As we look back on a great week of coverage in Debrecen, Hungary we can't help but say thanks and congratulations to our presenting sponsors Lindstrand Balloons Limited and Lindstrand Balloons USA. Without their support there is no way BalloonPong would have been able to attend the 19th FAI World Championship and bring you unprecedented coverage of the event and they should be congratulated for their collective sweep of the podium at Worlds. Like the U.S. Nationals, Lindstrand X Racer's took the top three spots. Lindstrand's continued support of our site is greatly appreciated and recognized throughout the ballooning community. Thanks Lindstrand! In addition to Lindstrand, BalloonPong benefited from using one of the Ford Motor Company's vehicles in Hungary. Ford of Hungary was generous in providing support vehicles to the U.S. Team and BalloonPong was fortunate enough to be able to use one. Having our own vehicle allowed us move around the country side to bring you pictures and videos from multiple targets.
Let's recap some of the major story lines that took place this past week. First and foremost was the lack of support from local organizers for the event. This became evident to BalloonPong in a major way when after the third flight the Jury President was forced to call a meeting to discuss canceling the event altogether. The organizer's reluctance to provide sufficient propane was the most obvious concerns and ultimately didn't affect the Championship, but nevertheless the concern was real. Event Officials faced difficult questions like if they would crown a Champion or how to allocate bids to the next World Championship if they indeed had to cancel the World Championship midweek. More shortcomings came to light at the CIA debriefing as competitors voiced their displeasure with a number of issues and routinely Event Officials made it known that they had much higher intentions for the event, but were limited in their support by the organizer.
Loggers played another key role in the Championship. There were known instances where the event issued loggers recorded flight tracks correctly, but were mishandled by event officials causing issues in scoring. Most notably it became evident that roughly thirty of the loggers had a different set of firmware loaded on them, which would force the Scoring Officer to re-score the first eight tasks. Fortunately, the outdated firmware did not play a role in determining a Champion, but the fact was that the incorrect altitude was being displayed to pilots flying and being scored in 3-D areas and pilots could have potentially been penalized for an issue out of their control. Their would have been a major uproar had this come more into play.
United States pilots dominated and led the Championship from wire to wire. Nick Donner led from the end of the first flight until fellow U.S. pilot Johnny Petrehn made a pass on the last flight. Nick Donner has now gone to bed nine times at the World Championship and awoken with the lead, but never taken home the crown. Pretty impressive stat. In the end Stefen Zeberli parlayed a strong last flight into a podium finish at Third while Joe Heartsill fell from 3rd to 12th. The only other nation to place two pilots in the top ten was a surprise. Lithuania placed Vytautas Sviderskis and Rimas Kostiuskevichius in seventh and eighth place respectively.
We'll look back on this week not only at the World Championship, but also coverage of Albuquerque, the Gordon Bennett, and America's Challenge as a huge stepping stone for BalloonPong. We've been busy, but we hope you enjoyed our coverage. We have a bunch of ideas to improve coverage in the future including an all new webiste, live streaming web cams, and expanded coverage around the World. Look forward to plenty of new and exciting BalloonPong developments as we progress towards the end of the year.
Johnny Petrehn Wins Second World Championship
Overall results are posted for all tasks and Johnny Petrehn (USA) is the winner of the 19th World Hot Air Balloon Championship. Petrehn flew great all week and took the lead on the final flight from fellow American Nick Donner, who finished second. Stefan Zeberli (SUI) finished in third after a great week of flying.
This is Petrehn's second World Championship. He also won the 2006 Championship in Japan.
Live from the CIA Debriefing
We're live at the CIA debriefing where event organizers and Gary Lockyer are hosting a session for pilots to have a chance voice their opinions on a wide variety of issues. Generally speaking this is a constructive criticism/workshop to improve future CIA events. I'll be back with a recap of topics discussed.
