ABOVE: Twin-crewed gas balloons prepare to launch from Alberquerque 

Aviation’s oldest competition, the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett balloon race, has crowned a pair of French champions in its 66th year.

On Saturday 7 October, 17 gas balloons from nine nations gathered to launch from Alberquerque in New Mexico with the goal of flying the furthest non-stop from the launch site. Competing head-to-head for the title were two teams who ‘flew through a fourth night just a few kilometres apart’: Frances’s FRA-2 (consisting of Eric Decellières & Benoit Havret) and Germany’s GER-1 (father and son Wilhelm and Benjamin Eimers).

Although reigning German champion Wilhelm Eimers has participated in thirty Gordon Bennet races (more than any other balloonist in history) and won the competition five times, GER-1 finally landed having travelled 2,587.22km (1607 miles). The French competitors continued to the coastline and touched down shortly afterwards, less than 50km from the Atlantic Ocean.

The winning pair – who have previously achieved two top five finishes and an additional four top ten placements – are described by organisers as ‘tough and gutsy competitors who always give their utmost effort’.

The international Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett, the FAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship, was conceived by adventurer and newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennet Jr. in 1906. 117 years since 16 balloons first launched from the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, the race continues to draw international acclaim. The next iteration will be held in September 2024 in Münster, Germany.