America’s Challenge Gas Balloon competitors Noah Forden and Bert Padelt will start Saturday night during the Twilight Twinkle Glow in Across the Universe. They landed near Big Spring, Texas on Monday to win the race. (Nadav Soroker / For the )
Copyright © 2021
It was the shortest winning distance in America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race history.
Noah Forden and Bert Padelt’s team covered 556 miles, dropped Albuquerque time at the Big Spring, Texas airport at 7 a.m., and beat second-placed Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo team by just under 18 miles. Their flight lasted 36 hours and 22 minutes.
In the last America’s Challenge race in 2019, in which nine teams competed, the winning team Andy Cayton from Georgia and Krysztof Zapart from Poland flew 58 hours and 20 minutes and landed in a remote area of Canada’s James Bay in Ontario.
Forden of Rhode Island and Padelt of Pennsylvania reached nearly 18,000 feet in their Across the Universe balloon as part of their strategy to take advantage of the strongest winds available to them.
“I don’t like going slowly and all the winds we looked at were pretty slow and if you stayed low they were certainly pretty slow,” Forden said on a phone call after the race. “We looked at a series of trajectories that were dead ends and when we took them we got stuck, so that was the challenge – not really being able to navigate and go as far as we wanted. “
For Padelt, the biggest challenge when flying high was “it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “You take oxygen and it’s cold. But other than that, it was really nice and we weren’t as excruciatingly slow as our competitors. We had 14 knots (16 mph) wind for most of the flight.
Flying at high altitude required Forden and Padelt to unload a large part of their ballast. “And once you’ve used up the ballast, you’re out of control,” said Forden. “So you will probably have to land a little earlier if you’re high. That is the compromise we made in this race. “
Also, says Padlet, “it wouldn’t have been safe to continue flying with the remaining ballast, so it made sense to land and hope that we would go far enough so that no one could catch up with us.”
The # 2 team of Fricke and Cuneo that flew Foxtrot Charlie covered 338 miles and landed east of Pampa, Texas. You were in the air for 40 hours and 35 minutes. Fricke and Cuneo, both from Albuquerque, have won the America’s Challenge race four times.
Third were Mark Sullivan of Albuquerque and Cheri White of Austin, who landed their Warsteiner balloon near Melrose, New Mexico in 23 hours and 49 minutes and a flight of approximately 174 miles.
Fourth place team of Brenda Cowlishaw and Brian Duncan, both from Texas, landed their balloon Intrepid near Pecos, New Mexico after a 15 hour 1 minute flight and a distance of approximately 60 miles.
All distances are unofficial until certification, said race spokeswoman Kim Vesely.
“Although it was a short race, it was still difficult, exciting and strategic,” she said. “These pilots really had to think about how they could use the low wind to gain distance.”
Seven teams of two were registered for this year’s race, but three did not show up. “They were either from Europe or had a member of the team from Europe and with all the COVID and travel restrictions and shipping problems they just couldn’t,” Vesely said.