BalloonPong just got a nice shout out from Richard Parry for being his go to site for checking up on what has been happening at the World Championship. Thanks to all for the kind words.
In general, pilots seem to be displeased with the lack of organization from the local organization personnel. I can say in confidence this won't be the case in 2012 as the Worlds returns to the U.S. with Derrick Jones and his staff organizing the event. Looking forward to a great time in Battle Creek, MI.
Some of the main safety concerns voiced by pilots are being distracted by computers while ascending/descending in excess of 700 feet per minute. Another issue is that 3-D scoring was in effect for this Championship. This means that if a pilot is at 1000 feet AGL the score will be the hypotenuse of the triangle made between the ground, the target, and your balloon. This greatly adds distance to pilots scores. One way to combat this issue is to make a floor (say 500 feet AGL) where pilots will be scored at a 2-D distance and this will keep pilots from flying recklessly to the ground to obtain their best result.
One way this edition of the World Championships could have surely improved was in the social aspect. There wasn't one organized event for crews and pilots to socialize with each other. The biggest concern was keeping up and building friendships among fellow Nations and without a social event participants were not given much of an opportunity to do so. Also, public relations was virtually non existent in this event.
David Levin has just stepped up to the microphone to address some information regarding the 20th FAI Hot Air Balloon Championship in Battle Creek, Michigan. One issue is that foreign pilots will not be allowed to fly a United States aircraft without holding a U.S. pilots certificate. David says this could take six months to a year for foreign pilots so they should start working to acquire a certificate as soon as possible. Foreign pilots inquired about the availability of rental equipment including bottom ends, propane tanks, and inflator fans, and David's comment was that he is looking into the details to be sure all equipment will be in compliance with the balloon manufacturer so that the FAA in America would not have an issue with any equipment.
Saturday AM Flight
Welp six more tasks are in the books this morning and the competition has ended at the 19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Debrecen, Hungary. From the ground it was a feverish to keep up with the balloons. After pilots completed their Task 14 Land Runs they generally were forced to stay on the ground or climb to 4,000 AGL in order to find enough left to get to Tasks 16 - 19. Tasks 16-19 were three Hesitation Waltz's and a Minimum Distance Double Drop (Task 18) placed down a major road that led from Debrecen to the Southwest. In hindsight the best strategy may have been to blow off Task 15 in order to save enough left to get to the rest of the Tasks for the morning. A wide range of strategies were employed and it is tough to tell at this point how pilots scored because there weren't very many good measured results.
It seemed like the type of morning that pilots knew they weren't going to score well on tasks and simply tried to do the best of the worst. In other words pilots were fighting to be left of the pack in order to get more points when their GPS loggers are scored. I should note that there were some good scores but for the most part the combination of the task layout and the given winds weren't conducive for making it to all goals.
At this point Officials have just posted task 11 results, but no overall sheet so there really is no way to tell which pilots were leading going into this morning's flight. We'll be back to recap a bit more later once more details become available, but in short it was a difficult flight.
Saturday AM Briefing
Mathijs has called a six part task this morning to challenge pilots one last time before the end of this World Championship. Tasks 14-19 will be as follows Land Run, Hesitation Waltz, Hesitation Waltz, Hesitation Waltz, Minimum Distance Double Drop, and finally another Hesitation Waltz. All tasks require a Gravity Marker Drop (GMD) except for the Minimum Distance Double Drop.
In Task 14, the Land Run, pilots will attempt to make the largest triangle within a 3km circle from a center point they will declare before take off. This task will challenge strategy of pilots because there seems to be limited steerage this morning and pilots will be trying to find some turn to create the largest triangle while still being able to make it to the rest of the targets.
In my experience I have only heard of one other instance where six tasks have been called in a single flight and that was at the German National Championship a few years ago. This will be new ground for most competitors and will certainly change up the standings when all results are made public (sometime Sunday?). Most results from last night are still waiting to be published. Thus far only the directly measured results (which weren't many) for tasks 12 and 13 have been posted. I imagine the USA still retains the top three positions but there really is too much unknown to speculate beyond that. Here we go!
