Forden/Padelt Unofficial America's Challenge Winners
October 4, 2021
Posted Monday, October 4, 2:00 PM MDT (2000Z)
Final race results will be released after pilot debriefings and analysis of the tracker data, but unofficially, the winners of the 24th America's Challenge distane race for gas balloons are Noah Forden and Bert Padelt (Team 4). Noah and Bert were the race leaders almost throughout, pursuing a strategically risky strategy of going to higher altitudes early to catch faster winds. Like all of the teams, they endured a bitterly cold night aloft on the first night of the race, shivering in temparatures that dropped to 11 degrees despite hand warmers and heavy clothes. But aside from the cold, Noah tells us they had a glorious flight and are, of course, very happy to win. They flew about 356 miles (573 km) in 36 hours. The full unofficial results are at the end of this post.
This is both team members’ first America’s Challenge win. Bert Padelt with his flying partner at the time, Louis Vitanza, finished second in the 2002 America’s Challenge, and Bert and Noah were third in 2016.
Noah's and Bert's closest pursuers, Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo (Team 1), landed safely east of Pampa, TX around midday today. They flew approximately 338 miles and came very close to taking over the lead of the race before landing due to concerns with thermals. Thermals are generated by ground heating (dust devils are one kind of thermal), which can create turbulence and dangerous flying conditions for balloons. Early in the day today, Barbara and Peter agreed with each other to land at the first sign of thermal conditions, and in the interest of safety, they did so. The other two participating teams, Team 2 (Mark Sullivan and Cheri White) and Team 3 (Brenda Cowlishaw and Brian Duncan) landed yesterday.
This was an unusual America’s Challenge in a couple of ways. Usually, several international teams participate, but this year, COVID restrictions and travel and shipping concerns kept the three teams with members from Europe from making the trip to Albuquerque. Then, in a race known worldwide for providing opportunities to fly long distances, exceptionally light winds in the American Southwest made for a very short race in both distance and time. Forden and Padelt’s distance flown – about 356 miles (573 km) -- was the shortest in the 24-year history of the America’s Challenge.
The unofficial results, pending completion of scoring, are:
- Team 4, Noah Forden and Bert Padelt, distance 356.1 mi. (573.1 km), duration 36 hours 22 minutes, landing at Big Spring, TX
- Team 1, Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo, distance 338.4 mi. (544.6 km), duration 40 hours 35 minutes, landing east of Pampa, TX
- Team 2, Mark Sullivan and Cheri White, distance 173.9 mi. (279.9 km), duration 23 hours 49 minutes, landing near Melrose, NM
- Team 3, Brenda Cowlishaw and Brian Duncan, distance 55.9 mi. (89.9 km), duration 15 hours 1 minutes, landing near Pecos, NM