America’s Challenge balloons eclipse last year’s distances / good misc. balloon facts

Hank Riley

[ entire article at Albuquerque Journal website at this link ]

America’s Challenge balloons eclipse last year’s distances

By Rick Nathanson / Journal Staff Writer
Monday, October 9th, 2017 at 7:21pm
Hydrogen balloons participating in the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race begin the lengthy inflation process Saturday afternoon at Balloon Fiesta Park. Eight balloons, each with a team of two people, began launching around 6:30 p.m. Saturday. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nearly all of the balloons competing in the 2017 America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race eclipsed the distance traveled by last year’s winning team, Peter Cuneo and Barbara Fricke — including Cuneo and Fricke.

Last year, the team traveled 866 miles, setting down west of Hannibal, Mo., after a flight of 54 hours and 39 minutes.

All of the teams this year generally were headed in a northeasterly direction, with many on course to cross the Great Lakes and continue into Canada. All but one had exceeded 1,000 miles by Monday evening.

Winners of the America’s Challenge are determined solely by the distance traveled. The distance record of 1,998 miles was set in 2000 by David and Alan Leven of the United States, said race spokeswoman Kim Vesely.

There are no cash prizes associated with the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race; the top three teams from the United States, however, qualify to participate in the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett, the world’s premier gas balloon distance race. It will be held next year in Switzerland, Vesely said.

Balloons in the America’s Challenge race contain about 37,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas, about half the volume of a small hot air balloon. They can fly up to 18,000 feet in altitude, according to race rules. Pilots adjust for altitude by releasing ballast — sand from sandbags or water from containers — in order to ascend; they descend by venting gas from the balloon.

The teams sit in open baskets, which do not have to be made from wicker but generally are. They carry enough food and water for the race duration, as well as protective clothing, a camping toilet, a night vision scope, a range finder to determine altitude in the dark, lights, a satellite phone and an emergency locator beacon.