Day Five Wrap - Up
Day Five provided quite a bit of drama at the World Championships. It all started out with a flight cancelation this morning due to high winds and it was at this briefing that Mathijs de Bruijn informed competitors that there was an issue with 30 of the GPS logger's firmware and Tasks 1-8 had to be re-scored. Chief Scoring Officer, Mike Gilligan should be commended for his work staying up all night to re-score those tasks and get them published in a timely manner. When the tasks were re-scored and combined with last night's tasks 9 and 10 Nick Donner, Johnny Petrehn, and Joe Heartsill all of USA were atop the leader board and with a cushion of roughly 1000 points on 4th place Stefan Zerberli of Switzerland.
Tonight's flight saw some strategy play out as 3rd place Heartsill tried to make a move on the other two leading Americans by changing up his flight plan a bit. Unlike Donner and Petrehn, Heartsill placed his 3-D shape before the Hesitation Waltz's in hopes that the winds may change and play out better for him. Meanwhile Donner and Petrehn elected to fly to both Task 12 and 13 before entering their 3-D pie. The idea behind Heartsill's decision was that if he did it at the beginning he would be more likely to make it into the center of his shape, thus maximizing his score on Task 11. To do the shape at the end of the flight is sometimes risky because you have to declare the center point of the shape before taking off. Any change in wind direction during the first two tasks could have impacted Donner and Petrehn by the time they entered their shape.
As it turned out no one really scored excellent on any of the targets. Donner and Petrehn had similar results on Task 12, while Heartsill missed the scoring area and will have a GPS measured result. All three made it to Task 13, with Nick Donner seemingly scoring the best on Task 13. In Task 11, the 3-D shape, Petrehn and Heartsill probably did better than Donner, but at this time this whole paragraph is only speculation based on hearsay (although it's probably legit, just not confirmed). We'll have scores for you just as soon as they become available. Stay tuned.
Friday PM Flight
Pilots left the briefing quickly and jumped into the caravan line to head out to the Common Launch Area. This was a new launch area to the competitors and it was located on the Northeastern side of Debrecen. Event Director Mathijs de Bruijn called a three part task consisting of a 3-D shape, Hesitation Waltz, and finally another Hesitation Waltz - quite ambitious for an evening flight. When pilots first arrived at the field they began strategizing on how best to fly their 3-D shape task. Pilots typically were trying to decide whether or not to fly the Pie shape before they started the Hesitation Waltz or after both tasks 12 and 13 were complete.
For the most part the field was wide spread tonight. Pilots had two targets to choose from on the Hesitation Waltz in Task 12 and four targets to pick from on Task 13. I don't have confirmation on this yet but I believe all six of those goals were scored on by at least a few pilots. Straight line winds and required Gravity Marker Drops led to much worse scores than last night. Generally speaking pilots did well to place both baggies within scoring areas and fly through the center of their Pie. I haven't heard of too many pilots doing what they would consider "very well". It will be interesting to see how scores shake out. We'll have more detail in our Day Five Wrap-Up later this evening.
Friday PM Briefing
Back in the briefing room Mathijs has given competitors a three part task sheet. The tasks are as follows 3-D Shape, Hesitation Waltz, Hesitation Waltz. Task 11, the 3-D Shape will be flown in any order but technically comes first on the task sheet - so we'll see how pilots decide to fly through their shape. The shape is again a "Pie" with the three layers having a radius of 3km, 2km, and 1km. Pilots will attempt to accumulate the greatest distance when combined with the respective multiplier within the shape. Pilots will make their declaration at the signals point before launch. Pilots will be using a different common launch area than they''ve used this week.
