Chapter 10 - 1921


MAN CARRIED AWAY BY RACING BALLOON - Thrilling Rescue Is Witnessed by 150,000 at Start of Bennett Cup Contest. - COAT CAUGHT IN ANCHOR -Belgian Entrant Saves Victim - Fourteen Craft Get Away in Strong Wind. [Special Despatch NYH] BRUSSELS. Sunday (September 18, 1921) - The start of fourteen contestants for the James Gordon Bennett international trophy this afternoon was marked by the thrilling rescue by Lieut. DeMuyter of Belgium, last year's winner of the race, of a field assistant who got caught in the ropes and was carried upward with the balloon anchor through his coat. A strong wind carried the balloons westward and they may come down in the North Sea or land on the British or French coasts. Ireland and the Atlantic Ocean are not outside the range of possibilities.

Lieut. DeMuyter's chances of winning the race may have been destroyed by the incident, owing to the extra burden added to his balloon, Belgica II, as the assistant had to be hauled into the basket and carried away. Up to midnight none of the balloons had been reported.

This handicap to Lieut. DeMuyter was regarded as strengthening the chances of Ralph Upson of the United States. Upson's balloon was found in tests yesterday to be badly constructed and Lieut DeMuyter, in a sportsmanlike manner, placed one of his own, the Belgica I, in which he won last year, at his disposal.

Fully 150,000 persons witnessed the start of the race. Many women fainted when the unexpected passenger was seen swaying between earth and the clouds in danger either of losing his grip or crashing into the treetops skirting the field from which the gasbags left.

Lieut. DeMuyter's balloon was the eighth to leave. In the strong wind the pilot did not notice the workman clinging to the ropes - with the anchor point gripping his coat - until a faint echo of the warning shouts of the crowd caused him to look over the side.

Although he was experiencing difficulty with the appendix valve, designed to prevent the explosion of the gas when the pressure is increased because of expansion, Lieut. DeMuyter put the man's safety above his chances of winning and immediately hauled him into the basket. Then he continued the flight over Brussels, mounting higher and higher as the fierce ground gusts swept away from the starting field.

With the wind blowing toward the northwest the Americans all made good starts, although Upson, upon whom the American hopes are placed, predicted that the race would be short and unsatisfactory, and that probably the majority of balloons would descend along the Channel coast rather than take chances with the open seas to the north.

This was not the idea of the British Balloonist Baldwin in Banshee III, who shouted to the crowd: "You'll hear from us when we land in Ireland."

Two other balloons, the "Italian Triomphale IX" and the Belgian Liege-Yaer, met delay when they crashed into the treetops, but both succeeded in continuing the flight by throwing out ballast and cutting the branches which held their basket. The decreased ballast, however, was considered to have diminished the chances of both bags completing a satisfactory course. –




BRUSSELS, September 18. The fourteen big balloons starting, went away at intervals of ten minutes.  - wind 30-40 miles per hour. Uselet - Italy, withdrew due to damage. Upson in a balloon loaned to him by DeMuyter (Belgica I) was third to leave.  Bienaime's balloon was damaged but got away.


Eight of the Entries for the James Gordon Bennett Cup Land in England and Wales. By the Associated Press. BRUSSELS, Monday (September 19, 1921)

Only one of the three balloons which left here Sunday afternoon in competition for the James Gordon Bennett trophy, had been heard from up to midnight. Two unidentified balloons were observed going toward Ireland.

Eight of the fourteen starters had been accounted for up to that hour. The English entrant, Banshee, landed near Garmar, Wales; the Crombez, French, at Brighton, England; the Valle, Italy, at Aberaeron, Wales; the Belgica II, Belgium piloted by Lieut. DeMuyter, at Powerstock, Dorsetshire, England; the Barbanty, Italian, eight miles northwest of Swansea, Wales; the balloon piloted by Wade T. Van Orman, an American aeronaut, six miles northwest of Exeter, England; the Spanish contestant, Magdalena, at Freherbert, twenty-five miles from Cardiff, Wales, and the balloon piloted by the Englishman Spencer at Fishguard, Wales.

Nothing has been heard from the other four competitors in the race.

