News forn the Americas Challenge:
Six balloon teams representing three nations and featuring some of the world’s greatest gas balloonists are preparing to compete in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s America’s Challenge race for gas balloons. Four of the six competing teams include at least one member who has previously won the America’s Challenge, which should bode for an interesting and highly competitive race.
The object of the America’s Challenge, set for launch, weather permitting, on Saturday, October 6, is to fly the greatest distance from Albuquerque while competing within the event rules. The balloonists often stay aloft more than two days and must use the winds aloft and weather systems to their best advantage to gain the greatest distance. Flights of more than 1,000 miles are not unusual, and the winners sometimes travel as far as Canada and the U.S. East Coast.
In contrast to hot-air balloons which generate lift by heating ambient air (the normal air we breathe), gas balloons use a lighter-than-air gas such as hydrogen or helium to create lift. This year, for the first time, all of the balloons in the America’s Challenge will use hydrogen as the lifting gas. In previous races, competitors could choose to fly with either hydrogen-capable or helium-capable balloons. However, the worldwide helium shortage has made it impossible for the Balloon Fiesta to obtain helium this year.
The international field includes pilots from three countries and the first-ever Russian team to compete in the race.
Jonathan Mason and Clive Bailey, UK: Jon Mason, a British citizen currently living in Australia, is the defending champion; this will be his first America’s Challenge race flying as the primary pilot. Mason and British adventurer David Hempleman-Adams won last year, landing just short of the Canadian border in North Dakota and prevailing in one of the most tightly-contested duels in the history of the competition. They also set a new duration record of more than 70 hours aloft. In 2008, Hempleman-Adams and Mason became the first British team to win the world’s other major gas balloon distance race, the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett. This year, Mason teams with co-pilot Clive Bailey, who managed the team’s ground support operations during last year’s winning flight.