Task 12 is a Hesitation Waltz with two goals to choose from and pilots will be required to use a gravity marker drop (GMD). Task 13 again is a Hesitation Waltz with four goals to choose from. Pilots will be asked to use a gravity marker drop for this task as well.
Score Update: To view current scores (that have been re-scored) click on the Results link to the right. In general the Americans had another good night last night and continue to pull away from the field. The three U.S. pilots now roughly have a 1000 (equivalent of one task) point lead on fourth place Stefan Zeberli of Switzerland and past World Champion David Bareford of Great Britain in fifth place. Tonight's tasks will go a long way to determining a champion. 3000 points on the line.
Tasks 1-8 to be Re-scored!
In the most significant issue to face Event Director Mathijs de Bruijn so far at this Championship all tasks 1-8 will be re-scored because of a firmware issue with 30 of the 130 loggers. Evidently when Mathijs ordered the loggers for the event he requested they all come from the same "batch", but for whatever reason a group of them were shipped with an older/different version of firmware loaded on them. Because of the firmware issue all tasks where two different versions of firmware were used must be re-scored so that all competitors are evaluated the same.
This opens up a huge window of opportunity for protest from the field. The problem is that the firmware issue effects the altitude the loggers were recording on their tracks. So if a pilot was using the blue tooth enabled logger to view their altitude on a 3-D shape task like Monday night where they went up to 9,000 feet MSL they could have been penalized for going too high and into the PZ. Likewise, pilots who flew very close but according to the old firmware were outside any PZ could now be penalized under the re-scoring and new firmware.
Pilots are sticking around to see what happens with the scores. Only 30 loggers are even at risk of being effected by the firmware and even then we're not sure at this point how dramatic the difference in altitude really is, so it is hard at this point to forecast the potential severity of the issue. Another potential issue is that pilots are not necessarily given the same logger each flight so even though pilots only have a 25% chance of having one of the bad loggers there is potential each pilot in the event could have had a bad logger. Scores are going to change. Standings are going to change. Final results are no longer final. Stay tuned.
Friday AM Briefing
Brisk wind conditions have dashed hopes for a significant number of tasks to be flown this morning at the World Championship in Debrecen, Hungary. The good news is that the wind is forecasted to die down tonight like it has most of the week up until this point and unlike many areas in the world Debrecen has proven to be a rather competitive venue even for evening flights. So stay tuned...
Day Four Wrap-Up
Another day has come and gone at the 19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship and altogether pilots were only able to manage two tasks - again due to weather constraints. This time it was low ceilings that the competitors fought and eventually the clouds did give way to mostly clear skies at sunset allowing for a Double Hare and Hound flown by Deputy Event Director, David Levin.
One of the main stories continues to be the USA's success to this point of the Championship. With a total of 10 tasks flown (but only 8 scored thus far) the Americans hold the top three spots in the field. With only three flight windows remaining it is starting to looks like a World Championship dominated by American pilots. One contributing factor to their success thus far has been the utilization of Team Manager and two-time World Champion, Al Nels (and Team Weatherman and Brad Temeyer). According to American pilot, Joe Heartsill, Al was the major contributing factor in Team USA's decision to move the 3-D shape from Wednesday night's flight further to the south which ended up greatly aiding the team. Al and Brad's interpretation of the wind and technical expertise have set the United States apart as the team to beat at this Championship.
As far as forecasting how scores will turn out from tonight's flight I can only imagine the U.S. will continue to hold the top three places. Nick Donner, Johnny Petrehn, and Joe Heartsill all had very strong nights again on both the Hare and Hounds. As far as I know none of those three pilots had a drop outside of two meters so it will be hard for any of them to make much of a move. Scores forthcoming.
Thursday PM Flight
Thursday PM Flight
Just as the briefing was drawing to a close the weather officer informed Event Director Matthias de Bruijn that the clouds were starting to part (like he predicted of course) and the ceiling would likely not be an issue any longer. Sure enough by the time pilots and crew arrived at the common launch area there were large patches of sunlight and the conditions only improved throughout the flight. Deputy Event Director David Levin flew the Hare balloon and found two large recently tilled fields to serve as target areas.
The winds tonight on the surface were out of the Southeast and there was a considerable left hand turn as balloons climbed. Speed was light on the surface, especially as the sun started to set and as much as 20 km/hr at 1000 feet AGL. All in all there was really good steerage which will be evident when the scores are posted late tonight or early tomorrow morning. The difficult part of the flight proved to be handling and managing the balloon traffic around the target areas. Check the video below for Task 10 to see just what we're talking about. It seemed (from the ground at least) that the key to scoring well on Task 10 was placing the balloon at a good point in traffic. Several balloons seemed to be in a mob tied together as they all slowly moved across the target area. Reports from pilots indicate that the center of the target was on a mound of dirt creating a difficult situation for placing the baggie on the direct center of the target. We heard several stories of baggies bouncing and then sliding down before settling.
Thursday PM Briefing
On the surface conditions seem pretty much the same as this morning. Briefings take place at 2:45 PM local time and by now you would think the ceilings would have improved but it looks like pilots will continue to battle the same issue (ceilings) as they did this morning.
For this evening's tasks Matthias has called a double Hare and Hound. Pilots will launch from the same common launch area they did last night. The plan is to fly for approximately 20-30 minutes and lay out one 'X' and then continue on to lay out another 'X'. It's pretty amazing how many questions there are regarding this Hare and Hound flight. Many of the questions relate to where the 'X' will be placed and in short the Event Officials will attempt to place it in a way to maximize the scoring area.
As teams are leaving briefing arena, the clouds have already started to break up and a supplemental briefing will be held and tasks could be changed up a bit.
Thursday AM - Flight Canceled
The flight was canceled this morning due to low ceilings (around 500 feet AGL). Pilots and crew drove from the briefing center out to the Debrecen airport and after about 20 minutes on the field a supplemental briefing was called. Video below was taken at the supplemental briefing. Matthias decided to put the pilots on hold for an hour in hopes that the ceilings would improve, but the bits of red sky on the horizon eventually faded and the ceilings did not improve. On a quick note related to the pilots stuck in the mud: Several pilots came flying (pun intended) into the Debrecen airport well after the rest of the field arrived seemingly straight from the fields in which they were stuck. Event officials should be commended for working with the pilots in order to help them compete even facing difficult circumstances.
Thursday AM Briefing
Event Director Matthias de Bruijn delayed the start of the briefing by ten minutes presumably to allow his team time to complete the task sheet, get it printed, and then distribute it to the 118 competitors. When the briefing did start Matthias mentioned his team had a very long night with balloons flying off the competition map and that many balloon chase vehicles got stuck trying to retrieve their balloons. He even highlighted on the map where multiple balloons were stuck last night. Some pilots have not made it back to the briefing and Matthias is stalling to give those pilots (who have been up all night) a chance to make the briefing.
Matthias has called a three task flight this morning. Tasks 9-11 are as follows Judge Declared Goal, Judge Declared Goal, Hesitation Waltz. It looks like an unexpected low level cloud layer has moved into the area which has derailed some of the plans for a longer and more complicated task sheet.
Provisional scores from last night have been posted but due to the crowd around them we haven't been able to take a picture to post until they appear on the website. For now though Nick Donner (USA) remains in first followed by Johnny Petrehn (USA) and Vytautas Sviderskis (LTU). Again these scores are provisional and will be changing slightly over the next 24 hours as competitors inquire over scores.
Day Three Wrap-Up
Competitors were finally able to get back in the air after roughly a 36 hour break due to inclement weather. We saw two tasks flown today and the weather outlooks looks good for Day Four at the World Championship.