It was the Belgica I which carried aloft a Belgian soldier, who became entangled in the ropes and was drawn into the basket. -



by the Associated Press. PARIS, Monday, September 19. The Eiffel Tower wireless station sent out a request at noon to-day to all steamers in the eastern Atlantic, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay to keep a sharp outlook for the balloons, which started yesterday from Brussels in the James Gordon Bennett international race. The Ministry of Marine also instructed all lighthouse keepers on the Atlantic seaboard from Dunkirk to the Spanish border, to be on the watch and report.

The wind has been blowing steadily from an easterly direction, with a tendency to haul toward the north. It has been averaging north a quarter east since the departure of the balloons, thus making the Department of Finistere, in the vicinity of Brest, the most probable landing place in France, with the probability that some of the balloons may reach Spain. -


SWISS AERONAUT WINS BENNETT CUP - Capt. Armbruster Lands at Lamby Island, Off County Dublin Coast. - ALL 14 RACERS DOWN - American and English Contestants, in Wales, Tie for Second Place. -By the Associated Press. LONDON, Tuesday (September 20, 1921)

With the landing today of the Swiss balloon, piloted by Capt. Paul Armbruster, all of the fourteen competitors in the international race for the James Gordon Bennett trophy, which started Sunday at Brussels, Belgium, have been accounted for.

The Swiss entrant landed at Lamby Island, off the east coast of County Dublin, Ireland, and therefore wins the cup.

According to unofficial estimates Ralph Upson, the American pilot in the Belgica I, loaned him at the last moment by Capt. DeMuyter, and Henry Spencer, an English entry, have apparently tied for second place, their balloons landing close to each other near Carnarvan, Wales. The French balloons Marne and Picardy (sic) landed near Dolgelly, in North Wales.

It cannot yet be said whether Bernard von Hoffman's City of St Louis, which was reported as having landed in the Irish Sea, fifteen miles from Dublin, will qualify for a prize.

Von Hoffman and J. G. McKibben arrived in Liverpool tonight with a thrilling story of how their balloon, the City of St. Louis, fell into the Irish Sea Monday evening, and of their rescue by a passing vessel.

Von Hoffman was the pilot of the balloon and Mr. McKibben the passenger. They said that at 4 o'clock Monday afternoon they were over the water within five miles of the Irish coast, but that owing to the fall of wind they were unable to land and therefore drifted northward with only four bags of ballast left. An hour later they sighted two ships but failed to obtain assistance from either of them.

"Then," said Von Hoffman, "with only two bags of ballast remaining we found ourselves in a very serious predicament. We cut away our drag rope in pieces, and also disposed of our spare clothing and instruments. Then we slowly sank toward the water.

"Our case seemed hopeless, but at 9:45 o'clock in the evening, we sighted another vessel. We immediately dropped overboard a Holmes light, and seeing it was our only chance, we bowed the balloon down to the waves."

"The captain of the ship lowered a boat, but when we reached the sea McKibben was struck on the head by the load ring and knocked off the basket and into the water.

"Relieved of his weight, the balloon shot upward like a rocket, carrying me with it. I had no option but to rip open the gas envelope and take a sporting chance.

"I descended safely into the sea, and was picked up with McKibben. We then were taken into Heysham, four miles southwest of Lancaster.

"Our position when we were picked up was about fifteen miles off Dublin, and I think the Swiss balloon which we previously had seen should have been carried somewhere in the same vicinity."

Wade T. Van Orman, the third American balloonist competitor in the race, who landed near Exeter, declared that the present race was the most remarkable in his experience. It was started in a dangerous wind, which speedily died down to a virtual calm. When he left the Belgian coast at Dunkirk, Van Orman said, the wind was blowing forty miles an hour and he and his companion were in great anxiety as to whether it would take them over England.

