In 1906 Mr. James Gordon Bennett offered a cup for international aeronautic races. The first contest started from Paris, and resulted in Lieut Lahm's bringing the cup to this country to be held against challengers, by the Aero Club of America. This year six balloons were brought over from Europe in an endeavor to win back the trophythree of them from Germany, two from France, and one from England; for the defense three American balloons were entered. The contest is for distance, and the rules stipulate that balloons shall not exceed 77,000 cubic feet, with an excess allowance of 5 per cent, or a gross allowance of about 80,000 feet. Eight of the nine balloons entered were near the capacity limit, ranging from 75,000 to 79,500 cubic feet. Although motor-driven balloons are allowed, none competed in the race; the competitors all depended on finding an air current to drift them. The one great fear of balloonists is the sea. European aeronauts, who may soon drift beyond the coast from any point in France or England, highly approved the choice of St. Louis as the starting place of the great race. A general impression prevailed that southerly winds would be encountered, which would drive them toward the Great Lakes. The fact that there was a shore beyond, which might be reached by balloons crossing the lakes, and that the lakes themselves swarm with shipping, allayed any undue fear of a northerly course. As the event proved, it was the sea, after all, that proved the determining factor of the race. In a balloon race the home aeronauts have no advantage over their visitors, beyond that of a possibly better acquaintance with the set of air currents; in this instance every help was rendered the visitors, with maps and other available information, and the nine balloons started on practically equal terms. More than a hundred thousand persons collected in Forest Park, St. Louis, on October 21, to watch the start of the great race. The gas last from the main is the lightest, but simultaneous inflation prevented any balloon from obtaining an advantage in this respect. At a few seconds after 4 o'clock the German balloon, the "Pommern," under the command of Oscar Erbloch, ascended, followed five minutes later by Major Hersey in the balloon "United States." At 4:40 the last of the competitors cast off. Each balloon carried two persons, the pilot and an assistant. They were all muffled against cold, and prepared to face a hard journey. Little sleep is possible on a long voyage, and intense cold may be met with, while the inflammable gas above them forbids any fire wherewith to warm themselves. Each balloon carried, in addition to provisions, a number of recording instruments. These equipments varied, but in general included a compass, a self-regtstering aner, oid barometer, a statoscope which registers the rise and fall of a balloon, wet and dry thermometers, charts, and small electric flashlights for reading the instruments and charts at night. The basket-cars were lined or hung with cork, for safety In case a balloon should fall in the water. Fortunately, no disaster of this kind occurred, nor did any aeronaut find it necessary to throw over his instruments or cut his car loose, as he was allowed to do by the rules. The gas supplied was of exceptional quality, and no balloon came down as a result of exhausted supply. On the evening of October 21 reports of balloons being seen were received from many sources; they suggested that the balloons had drifted for some distance at varying heights in search for a steady current, and had finally settled down to an easterly course. Next day the easterly course was confirmed; eight balloons were reported crossing Indiana and Ohio, apparently headed direct for the Atlantic. At nightfall on October 22 Major Hersey in the "United States" landed on the shores of Lake Ontario, 650 miles in a direct line from St. Louis. With the exception of the single English balloon competing, which soon came to the ground owing to the sickness of the assistant, this flight of Major Hersey's was the shortest one. But it is worthy of note on account of Its direction. Major Hersey was the one competitor who has made a close study of air currents in this country, and he was the one man who was able to find and hold the northeasterly course which the aeronauts expected to follow. Handicapped with a leaking balloon, and with his ballast almost exhausted, he was forced to descend on seeing Lake Ontario before him. Had his equipment been sound, and had he been able to hold the current, he could have traveled hundreds of miles before reaching the Atlantic. On the morning of October 23 the balloons began to drop, along the Atlantic coast. Early in the day the German balloon, the "Pommern," descended on the shore at Asbury Park, in New Jersey. A few hours later the French competitor, "L'Isle de France," came