Nick Donner (USA) had another solid flight tonight and looks to retain his position leading the field when Thursday morning's flight rolls around. The day was relatively quiet as officials seem to have worked out most issues they had with the local organizers. As far as we know propane went well tonight and pilots were allowed to fill their tanks completely.
Crews continue to battle the rain soaked area while chasing and navigating the cart path sized roads has proven a difficult task for even experienced crew. This story about toxic sludge from western Hungary (about 4hrs away from the event) gives you an idea of how much rain the country has received.
Scores should be posted shortly for Task 7, but will probably take a bit to analyze the tracks for the 3-D shape in Task 8.
Wednesday PM Flight
Tasks 7 and 8 are now in the books. Pilots drove from the competition center over to the nearby common launch area and spent time interpreting pibal after pibal to determine where best to place their center point for their Task 8 Pie. Once the Event Director raised the Yellow flag at the launch field pilots were only given a five minute window to make their declaration in one of three boxes located at the signal point.
Task 7 was a Pilot Declared Goal and competitors were given four goals to choose from. The goals were spaced out from North to South along a "main" road. We're quickly learning that main roads aren't what most would associate with the term. Most all pilots went to the center two goals and we've got some good video of several scores below. Task 8 was a 3-D shape task and it is always hard to judge how pilots did without seeing their GPS recorded tracks. One thing is for sure and that is that there wasn't nearly as much steerage tonight as their was on Monday night when another 3-D task was called. In general pilots tried to fly straight through the shape making sure to maximize points in the top layer.
Outside of the two tasks tonight it was an eventful chase. There was an accident at an intersection near the PDG targets, several chase vehicles were stuck in the mud after driving down what they thought was a road with a center line down the middle. All in all it was another competitive flight for the pilots.
Wednesday PM - Briefing
The winds seem to have calmed down enough to get tasks 7 and 8 in the books tonight at the World Championships. The United States will attempt to keep the top three spots firmly in their grasps, but will have to hold off the hard charging Uwe Schneider (GER) and Francois Messines (FRA).
Task 7 is a Pilot Declared Goal and much like Monday evening Matthias has given pilots four targets to choose from all with roughly 100 meter scoring areas - these are actual targets placed in fields, not intersections. Pilots will pick from the four goals and then fly a 3-D shape task for Task 8. This 3-D shape is the same Pie or Birthday Cake that was planned for this morning. The rings are 3km, 2km, and 1km radius as you stack them on top of each other. Pilots receive a multiplier depending on what ring they are in with the top layer receiving a multiplier of 3, the middle 2, and the bottom 1 - This places an emphasis on maximizing your result within the top layer for the most distance. This task challenges pilots to travel the most distance within the shape - not the highest number of track points! Many people seem to continue to be confused on the point. The event is using a different common launch area than has been used up until this point.
On a side note the weather officer said that the weather looks promising for two flights tomorrow.
Sights and Sounds from Debrecen, Hungary
We've got a little extra time on our hands now that the balloons haven't been able to fly for roughly 36 hours so we decided to give our readers a tour of the host city. Hopefully the information and pictures presented helps you get a feel for the area and culture in Debrecen.
According to Wikipedia the city is located 220km west of Budapest on the Great Hungarian Plain. Until recent highway construction and railway improvements Debrecen was relatively isolated from Budapest, the major Hungarian transportation hub.
Some interesting bits of information popped up when we looked into the history of Debrecen. First, the city was originally formed pre-fourteenth century when a group of villages merged together into a town. From there the city was owned and occupied by a number of rulers and eventually served as the Capitol of Hungary during the Hungarian revolutionary war in 1849 and again for a short time during World War II. During World War II nearly 70% of all buildings suffered damage and 50% were completely destroyed. After the war reconstruction began, but slowed when the new Communist government took control and annexed parts of the city to other towns. The Communist rule brought new losses to Debrecen and just regained its status as the second largest in Hungary in the late 1990's.
We took the opportunity to check out the sights and have shared them below. We tried to capture the feel of the architecture some of the other highlights - including a Subway!
