At the age of 16 Benoît Siméons was the youngest pilot in Europe. Born in a family of balloonists his brothers Patrick and Jean-Frédéric share the same passion. As a born adventurer Benoît has visited countries all over the world with his hotair balloon. Some of his realisations: a flight over the Chinese Wall ... flights above the deserts of New-Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, Karkoum ... ascents from the Red Square in Moscow … several national records ... vice world champion hotairship ... And yet Benoît thought something was still missing: a gas balloon flight!
He turned to the brothers Leys - the winners of the last three editions of Gordon Bennett - for tutoring and in 2001 he obtained his licence. Listening to the advice of Vincent and Franzi (Leys) he and Walter Simonson searched Germany and France for a second hand gas balloon... without success however, because things had to remain affordable... And finally the solution was found here, in Belgium!
If we take a close look at the Belgian aviation register we notice that 4 gas balloons are still inscribed: 1 netlless balloon of the new generation and 3 oldies (netballoons). The OO-BOC is no longer airworthy and is being used as a tarpaulin now and the OO-BAL is at this moment for sale in England. The balloon that raised from the dust thanks to Benoît is the OO-BAZ.
The OO-BAZ balloon, built by Ballonfabrik Stuttgart, measures 360m³ and was inscribed on July 4th 1969 in the Belgian Balloonregister. The owner was Jeanne De Bast (Ganshoren). The balloon then already carried the 'Riz-Lacroix' publicity. On August 18th 1983 the 'Aéroclub Universitaire de Mons et du Hainaut asbl' (Mons-Jemappe) became the new owner. Some years later, on March 30th 1989 the balloon went to 'Sport Promotions asbl' (Saint-Ghislain). And one year later, on March 29th 1990 it was bought by its present owner, Francis Michel (Mons).
The certificate of airworthiness lapsed in 1996 because the balloon was no longer handed in for technical inspection.
The OO-BAZ was lent to Benoît for a period of 5 years... but first a new certificate of airworthiness had to be obtained. It took several months to achieve this because safety comes first. On December 26th 2002 Franzi and Vincent Leys, Albert Vanden Bemden and Eric Martens (as technical inspector for the Belgian Civil Aviation) thoroughly inspected the whole balloon. They took samples of the net and the balloon tissue, especially at the top of the balloon, to see if they hadn't weakened too much by the impact of the sun and the numerous years of inactivity. Some minor repairs were necessary and thanks to the superb knowhow of Albert and the brothers Leys the balloon got ready in the spring of 2003.
OO-BAZ 'Riz-Lacroix' was able to colour the sky again!!!
The balloon has already made several flights, also on November 6th from Marl (D) to Ochtrup (D). Because of the small volume of the balloon there is not much autonomy (only 8 or maximum 9 bags of ballast), but on the other hand the balloon can be built up and packed very quickly and everything fits in a van... so the absence of a trailer enables the chase crew to move faster when following the balloon.
With this story Benoît wants to thank the following people: Michel Francis, Albert & Fientje Vanden Bemden, Franzi & Vincent Leys, Eric Martens, Willy Eimers...
OO-BAZ is without any doubt one of the oldest active gas balloons. Now our question is: