastien Rolland, Vincent Leys   France F-PPSE 26:42[22]26:42[35] 779.83
56 August 31, 2012 Toggenburg (Switzerland) Sébastien Rolland, Vincent Leys   France F-PPGB 69:02[22]69:02[36] 1620.06
57 August 24, 2013 Grand Nancy-Tomblaine (France) Vincent Leys, Christophe Houver   France F-PPGB 73:33[22]73:33 1402.42[10]
58 August 29, 2014 Vichy (France) Wilhelm Eimers, Matthias Zenge   Germany D-OTLI -[22]61:35 1410.64[37]
59 August 28, 2015 Pau (France) Kurt Frieden, Pascal Witprächtiger    Switzerland HB-QKF -[22]68:21 2080.80[38]
60 September 18, 2016 Gladbeck (Germany) Kurt Frieden, Pascal Witprächtiger    Switzerland HB-QKF MM Technics -[22]58:12 1803.40[39]
61 September 8, 2017 Fribourg (Switzerland) Vincent Leys, Christophe Houver   France F-PPGB -[22]36:20 1836.06
62 September 27, 2018 Bern (Switzerland) Mateusz Rękas, Jacek Bogdański   Poland D-OWBA -[22]58:28 1145.29


  • A The competition was not held from 1914 to 1919 as a result of World War I, not held in 1931, nor from 1939 to 1982.[40]
  • B Canceled as a result of the outbreak of World War II.[40]
  • C Canceled due to bad weather.[40]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Browne, Malcolm W. (September 14, 1995). "2 American Balloonists Die When Shot Down in Belarus". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Cimons, Marlene; Williams, Carol J. (September 15, 1995). "Ill-Fated Balloonists Shared Passion for Flying". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  3. ^ "Aero Club of the United Kingdom — Official notices to members — Gordon-Bennett Aeronautical Race, 1909". Flight Global. January 30, 1909. p. 69. Retrieved September 27, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "The Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Archived from the original on October 9, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Jares, Joe (June 11, 1979). "A Bunch Of Basket Cases". Sports Illustrated. Time Inc. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  6. ^ a b "CIA Policy Manual". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. June 1997. p. C6/6. Archived from the original (doc) on 9 August 2011. Retrieved October 5, 2010. The First Official Gordon Bennett Cup race since 1938 will take place on 26 June 1983, from Place de la Concorde in Paris, the same spot where the first race started on September 30th 1906.
  7. ^ a b "Winning pilots and co-pilots (alphabetic list)". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Archived from the original (xls) on October 8, 2010. Retrieved September 27, 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Italian coastguards call off search for US balloonists". BBC News. October 4, 2010. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  9. ^ a b "Bodies of missing US balloonists found off Italy". BBC News. December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  10. ^ a b Haggeney, Markus (29 August 2013). "57th. Coupe Aéronautique Gordon BennettFAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship Official Results" (PDF). Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Archived from the original (pdf) on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Model Event Rules for Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. 2010. p. 2. Archived from the original (doc) on August 9, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  12. ^ a b Hohmann Sr, Ulrich. "The 27th Gordon Bennett Race 1983". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Archived from the original (doc) on July 25, 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  13. ^ "Model Event Rules for Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. 2010. pp. 5, 10–11. Archived from the original (doc) on August 9, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  14. ^ "2 Denver pilots win Gordon Bennett race". The Bulletin. Bend, Oregon. April 30, 1980. p. 43. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  15. ^ a b "Balloonists' 884-Mile Flight Is Tops In Endurance Race". Toledo Blade. Block Communications. May 10, 1982. p. 12. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  16. ^ "Winner declared in balloon race". The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. May 6, 1986. p. 3A. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
  17. ^ "Rosie O'Grady wins balloon race". Ellensburg Daily Record. May 3, 1988. p. 9. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
  18. ^ Johnson, Ann (October 28, 1989). "Rolling Hills Official Nudges Soviets to an Uplifting Venture Ballooning: The Soviet Union gets its first taste of the sport in a competitive, international venue and a glimpse at its research application". Los Angeles Times. p. 28.
  19. ^ Post, Augustus (October 1908). "A Fall From the Sky". The Century Magazine: 935–946 – via
  20. ^ "Aeronauts Unhurt in 4,000 Foot Fall". The Washington Times=October 12, 1908. p. 1. Retrieved June 17, 2017 – via  
  21. ^ Carrera, Faustine. "Results". Retrieved 2017-06-23.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Post, Augustus (1911). A Record Voyage in the Air. Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine.
  23. ^ "Luchtballon op Loosbroek" (in Dutch). Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  24. ^ "Scores of Lives Deliberately Risked and Sacrificed in Pursuit of Knowledge to Protect Others From Disease and Death". Popular Mechanics. Popular Mechanics Co. 44 (July): 49–54. 1925.
  25. ^ "First photos of International Balloon Race which resulted in five deaths". Hagley Digital Archives. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  26. ^ "Balloon tried to avoid border". The Milwaukee Sentinel. July 1, 1983. p. 3. Archived from the original on December 23, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  27. ^ "Racing Balloon Is Shot Down by Attack Helicopter in Belarus" (pdf). Flight Safety Foundation. July 1996. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  28. ^ "Belarus shoots down US balloon". The Independent. September 14, 1995. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  29. ^ "Belarus". United States Department of State. August 27, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  30. ^ "Hydrogen race balloonists missing in Adriatic storm". BBC News. September 29, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  31. ^ "Lightning may have struck missing balloonists' craft". BBC News. September 30, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  32. ^ Messia, Hada (October 1, 2010). "Debris may not be of missing balloon". CNN. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
  33. ^ "Gordon Bennett director 'pessimistic' about balloonists". BBC News. October 1, 2010. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
  34. ^ a b c d e "Race Home Page". The British Balloon and Airship Company Ltd. Archived from the original on October 2, 2010. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  35. ^ "Event Director's eBoard". Archived from the original on December 20, 2011. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
  36. ^ "Official Results Are Final". Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
  37. ^ "58th. Coupe Aéronautique Gordon BennettFAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship". Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  38. ^ "59th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett Victory for Swiss Team SUI 01 Frieden and Witprächtiger!". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  39. ^ "Touchdown! Team SUI-01 crosses the sea to Greece to win". Archived from the original on 24 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  40. ^ a b c "Gordon Bennett Historical Results". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Archived from the original on October 3, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit