Officials Studying Weather Options for America's Challenge Launch
Launch Still Planned for Saturday Evening, October 5. View our first video update here, including interviews with Zapart/Cayton, Pelard/Peterle, and Forden/Padelt!
The teams are in Albuquerque and the excitement is building for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s 23rd America’s Challenge distance race for gas balloons.
The nine teams, along with their crews and race officials, gathered at 1 PM (1900Z) for hellos, hugs, and the official general briefing. Event Director Sam Parks, Assistant Director John Petrehn, Safety Officer Wally Book, Command Center Director Ruth Lind, and scoring officer Jim Byrd reviewed detailed information the pilots will need on their journey across America.
Event meteorologist Randy Lefevre’s weather briefing detailed a number of factors that could affect the timing of the race, both in Albuquerque and downrange. Some of these concerns include stormy weather – including precipitation and thunderstorms -- that will develop in Oklahoma late Sunday, along with high ground winds in Texas and southern Oklahoma. Monday and Tuesday fast winds aloft develop that could provide the teams a fast ride to the north and Midwest. Depending on the launch time, pilots would have a number of trajectory options that could carry them into northeastern Texas and Louisiana, or to the north and northeast towards the Midwest and Canada.
The number one consideration in determining the timing of the launch is will be safety, but the officials also want the pilots be able to fly a fun, strategic race that will require them to really think through the options the weather conditions provide to gain the greatest distance. The last America’s Challenge, in 2017, resulted in several teams traveling record distances, and everyone would love to see that happen again this year.
The next briefing is scheduled for noon Saturday, October 5 (1800z). Throughout the next 18 hours, the America’s Challenge officials will continue to evaluate the weather and determine whether to launch as scheduled on Saturday evening or to delay the launch until Sunday or Monday.
The launch order is determined by random draw at the briefing, and can be significant because weather conditions can change both in Albuquerque and downrange during the hour or so it can take to complete the launch. The order of launch will be as follows.
1. Team 4 Noah Forden/Bert Padelt
2. Team 2 Eric Decellieres/Vincent Leys
3. Team 3 Brian Duncan/Brenda Cowlishaw
4. Team 9 Cheri White/Mark Sullivan
5. Team 7 Benoit Pelard/Benoit Peterle
6. Team 5 Barbara Fricke/Peter Cuneo
7. Team 6 Al Nels/Andy Baird
8. Team 8 Christian Wagner/Thomas Lewetz
9. Team 1 Andy Cayton/Krzysztof Zapart
At the end of the briefing, competitors Andy Baird and Bert Padelt had a big surprise for Bert’s flying partner Noah Forden. Andy and Bert presented the Balloon Federation of America’s Anthony Fairbanks Sportsmanship Award to Noah, who has put a great deal of effort into developing an affordable source of hydrogen in Tennessee for U.S. gas balloonists. The high cost of lifting gas in the United States has been a big detriment to the growth of gas ballooning in the U.S. The Fairbanks Award recognizes gas balloonists for significant and ongoing contributions to the sport of gas ballooning in the U.S.
The object of the race is to fly as far as possible from the lauch point at Balloon Fiesta Park. Throughout the America’s Challenge, you can follow live tracking of the balloons as they cross the country on the Balloon Fiesta website, www.balloonfiesta.com/America’s Challenge. This site will also include regular written updates and analysis, as well as links to video interviews and updates from pilots and officials.
Posted 4:45 PM MDT (2245Z)
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