Wednesday AM - Flight Canceled
Event Director Matthias de Bruijn had initial plans to call as many as five tasks this morning at the World Championship, but brisk surface winds and a forecast that they would increase later in the morning ultimately forced him to cancel the flight altogether.
Competitors drove to the Debrecen airport and assembled their balloons but after about thirty minutes on the property and a number of pibal readings by event officials Matthias decided that the wind was too strong to allow for a safe flight. It would have been an incredibly hard task to safely inflate 120 balloons within the launch field. We're holding out hope that the winds die down enough to accommodate a competition flight this evening. Check out the video below from the airport this morning.
Wednesday AM - Briefing
It was a little bit breezy this morning leaving the hotel but nevertheless pilots were handed a full task sheet. Matthias has called the following tasks: Judge Declared Goal, Judge Declared Goal, Judge Declared Goal, Hesitation Waltz, 3-D shape task. The 3-D Shape task is a pie or birthday cake shape. Pilots will receive twice as much distance in the second layer and three times as much distance for tracks through the third layer. The declaration point for the center of the Pie will be at the Debrecen Airport before take off. All marker drops today are gravity marker drops (GMD). Pilots will be launching again from the Debrecen Airport seemingly so if the winds are too strong Matthias can still cancel the flight without having to worry about a recall procedure.
The weather officer is expecting the wind to pick up on the surface by 8:30AM so he is worried about the winds mixing down rather quickly. Matthias will look at the weather again from the airport. If we do fly there are going to be a bunch of chase vehicles stuck in the mud! Event officials have prepared for this and are offering to arrange for towing through the Fiesta Event Director who knows local farmers with tractors.
Update: After originally scheduling 5 tasks Matthias has decided to cancel the Hesitation Waltz. We'll see only four tasks if a flight gets off this morning. Pilots and crew are en route to the airport.
Tuesday PM - No Flight
The rain continues to soak the already wet flying area in Debrecen, Hungary and the flight for Tuesday afternoon has been canceled. It looks like the rain is about to clear out of the area and behind it the weather officer is concerned about windy conditions for Wednesday morning.
Despite the rain, officials have been very busy addressing a number of issues which has ultimately delayed the posting of the scores. All scores are now posted through task 6.
Most concerning to competitors was the organizer's wish to limit pilots to filling only three propane tanks. I have received word that this has been resolved and all pilots will now be able to fill all cylinders entirely. Matthias de Bruijn even went on to say at the PM briefing that they are having significant difficulty dealing with the organizers. He didn't elaborate on too much detail around the "difficulties" they are having but we've heard rumors the jury president called a meeting last night in response to the organizer's actions thus far. For those that don't know the jury president has the ultimate say in this event. If propane, or another issue had continued to be an issue the jury president would have the ultimate authority to cancel the event altogether. It seems this will not be an issue, but it certainly is noteworthy and has led to the overall delay of scores as the Event Director has been tied up with more important issues.
In other news...the event is using an SMS system to recall pilots or notify them of cancelation and there are a group of pilots not receiving these messages. Also, pilots are struggling to use the PDG sheet correctly. Several pilots didn't even put their names or numbers on the sheets.
Below is one of the better results from the 3-D shape tasks. Results should be posted soon.
Tuesday AM - No Flight
BalloonPong editors were woken up this morning at 4:00 AM (30 minutes before alarm) and informed the morning briefing had been canceled. As most would agree it didn't really matter the cause for the cancelation, but we assumed rain and come to find out that was the cause. We haven't had time to run down all the facts but we've been told that the flying area has received as much rain in the last two weeks as it has in the last two years. Four wheel drive vehicles are a must to enter large fields.
The good news is we have 5 out of 6 tasks posted at the Official Notice Board and our first inclinations were pretty much spot on. The top three are Americans in this order: Nick Donner, Johnny Petrehn, and Joe Heartsill. Fourth is Uwe Schneider of Germany.