down close to the same spot; farther south the "Dusseldorf," another German competitor, stopped on the banks of Delaware Bay. Four other contestants halted farther south before crossing Chesapeake Bay. When the distances came to be measured, the "Pommern," piloted by Oscar Erbloch, was adjudged the winner, having covered a distance of 876% miles. This takes the trophy to Germany, where the next race for it will be held. In addition to the trophy the successful aeronaut receives $2,500 and half the entry fees. The second balloon was "L'Isle de France," piloted by A. Le Blanc, which traveled 870% miles. Either of these balloons could have traveled for many hours before being exhausted, and the German owes its victory to the accident of being a mile or two farther north than its competitor, where the coast runs in an easterly direction. M. Le Blanc has some consolation, however. He was in the air for 44 hours 2 minutes, and so established a world's record for duration of flight; the previous best being 35 hours 40 minutes, made by Count de la Vaulx in his flight from France to Russia, when he made a world's record, for distance, of 1,193 miles. The distances covered are given by the authorities of the Geological Survey, and though they will be passed on by a n expert, 11 seems certain that Herr r b 1 c h will be confirmed as the winner. These measurements are made in a direct line between the starting and alighting posts. As balloons seldom travel in a straight line, they do not represent the actual mileage covered. In this connection it is interesting to note that a long-estab- 39 lished American record has been doubly defeated, though by the narrowest of margins. In 1859 John Wise traveled a distance of 1,150 miles from St. Louis to Henderson, N. Y. This record has frequently been quoted as a world's best, and it almost equals Count de la Vaulx's record of 1,193 miles. But by modern methods of measurement the distance traversed by Wise was only 870 miles. A few days before the international race, a voyage was undertaken by two men who later competed for the Gordon Bennett trophy. On October 17 Capt. De Forest Chandler and J. C. McCoy ascended from St. Louis in the United States Signal Corps balloon No. 10, capacity 78,000 cubic feet, in an attempt to win the Lahm cup. This they succeeded in doing, landing 3 miles from Walton, W. Va., on October 19, a direct distance of 475 miles from St. Louis. The voyage commenced at 4:10 P. M. on the 17th, and the aeronauts landed at 1:30 A. M. on the 19th. The journey therefore lasted 20 hours 15 minutes, and the net speed was 24 miles per hour. The Lahm cup is named in honor of Lieut. Lahm, who won last year's race for the Gordon Bennett trophy. On that occasion he traveled from Paris to the north of England, a distance of 402 miles. As in this year's race, the sea stopped the leading balloons before their carrying power was exhausted, and Lieut. Lahm owed his victory to a careful judgment of the altitudes at which the most favorable air currents would be met. On the news of the victory, the Aero Club of America showed their appreciation by offering the Lahm trophy, to be held under certain conditions by members of the Aero Club, who make flights exceeding 402 miles. One of the illustrations on our front page shows Lincoln Beachey making the flight for the cash prize of $2,000, which was offered by the Aero Club of St. Louis for a competition of dirigible balloons. The contest was held subsequently to the International balloon race on the 23rd ult. Beachey's opponents were Capt. Thomas S. Baldwin, in his new California "Arrow," and Jack Dallas in another Strobel airship similar to that piloted by Beachey. Both Dallas and Beachey's airships are the property of Charles S. Strobel, who has been exhibiting them at various fairs and other amusement places. Both airships are of about the same size. At the time the competition was started there was a rather strong and gusty wind, which completely turned around Baldwin's and Dallas's airships, although the pilots succeeded in driving them once more into the wind, and in finally completing the course at a very low rate of speed. When Beachey made his flight, it was later in the afternoon and the wind had died out. Starting from the grounds of the Aero Club, he drove his airship out and around the Blair monument and back to the grounds, over a course which was estimated to be about three-quarters of a mile, in 4 minutes and 40 seconds, which is equivalent to a speed of about 9.64 miles an hour. He subsequently made an other circuit of the course in 6 minutes. Apparently, he was traveling at a quite rapid gait, although, in reality, the speed, as can be seen, was not high.
This article was originally published with the title "The Long Distance Balloon Races from St. Louis" in Scientific American 97, 18, 308-309 (November 1907)