Chapter 15 - 1926

 

NO ACCOUNT OF THE START

 

4 Balloons Down, 3 Americans Up in Storm in Bennett Cup Race - ANTWERP, Belgium,

May 30, 1926 (By the Associated Press) –

 

Four balloons already are reported down in the international balloon race for the James Gordon Bennett trophy, which started from here to-day. The newspaper "Neptune" says that two Italian racers, the Ciampino II, and the Ciampino IV, have landed at Westwezel, in the Province of Antwerp.

The Ciampino III is reported to have been forced to land by a defective valve. Her pilots, Colonel Pricolo and Major Pomariel, are said to have returned to Antwerp, asserting weather conditions were extremely bad and it would be prudent for the balloonists to abandon the race.

Three American balloons - the Goodyear, The S-16, and the Akron NAA - were among the nine which took off here in a heavy gale and rainstorm. The French aviator Cordier had to abandon his attempt shortly after starting, and another Frenchman, Blanchet, was compelled to do likewise.

Because of the unfavorable weather, all the pilots were warned to fly low. The Americans departed with every confidence of ultimate success. The Goodyear, piloted by W T Van Orman, competing for the fifth time, took the

 

[2 lines missing] 

 

mist when barely 200 feet above the ground. The S-16 started at 5:53 p.m., flying at a height of 150 feet. It went to the northeast and was quickly covered by low flying clouds. The Akron, piloted by John A Boettner and Herbert Maxson, started at 6:30 p.m.

The Americans were sped on their way by the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the cheering of the crowds.

The Italian balloon, Aerostier, made a good start at 4:35 p.m.

Seven countries - the United States, France, England, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland - are represented in the race. -

 

Goodyear III Balloon Victor; American Lost - U.S. Entry Piloted by Van Orman Wins Hazardous Bennett Race in Storm, Traveling 528 miles. - Akron N.A.A. Is Missing - Brussels Hears Nothing of Fate of John A Boettner; Companion Bumped Out.

BRUSSELS, May 31, 1926 (By the Associated Press) –

 

The American balloon, Goodyear III, manned by Wade T Van Orman, with Walter W Morgan assisting, has won what is considered here one of the most difficult and dangerous races for the Gordon Bennett trophy in twenty years. The Goodyear landed at Solvesborg, Southern Sweden, having covered 528 miles under exceptionally arduous conditions, assailed in turn by snow, rain and squalls. The balloons took off late yesterday afternoon, from the aviation field near Antwerp.

The admiration of aeronautic circles over the splendid achievement, however, is marred by anxiety over the fate of John A Boettner, aboard the other American balloon, the Akron N.A.A., of whom nothing has been heard since his companion H W Maxson, was bumped out of the balloon almost at the start, involving disqualification.

The official classification of the entries which finished is as follows: -                                                               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with distances]

The Belgian Aero Club has asked the British, Swedish and Danish admiralties to broadcast that Boettner is missing and to request shipping to keep a sharp lookout.

The Gordon Bennett balloon race this year is the second competition for the second trophy, as the original cup was won outright by Belgium in 1924. Belgium won the 1925 event, the Prince Leopold having covered a distance of 840 miles. -

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO BOETTNER?

 

 

The winner’s story:

 

                                                The Fruits of Long Training

 

                                                By George Denniston

 

            The balloons were inflated just outside Antwerp, on the Wilryk Plain Military Training Ground. Furious squalls whipped the balloons about. Only 14 of the 19 entries made it into the air. Van Orman and his aide, Walter Morton ascended to 800 feet and began moving northeast. They ascended to 2500 feet, which took them more to the east. As they passed into Holland, they encountered torrents of rain that puddled on top of the envelope. When they opened the valve, water fell inside the balloon, and drenched them as it came out the appendix. Instead of going down from loss of hydrogen, they went up from the loss of weight of the water! As the rains lessened, they gradually went higher, and everything froze. Icicles hung from the rigging, and the envelope would crack and snap like shattering glass.

            By midnight, they were at 12,000 feet and had made good progress to the northeast. They turned on the soaked radio, which still worked, and tuned in Berlin, Bremen and distant Madrid. Triangulating, they fixed their position as 2 miles northeast of the radio station in Bremen, Germany. A few minutes later, “a sudden contraction of the gas” forced them to descend rapidly. They broke out of cloud at 500 feet and found themselves directly over Bremen!

            A bit later, flying at 50 miles an hour and 480 feet above the ground, suddenly “a wee small voice” whispered in Van Orman’s ear, “LOOK!” He turned and his flashlight showed a hillside 5 seconds away from contact. He fell on the sleeping Morton, and bade him hold on! The basket staggered, then cleared the hill, and rose to 1000 feet.

            Both Van Orman and Morton felt that they had to cross the Baltic in order to win. They had used up a lot of their ballast in the rainstorm, but felt that they could reach a Baltic shore, even if they had to bounce along the waves on the special flotation attached to the bottom of their basket. Out over the Baltic, they counted 19 rainsqualls in the early morning light, and succeeded in missing all of them. They ascended to 22,000 feet for a more northerly course into Sweden. Fifteen minutes after they crossed the shoreline of Sweden, they were out of ballast. They descended rapidly, and came to earth in a garden, bounced up into a telephone pole, severing the wires, and dropped once again to the ground.

            The chief of police in Solvesberg greeted them with a $25 bill to repair the severed phone lines. Van Orman got the American consul involved to reduce the bill to $10, which he felt was more equitable.

             The next day, Morton was dispirited. He was sure they had not won the race. The pair wandered about the town, seeing the sights. At one store, they were accosted by a small man wearing a derby hat, who talked to them excitedly in Swedish. They listened for a while, could make out nothing, and so continued on their walk. The little man followed. Finally, an interpreter was engaged, and the little man began talking excitedly to him. The message from the little man – a telegram: YOU HAVE WON THE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON RACE, EVEN DOUBLING THE DISTANCE OF YOUR NEAREST COMPETITOR, LIEUTENANT DEMUYTER.

            Returning to Brussels by train, the winners were informed that King Albert wished to have them presented to him at the Royal Palace. A presentation usually lasted only 5 minutes, but in this case, Van Orman and King Albert discussed meteorology and aeronautics for 40 minutes. The American Ambassador Phillips was mightily pleased.

            A series of banquets followed in Brussels, sponsored by the American Ambassador, the Aero Club and other organizations. There were more banquets in Paris, and still more on the steamship going home. Later in New York and then Akron, the celebrations continued….

 

[excerpted from The Wizard of the Winds, by Ward T. Van Orman as told to Robert Hull, North Star Press, St Cloud, MN, 1978]