Early yesterday when the balloon was over Exeter, the wind died down, but the balloon continued to be carried toward the sea. Another current was struck eventually and the balloon began working back again. The aeronauts by this time had thrown all their equipment overboard in order to keep the balloon up. –



Here we print the report of pilot captain Ansermier (aide), who won the 1921 flight from Bruxelles for Switzerland together with Captain Armbruster under very difficult conditions:

"We arrived at Bruxelles on September 15th 1921, where we had sent our balloon some days before. To our big surprise, we had detected, that the gondola, trail-rope and several instruments were missing. We searched, sent telegrams, travelled here and there, all in vain. Much later we learned, that some sports loving French customs officers had let pass the envelope and net with no problems, but had simply kept back the basket with its content, being also transit good from Switzerland to Belgium.

We hired a basket and a trail-rope, but we didn't manage to close the rip out-panel, being glued, opened, glued again and again for seven years now. So we have to face the risk, to meet an accident at the landing due to an abnormal operation of the panel.

The president of the Belgian aero-club, Mister Jacobs, as well as the winner of the Gordon Bennett Race of 1920 in America, Lieutenant Demuyter, supported and helped us on all of our steps in a very kindly way. Also helpful proved the officers of the Belgian air service.

In the hangar, we checked the balloon, fixed holes, repaired the net and so we were prepared for inflation of the balloon on the Solbosch field close to the forest of Cambré on Saturday, September 17th. All 14 balloons were laid out in a hawk staggered (?) agreement and inflated simultaneously to supply the same quality of gas to every competitor. Every balloon had its own inflation tube. Saturday afternoon inflation started, but interrupted at 6 PM to supply enough gas pressure to the housewives in their kitchen. At 9 PM inflation was restarted. We stay the night, supervising the inflation, even knowing that we will have to face one or two more sleepless nights in the narrow basket.

In the early morning, while captain Armbruster changed guard with me, I used the time to admire the wonderful new material of our competitors. We Swiss fight against the odds, our material is old, we fly on our own costs and have to pay for the gas by ourselves, while our competitors are supported by their government, own new balloons, missing nothing for a long flight. One compares: Envelope and net are new, the baskets have walls from cork, a construction of rattan serves as seat and storage. Bags contain a whole library of maps and atlas, oxygen tanks on the floor, also hammocks allowing rest for the pilot and his second man. Further on ropes, survival belts, blankets a.s.o. I do not even want to talk about the supply in food and drinking. But also compass, altimeter, barograph, thermometer, electric lamps, mouthpieces, oxygen masks, a sail of linen to be used as a trail rope over the sea.

Depressed I return to the basket of our old ZURICH who unfortunately doesn't possess all this luxury. I don't talk about my impressions with my comrade Armbruster, but seeing our flag flying, my want for victory grows.

Sunday, September 18th, the inflated balloons rocked proudly in the wind, almost too proudly, for the Italian balloon TRIONFALE IX wants to escape. Several inflation crews had to be called to get hold of it.

Balloon BELGICA of Lieutenant Demuyter, winner in the race 1920, rocks around in the heavy wind, which suddenly rose and tears its net. From time to time it scrapes its neighbour ZURICH, like to stroke it. We kept ZURICH close to the ground, so it moved only a little and mocked against the storm like an old oak.

We are ready for a long time. The official asks us, to launch out of sequence before the others, because they were late. We accept and level out quickly. Just in this moment, our representative, Mister Bally and the Chancellor of the Swiss diplomatic corps, Mister Federer, addresses a short speech to us and hands over a wonderful bunch of flowers with ribbons in the national colours of Switzerland and Belgium. I expressed my warmest thanks and receive a telegram from the president of the Swiss aero-club, Colonel Messner, reminding us in firm words that Swiss men had never surrendered without a fight.

A friend, Major Sorg, an officer of the Swiss army balloons and an excellent aeronaut, who had participated in past Gordon Bennett Races and was living in Arras, had decided to help and encourage us. Our dear comrade commands the last preparations and gives the traditional order: "Everybody let go!"

Slowly, well levelled, our balloon rises. The band plays a national anthem, but to me it doesn't seem to be ours. A wind from the east pushes us severely to the forest nearby and we fly just over the treetops. It's exactly 4:57 PM. We salute to the crowd, wave the bunch of flowers from the Swiss delegation, have a last view to Bruxelles, fix the instruments, what we could not do before, and fly in the direction of the North Sea: West Northwest.

