America's Challenge Airborne! Teams Float Northward
Posted 10:45 PM MDT (0445z)
After two days of delays due to weather both in Albuquerque and downrange, it was all worth the wait. On a picture-perfect Monday evening at Balloon Fiesta Park, the nine teams in the America’s Challenge distance race for gas balloons took flight, cheered on by several hundred spectators who waited through the long inflation process to witness the launch.
The teams began staging equipment and assembling their balloon systems around midafternoon, with the first balloon taking on hydrogen around 6 PM. The French team of Eric Decellieres and Vincent Leys were first in line to receive hydrogen since they fly a traditional-style netted balloon, which requires a larger crew and takes longer to inflate. The final team to take hydrogen, the American-Polish entry of Andy Cayton and Krzysztof Zapart, finished inflating shortly after 8:30 PM MDT (0230z), and shortly afterward the safety officials dropped the flagging around the launch site, giving the crowd an opportunity to walk onto the launch field and briefly view the balloons up close before the launch began.
At about 8:45 PM the first team to launch, Noah Forden and Bert Padelt of the US (Team 4) was walked to the platform and weighed off under the direction of Launchmaster Tomas Hora, Event Director Sam Parks, and Assistant Event Director Sam Parks. At 8:51 PM Forden and Padelt were aloft to the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the cheers of the crowd. They were followed in quick succession by the other eight teams, with the last to launch (Team 1, Cayton /Zapart) drifting slowly upward at 9:28 PM (0328z). Each team was honored with the playing of their national anthem and applause and cheers from an appreciative audience.
Trajectory forecasts suggest that the teams will move north and east into the center of the US and will catch very fast mid- and upper-level winds taking them north towards the Great Lakes and into Canada. The real strategies will begin to materialize tomorrow morning as the sun rises and heats the hydrogen inside the envelope, giving the balloons additional lift and a free ride to their altitude of choice.
The America’s Challenge has now adopted the same satellite-based tracking platform used by the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett, from YB Tracking. (Click here for a summary of the features this platform offers.) With the adoption of the new platform, the America’s Challenge will report altitude data from the balloons for the first time, providing a further dimension for those “armchair quarterbacks” second-guessing the pilots’ strategies.
You can follow live tracking and receive regular updates from the race Command Center 24/7 at the America’s Challenge website https://balloonfiesta.com/Americas-Challenge-Live. To follow the race on a mobile device, download the YB Tracking app (it’s free!) onto your favorite mobile device and subscribe to Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (also free).
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