Higher, Further, Faster

cartoon: holy balloon

Aviator's Motto Invented in France?

Paris:- Saturday, 12. September 1998:- On weekends I am usually putting this magazine together, so I seldom have a chance to participate in events. At the beginning, the deadline was Thursday night, but it meant reports of weekend events were past history by publication date.

For a lone reporter, big events are hard to cover. Parades, unless they go on for several days, are impossible. The World Cup - out of the question. Big events may as well be as obscure as submarine races.

But today, I think I have a good chance of being at the start of the '42nd Gordon Bennett Cup,' a gas balloon race. I missed its last edition in Paris, on Sunday, 26. June 1983 - which was about the 200th anniversary of manned flight.

In a shower of rain on 27. August 1783, a balloon prepared by Professor Jacques Charles, rose into low clouds over the Champ de Mars. The ascent was witnessed by Benjamin Franklinphoto: plaque in tuileries and about 50,000 Parisians who waited all night and day to see it. Franklin thought it might have military uses.

The Aéro Club's plaque in the Tuileries Gardens, near Concorde.

According to the official history, the first manned flight started from Versailles on 21. November 1783. A Montgolfière, stoked by Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes, climbed to an altitude of 1000 metres and flew across Paris for 25 minutes, to land at the Place de l'Italie without catching on fire. This first manned flight started the race for 'higher, further, faster' and it is still going on.

Ten days later, on 1. December in the afternoon, the much-improved hydrogen gas balloon of Professor Charles with Marie-Noël Robert as a passenger took off from the Tuileries Gardens and flew 27 kilometres to Nesles.

The professor then took a solo flight, to be the first see the sunset twice in one day; by reaching an altitude of 3000 metres before descending at nightfall on account of the cold.

These flights were sensational at the time and ballooning became a great craze. On 19. January 1784, the Montgolfière brothers put up a hot-air balloon with seven passengers, including Pilâtre de Rozier and Joseph Montgolfière.

That was then. Today I am at the Tuileries on time for the start of this years' race. The sky has a lot of white clouds and some grey clouds and a lot of blue sky between them, and winds are pushing things along nicely.

In the métro there has been no announcement about the exit at Concorde being closed on account of crowds, so I getmag: aerofrance no 81 out here. For once I pick a correct exit from many, and quickly climb to the elevated terrace by the Jeu de Paume, on the Rivoli side.

From here I can see the octagonal pond and all of the considerable space around it. I can see there are no balloons in it at all. Not a sausage.

A set of three of the Club's quarterly magazines are on offer at the Champs d'Aviation.

A lady security agent tells me she thinks the balloons will lift off later - around 19:00 for the French Poste's special balloon carrying mail franked here, and the race will get underway around 22:00 or 23:00 - weather permitting.

The weather 'permits' a start right now; who knows what it will be like tonight - and why start in the dark?

Why am I here at the wrong time? I did not read yesterday's Le Parisien carefully; I merely verified that it contained a page devoted to the 'Champs d'Aviation,' which is taking place on the other side of the Place de la Concorde - noting also that we both seem to have photographed some of the same aircraft on Thursday.

My main source of information has been an ad that appeared some time ago in the International Herald Tribune. It does give the starting times. I look closely and now see that they are printed as '7PM,' '8PM' and '11PM.' This is flabbergasting!

Here we are; this is France. Aviation was invented here. This is aviation, and it runs on GMT and there is no AM or PM to it and on top of it I have been away from the confusion of AM and PM for so long, I simply read the times as 7:00, 8:00 and 11:00. For the Poste's balloon, 7:00 seems like a likely starting time to begin transporting mail, and I didn't bother seeing these 'PM's.'

I say a common five-letter French word, loudly. I usually work late on Friday nights and do not bother to see Saturday mornings at all, and now I've gone and got one all wrong.

Still, the weather is good for the moment and the Place de la Concorde has less traffic in it and a lot of people are heading across to the Champs d'Aviation, so I go over too. I have a bit of unexpectedly-free photo capacity.

The 42nd Gordon Bennett Cup

The first race by this name launched from the Concorde end of the Tuileries Gardens at 16:00 on 30. September 1906. James Gordon Bennett fired a shot and the first of 16 balloons lifted off. At 17:40, all 16 were in the air.

James Gordon Bennett Jr. inherited the New York Herald newspaper from his father in 1868, after a career as a daredevil playboy. In October 1869 he sent star-reporter Stanley off to Africa to find Dr. Livingston, which he did in 1871.

Bennett became fed up with Western Union's cable service, so he had his own cable laid across the Atlantic. In 1887, he started the Paris edition of the New York Herald. Partly for promotion of the paper, he launched all sorts of 'Cup' competitions - for steamboats,stamp: 100 years aero club automobiles, horses - and then for flying machines - balloons, airplanes, seaplanes. He died at 77 in 1918.

The first race was won by an American named Lahm. His balloon had travelled 647 kilometres, after 22 hours and 15 minutes of flight, to the north of England.

This is La Poste's official stamp for the occasion. To order, see details in the 'Café' column.

The competition, which is governed by the International Aeronautical Federation, has only two rules. The winner is the one who goes furthest from the point of departure. The nationality of the winner determines which country will organize the following year's race.

Luckily for the Aéro Club de France's 100th anniversary this year, France won last year by flying 1,732 kilometres. This year 22 teams from 10 different countries are taking part.

The race has a colorful history, despite a long interruption from 1939 to 1982. The furthest distance flown was 2,191 kilometres, in 1912.

In 1910, the winners flew 1,887 kilometres from St. Louis, to northern Quebec. It took the pilots four days to walk back to civilization. The third-place finishers, had to walk for ten days, eating berries and whatever else they could find. Other competitors have gone down in the sea or crashed.

These days the balloons are equipped with GPS and portable phones, and a car follows the path of the flight, so nobody will have to walk back from northern Quebec or Siberia. But now the flyers have to be careful not to wander into commercial flight paths or fly over countries which protect their airspace with fighters.

Late Sunday Update

The start of this year's race was annulled Saturday night due to rotten weather conditions. The Aéro Club has just informed me that a new race time has been set for 18:00 on Monday with the race to start from Château-Thierry, just east of Paris. The Poste's balloon is scheduled to lift off at 16:30.

As soon as news of the race is available, it will be presented in Metropole as a 'Flashnews' bulletin. The latest information may also be available on the Aéro Club's Web site, so don't hesitate to give it a look. The site also contains more background information about the race and its contestants, as well as information about the Aéro Club itself.

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