We fly via Alost, Gent, Bruges, and at 7:21 PM we reach the Belgian coast at Oostende with a speed of 12 meters per second, i.e. 48 kilometres an hour. Now night had come, numerous ships travel in the Channel, French and Belgian beams search for us. Against the rules, we carry no light, no other balloon is in sight. Within one hour and 34 minutes we had crossed the Channel and approach Ramsgate, the first English village, which we cross in an altitude of 880 meters. The sky is clear, we fly up the river Thames, reach London-Wollwich at 10:25 PM, cross this giant city in its full length, always in an altitude of 880 meters. Thousands of lights delight us, we are astonished by the busy night in this town of 7 million inhabitants, we can clearly identify the pedestrians on the street intersections, the tramways, bridges, the famous Hyde-Park. This view is marvellous and we can enjoy it for more than one hour.

At 1:06 AM, we are above Oxford, at 3:50 AM above Cheltenham. Even having not slept the night before while supervising the inflation of our balloon, I feel no need for sleep, being on the guard. My comrade Armbruster sleeps well on his bag of ballast in a corner of the basket. The lower layers carry us about 10 degrees more north than the higher ones. We cross Hereford, the night appears longer and longer to me, but the temperatures around +5° C are tolerable. Often I let the beam of my electric Lucifer-lamp fall on the instruments on board, because I feel a change. We approach the mountain area ahead of the gulf of Cardigan, are at an altitude of 1000 meters; from time to time we are heavily shaken, but I don't wait, stop the falling and dump some bags of ballast. Almost an eternity had passed until daybreak. Finally the horizon brightens, the villages awake and in the distance I can guess the sea. I discuss with my comrade Armbruster. I do not want to risk flying out to the Irish Sea without his agreement. We agree and soon decide, to cross the sea and Ireland and to land on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the last boundary of Europe.

At 7:30 AM we fly over New Quay and are now above the Irish Sea, after we had covered 450 kilometres in the night before. The aeronaut thinks, but the wind guides. We thought we could reach the Irish coast within less than 4 hours - and stood for more than 18 hours above the sea.

When leaving land at New Quay we climbed to 1600 meters, the pressure on the barometer shows 682, thick fog is dominating; we are in a sea of clouds and can't see the sea anymore. Captain Armbruster makes some surveys. At 9 AM still fog; also at 11 AM. At noon we are at an altitude of 2050 meters; the fog disappears, we can see the sea. A steamer is heading for Dublin; he thinks we are in danger, calls us with his horn and crosses over to our track. So we have no radio we cannot tell him our plans and thank him. 1 PM: We see a balloon above the sea, about 80 degrees east of our position, but even with our telescopes we cannot recognize its nationality for his flag is very small, compared to ours. Later we learned, that it was an American, flown by the pilots Hoffmann and MacKibben. The balloon makes an unequal face (every balloon has its face); it is pear-shaped and very close to the water. We watch him for long, consider him to be lost, but cannot help him, but quite a number of steamers are around here.

In vain I looked for other competitors on the horizon, I had to conclude from this, that we were alone in this area.

For a long time the American balloon stood in sight, climbed a little, fell again; we know, this is the end and hope for some better wind for our comrades as well as for us, pushing us towards the coast, for we were sure to beat him, because at this moment our balloon was in an excellent condition. But, the same as we, it is not driven towards the coast. We are stuck about 15 kilometres ahead of the coast. Our competitor is lost out of sight. Soon after he falls, is recovered by a steamer and brought to Liverpool. So he had no more ballast, he fell quickly to the sea. Second pilot MacKibben was hurt on his head by the load ring and thrown into the water. The balloon, now relieved, shot up, then the pilot pulled the emergency rope and also fell to the sea. The pilots were fished up, balloon, gondola and instruments sank immediately. Both comrades of the air had fought till the end; they deserve utmost respect.

We fly along the coast without seeing it. The wind, which had turned, has nearly no speed at all and drives us slowly to the north. Since four hours we had to be over Ireland.

