America's Challenge Launch Scheduled Saturday Evening
Posted Friday, October 1
The America’s Challenge is back!
If all goes as planned on Saturday October 2, the finest gas balloonists in the United States will take flight in the hopes of besting each other in a daring race across America.
After a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 24th Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta’s America’s Challenge race for gas balloons is scheduled to launch at 6 PM MDT Saturday (0000Z Sunday), the beginning of the race’s five-day launch window. A final go-no go decision will be made at a noon briefing (1800z) on Saturday.
The launch should be a highlight of a spectacular evening at Balloon Fiesta Park which will combine the launch of the America’s Challenge with performances by Team FastTrax skydivers, the Twilight Twinkle Balloon Glow, the AfterGlow Fireworks show, and musical entertainment. For those unable to be in Albuquerque, Balloon Fiesta Live! will offer a real-time video stream of the launch; simply go to the Balloon Fiesta Live! page at https://balloonfiesta.com/Live-Stream.
This year’s competition will be an all-American affair, with a small but highly-competitive field. Four-time winners Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo and two-time winners Mark Sullivan and Cheri White are among the competitors, along with veterans Noah Forden and Bert Padelt, and Brenda Cowlishaw and Brian Duncan, the highest-finishing American team in the most recent America’s Challenge in 2019. Sadly, three European teams scheduled to compete were unable to come to the United States for the race due to COVID and issues with travel and shipping their equipment.
The object of the race is to fly further than anyone else while competing within the event rules. This year’s contest is shaping up to be a very interesting tactical race with a lot of strategic options for pilots. During the Friday general briefing, meteorologist Randy Lefevre told the teams that winds in the lower levels of the atmosphere will be light – not necessarily a good thing in a distance race. However, depending on the altitude the teams choose, they can fly in almost any direction. There is also a potentially riskier alternative track at high altitudes which traverses across the southern U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico. The pilots and their weather team will need to decide which course gives them the best chance of achieving the greatest distance.
The America’s Challenge features gas balloons which, instead of using hot air, use a lighter-than-air gas – in this case, hydrogen – for lift. Because hydrogen provides so much lift, they typically can stay aloft for two or three days. Pilots can release gas to come down, and drop ballast – expendable weight, usually in the form of sand or water – to go up. Since the balloons slowly lose hydrogen as the race progresses, they have to get rid of weight to stay aloft. The race winners are often the teams who best conserve and manage gas and ballast.
The launch order for the race is determined by random draw, which was conducted at the Friday briefing. This year’s launch order is:
- Team 4, Noah Forden and Bert Padelt
- Team 1, Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo
- Team 2, Cheri White and Mark Sullivan
- Team 3, Brenda Cowlishaw and Brian Duncan
Once the race begins, you can follow the race via YB Tracking’s live tracking map on the America’s Challenge web page at www.balloonfiesta.com/Americas-Challenge, or download the YB tracking app (it’s free! In your favorite app store) onto your mobile device. Once you download the app, subscribe to the America’s Challenge 2021 race (also free). We will also provide regular updates on the race’s progress through the website, Twitter, links to team social media sites, and our Balloon Fiesta Live! broadcasts.
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