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03 October 2004

9° America's Challenge - update #2

18 balloons launch in quest to fly the longest distance

Picture www.balloonfiesta.com

The launch began on schedule at 7 PM MDT (0100Z), with the team of Lesley Pritchard and Jack Mullen leading the way. Each team's balloon was brought to a central platform on the launch site, so all teams began their quest to fly the longest distance from Balloon Fiesta Park from the same location. The national anthem of the pilot\'s home country was played as each balloon soared aloft. Because of the large number of international competitors, launch commentary was provided in English and German.

The Balloon Fiesta's famous "box" winds kept many of the competitors right over or in the immediate vicinity of the field. As sometimes happens during hot-air launches, Launch Master Thomas Hora, Event Director Pat Brake, and their team had to hold some competitors on the launch platform until other balloons launched earlier could slowly drift out of the way. Even with the short delays, all 18 balloons were launched in approximately one hour and 15 minutes.

The box conditions created a spectacular show for the spectators, with all the balloons hanging over the field. However, this isn't necessarily a good thing when the object is to go the greatest distance. At this writing, several of the balloons are headed northward up Interstate 25 towards Santa Fe. The real strategies in the race will begin to play out after sunrise tomorrow morning.

The launch included some light moments. German competitor Willie Eimers arrived on the launch platform sans balloon. He climbed onto the platform, waved to the crowd, and shot video as the launch crew brought his balloon, with co-pilot Greg Winker aboard, onto the platform. He then climbed aboard and the balloon headed aloft to the strains of the German national anthem.

Mark Sullivan gave the spectators a little shower as he took off -- water ballast slowly dropped so the balloon could gain a little altitude. German ballooning champion and video producer Astrid Gerhardt, who was filming on the platform, came in for some good-natured ribbing -- and compliments -- during lulls in the launch.

In the next eight hours, the race will really begin to get interesting, and you can follow it through live tracking on the Balloon Fiesta Web site, www.balloonfiesta.com.

Posted by Luc at 10:40 AM

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America's Challenge - update #2
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