At 3 PM the air suddenly changed. We fall to the sea, the water splashes over our heads, the ballast gets wet and becomes a sticky mass; we swallow salt water, dump more than 100 kilograms of sand, climb and fall again. Another dump of ballast; now we climb up to 3600 meters. But also up here there is no favourable wind to be found. At 3:55 PM we fall back to the sea again; we have no more ballast, but then climb again.

At 6 PM, we are in an altitude of 700 meters; we can see the coast of Ireland through the fog. Sometimes it appears to me, that we are coming closer, but the wind turns again; we throw overboard the ballast bags, being empty but of some weight due to the moisture. They are followed by the bottles of St. Emilion and Apollinaris. At 7 PM, the night comes slowly. For a long time the ships have disappeared. Who knows, our last hour has probably come, but we are not touched by this, for we had considered it already before the take-off. But still the will was vivid in us, to gain victory for our country.

Since our first fall to the sea, the big compass for land and sea use is out of service. It is full of salt water and sand. We don't agree any longer in the determination of the heading, I use my own little compass and have already marked the place where we will sink. Captain Armbruster still hopes to reach the Irish coast, but I am sure for two hours now, to see the end.

The wind pushes us back to the open sea, heading NE, towards Scotland, 180 - 200 kilometres away. We had slipped into our life jackets. I am not very confident about them, even if we suppose, that they will keep some hours, the night is long, there are not ships in this area, we have not seen a single one for three hours in bright daylight.

8 PM. The night is around us. The eyes get used to the darkness, the batteries of our lamps are worn out, only an electro-mechanical Jupiter lamp throws some beams to the barometer, showing a worrying high pressure reading and a horrible low altitude. We see an island, raising dark out of the waves; slowly we are approaching; the wind pushes us to the north-easterly corner; I release the trail-rope.

The balloon comes closer to this island of luck; we open the valve for some times and descend slowly. Captain Armbruster pulls the rip panel, the balloon smoothly lays down on a bed of bushes and collapses like an exhausted animal. It is exactly 8:20 PM.

Switzerland had won the Gordon Bennett Race for the second time!

Although we don't know about our classification, I feel the impression to be among the firsts and the other competitors are more south.

We retain our composure. Now we detect, that we had covered 756 kilometres as the crow flies, at a maximum altitude of 3600 meters and a flight duration of 27 hours and 23 minutes.

Lambay Island (Ireland), on which we finally had landed, is situated 6 degrees west of Greenwich, on 53,30 degrees latitude, 8 kilometres from the Irish coast. The next village is called Rush.

The island belongs to a British nobleman, Cecil Baring, but he had traveled to London with his wife the day before. His daughter, aged 17, welcomed us in the old castle from the 15th century in which no luxury was missing.

The next day the envelope was folded with the aid from some servants of our host; a sailing-ship brought us to Hoth near Dublin, where we put the balloon on the railroad. In Dublin we found some time to admire the beauty of this town and to stand the storm of photographers and journalists.

Captain Armbruster went to Bruxelles, where he had an outstanding welcome and celebration, while I had to return as quickly as possible to the barracks at Bern at the end of my holidays.



Lessons of the Gordon Bennett Balloon Race

by Ralph Upson, pilot of Balloon “Aero Club of America”


Even in these enlightened days one sometimes hears the question “What is the use of free ballooning?” To this I feel like countering “What is the use of golf, yachting, poetry, music, polar exploration, ‘relativity’ and a host of other examples from the whole world of sport, art and abstract science?” Ballooning does not claim to be any more than these, but it is the most satisfying combination of the three that was ever invented by man.

My object here is simply to point out various specific results which have accrued from the International Gordon Bennett Balloon Race just contested from Brussels.

Meteorology. At least three meteorologists took actual part in the race, and unprecedented attention was given it by the weather bureaus of the various countries. The dominating factor in the weather at the time of the race was a pronounced “high” which caused strong surface winds from the east decreasing at upper levels, with only a slight shifting of direction.

Now these anti-cyclonic conditions happen to be the most unreliable in many ways of all the ordinary formations. Competent meteorologists still differ among themselves as to the inside causes and workings of a “high,” and forecasts of what it will do are notoriously inexact. This is mainly due to incomplete knowledge, and there is no better way of adding to this knowledge than by studying the situation at absolutely first hand as one can, in a free balloon.

