By Amy Wilder
In the 66th Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett, the competition has entered day four, and the tension is mounting. In the latest update from the Command Center at 7:00 a.m. MDT, only two gas balloons remain aloft, showcasing their exceptional endurance and determination.
The remaining teams, Germany 1 (GER-1) and France 2 (FRA-2), have not only outlasted their competitors but have also surpassed all other teams in terms of distance covered. As they continue to glide through the skies, they are now engaged in a captivating race to outlast each other before touching down on the North Carolina coast. It is anticipated that the first team to land will secure the prestigious second place in the competition.
Currently navigating the skies south of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the teams are facing a critical juncture. Fayetteville lies a mere 94 miles from the coast, and with east winds influencing their flight path, there is limited room for further maneuvering. It appears that both teams will make a direct descent to the beach, concluding their journey. The U.S. teams have secured fourth- and fifth-place spots, respectively.
Wilhelm Eimers of Germany 1 (GER-1) is a seasoned balloonist with an impressive track record. This is his 30th Gordon Bennett race, and he boasts five victories. Eimers has accumulated over 9,000 flight hours and holds multiple records, including the Gordon Bennett duration record of more than 92 hours aloft. His co-pilot, Benjamin Eimers, is the 2023 recipient of the Diplome Montgolfier, the highest accolade in ballooning.
On the French side, Eric Decellières and Benoit Havret of France 2 (FRA-2) are no strangers to the Gordon Bennett competition. They secured a second-place finish in the 2021 race and have impressive track records with two top-five finishes and four top-ten rankings. Known for their tenacity and competitive spirit, they are putting up a fierce fight.
Both teams have already covered more than 2,400 kilometers (1,491.3 miles) in their gas balloons, displaying extraordinary determination. As the race reaches its climax, the outcome is expected to be decided within the next hour or two. Balloon enthusiasts and spectators alike are eagerly awaiting the final moments of this thrilling and historic event.