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03 September 2006

Far ... farther ... the farthest

Gas balloons ... a rare sight in the sky. In fact the entire world only counts several tens of active gas balloons. Once a year a major gas balloon competion, established in 1906, gathers the best gas balloon pilots to race against each other.

We can see hot air balloons all the time. You heat the air in the envelope, and because this warmer air is lighter than the surrounding air the balloons rises. But 220 years ago an alternative way of ballooning was born: the gas balloon. A gas balloon is filled with helium or hydrogen gas and then closed. Very important accessories of a gas balloon are the sand bags dangling beside the basket. By throwing out a bit of sand ballast you will rise, by releasing a bit of gas you will descend.

And you have to be very skilled to do this, because a balloon certainly is not as free as a bird in the sky. You'll have to obey certain rules and to fly at different altitudes to stay away from the other air traffic in the area. Moreover a very economic use of sand and gas may lead to the ability to fly very long distances.

In 1906 James Gordon Bennett decided to organize a major gas balloon competition. The only task: to fly as far as possible (measured in a straight line). If the weather is good 17 balloons from 9 countries will take off on Saturday night, September 9th, for another edition of this magnificent race. In the darkness of the evening every 3 minutes a balloon will be launched from a platform, accompanied by its national hymn. Can you already feel the goose-flesh coming? Each balloon is manned by 2 pilots. Probably they will fly one, two or three days and nights. They try to fly the farthest distance, but within the European borders. Maybe they'll reach the top of Finland? or the Algarve? or Turkey? Anyway, they'll go wherever the wind takes them! Last year Belgians became the winners of the competition in America. They flew 3400 km!

If the weather conditions are not favourable on Saturday the takeoff will be postponed till Sunday or even Monday. If the weather is not good on Monday the competition will be put off till 2007.

On this website you can find all the interesting facts about this prestigious race, flewn by exceptionally competent balloonists with a lot of courage, nerve and knowledge. We will publish 18 hours in advance when the balloons will take off. This because it takes many hours to fill all the balloons. And ... during the whole race week you'll be able to follow on this site the track of the balloons!

The place to be for next weekend: Waasmunster (look at the map for the exact location of the launch field). We bid you a warm welcome at the launch area, where you'll also find food an beverage, permanent exhibitions etc. Entrance free.

Posted by Marianne at 9:33 AM

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