Multiply this opportunity by fourteen, the number of balloons in the race, all making independent observations and the total value of the race may be readily appreciated.

The meteorological results from a scientific viewpoint have not yet been made public, but it is fairly clear that they will include interesting light on the following subjects:

Structure of wind currents in a typical high.

The extent to which these currents may be regular or irregular in nature.

Effect of clouds, bodies of water, etc.

Nature of conditions in a calm area, where the barometric gradient is practically zero.

Dynamics of the wind. How a given air mass may be transferred from one system to another, and the changes that it undergoes.

Instruments. The free balloon is a wonderful medium for the development of refined instruments and methods of observation. This is because it provides such a steady wind-free platform where the essential principles of a new device may be accurately gauged without all the complications of design which would later be required for practical use in power driven aircraft.

Among our own equipment we had several new instruments which together almost revolutionized the navigation and control of a free balloon. The one which will be most readily available for general aeronautical use was an instrument which we called the “feeler,” although more scientifically it should be called a forcemeter.

This instrument measured directly and instantaneously the amount of unbalanced force acting on the balloon at any given moment. In all the older types of instruments for a similar purpose it was necessary to wait for some obvious movement of the balloon before the force which caused it could be even approximately counteracted. With the “feeler,” however the amount of the force was known before waiting for its integrated effect on the balloon. It could be counteracted at once with ballast or gas, or if desired its variations could be watched with full confidence that the balloon could never get out of control.

The “feeler,” in somewhat modified form, will be a great improvement on the statoscope for all types of lighter-than-air craft, and should be a valuable aid also in the control of airplanes. Full details of this instrument will be published at a later date.

An improved type of “navigator” made by the Pioneer Instrument Co. enabled us to plot our course with great accuracy. This instrument combined the functions of compass, speedometer, sounder, nephoscope, and range finder (distance gauge).

In the securing of data on wind movement we were greatly indebted to the US Rubber Co for the use of the best rubber pilot balloons which we have yet tested. For the first time, we were able to use a captive pilot balloon successfully, which permitted a continuous observation of conditions at different altitudes.

Performance. The circumstances surrounding the start of the race are of considerable interest in their relation to practical air traffic. On September 18, the day of the start, the wind attained approximately 40 M.P.H. at times. During the whole day, not a single airplane passed between England and the continent. Only one ventured to ascend at all and had to land again before crossing the channel. According to newspaper records, it was the first time since March that there had been such a total cessation of flying. Yet fourteen big balloons, entirely without power plant, were inflated in the open and sent off without serious mishap. Such a performance cannot help but augur well for the practical future of all lighter-than-air craft.

Almost equally to be noted was the success with which the balloons were navigated, at first through strong but fickle winds, later in practically a calm, and always with large bodies of water in close proximity. It was probably the most perilous race that has ever been run; yet only one balloon was forced to descend on the water.

Of the three balloons which attempted the crossing of the Irish Sea, two were American; and the third American balloon would certainly have done so also if he had had the opportunity.


Future Contests


This race has showed up very clearly the various mistakes and hazards of the game. I put the item of mistakes first because most apparent elements of hazard or chance actually turn out to be errors of judgment of some kind. Thus B. Von Hoffman from St. Louis was leading the whole field, but ran out of ballast. “Hard luck,” one may well say; but then he should not have been so extravagant of ballast. W.T. Van Orman from Akron was the leader of the balloons which took the southern route, but this was not the route which held the greatest possibilities. On my part I sacrificed a little too much speed for direction even though I had with me one of the most competent meteorologists in the world.

But call it luck or judgment as you like, the fact remains that to be consistent winners we will have to be consistent starters. In other words, quantity is something of a factor as well as quality. In particular the individual should have a full sized balloon and our country should always have a full team of three balloons in future international races.






Experiences in the GBBR. B Von Hoffman (Aviation) 10/31/21 have this acct, attached to above.



THE INSIDE STORY OF THE GORDON BENNETT BALLOON RACE also by Ralph Upson, some good stuff here.