Based on what has been posted and what we know from last night we don't anticipate the top of the leader board changing too much through six tasks. Tasks 1-4 have been posted on Event Director Mathijs de Bruijn's website.
Day One Wrap-Up
By all measures the first day of competition at the 19th FAI World Championship was a huge success. Six tasks were flown and both flights featured highly competitive winds. It might be too early to tell, but it is safe to say that the Americans have gotten off to a strong start along with several German pilots.
Provisional scores for tasks one, three, and four have been posted but the results are sure to change as several pilots are waiting results on those tasks and none of the scores for task two (Land Run) have been posted at the competition center. The weather looks to be more of the same tomorrow morning which should mean a handful of tasks and another group of happy pilots. Propane seems to continue to be a bit of an issue as some pilots were told tonight that they would only be allowed to fill three tanks - and some had not filled completely from the morning flight making it an even more pressing issue. I can only imagine this has been remedied, but we'll continue to post anything we hear on the issue. I can't see propane becoming a factor in this Championship.
We'll continue to monitor scores and pass along results just as soon a they become available. Below are provisional results for some tasks. More later...
Task One: 1) Edwin Mitchell - AUS 2) Pavel Merinsky - CZE 3) Nick Donner - USA 4) Sven Goehler - GER 5) Helmut Poettler - AUT
Task Three: 1) Andreas Simoner - AUT 2) Josef Scherzer - AUT 3) Denis Volodyn - UKR 4) Slavko Sorn - SLO 5) Isamu Senju - JPN
Task Four: 1) Johnny Petrehn - USA 2) Nick Donner - USA 3) Sven Goehler - GER 4) Mike Howard - GBR 5) Yudai Fujita - JPN
Monday PM Flight
Flight number two is complete and pilots were tested on a variety of skills in just two tasks. Task 5 was a Pilot Declared Goal that functioned much like a Multiple Judge Declared Goal with three targets and X's for competitors to throw at. For many, Pilot Declared Goals have traditionally been associated with intersections, but that tune seems to be changing as GPS loggers and the lack of observers have made scoring PDG's at intersections a chore. BalloonPong was on the site at one of the targets for Task 5 and the video below hows some exceptional scores. One note from tonight was that pilots were allowed to throw their baggies for the first time.
Task 6 was a 3-D shape task and the shape looked like a Donut with the inner ring two kilometers from the Pilot Declared center point (this was not the same point used in task 5) and the outer ring at three kilometers. It ended up being a great night to call this task. Many pilots rode the winds at altitudes pushing 9000 feet nearly all the way around their Donut shape having to go up and down thousands of feet to obtain the wind direction they desired. It was a neat site as the sun was setting and pilots were scrambling to look for landing areas before it got too dark.
On Board with David Strassman (GER)
Monday PM Briefing
We're live from the briefing room and Event Director Matthias de Bruijn has just called a two part task for competitors. He called a Pilot Declared Goal and 3-D shape task. He decided to give three predetermined points for pilots to choose from. These PDG points will be targets - not intersections with approximately 100 meter scoring areas. Task 6 is a 3-D shape and pilots will try to accumulate the most distance within a "Donut" shape. The inner ring of the Donut is 2km and the outer ring is 3km. Pilots will declare their center points for their shapes and the greatest distance inside the outer ring of the donut will win the task. The tasks may be flown in any order, so we can expect a wide array of strategies.
Some of the Event Director's notes from the briefing included: that he is going to make the launch sites a bit bigger and complimented the pilots on their handling of the launch process i.e. getting 122 balloons in the air without any basket to envelope contact. Some pilots were forced to wait an extended period for fuel because the "demand was greater than anticipated". To address the issue Matthias ordered in another tank. Stay tuned to see if this becomes an issue on a longer flight. Some of the loggers appeared to have failed for a handful of pilots and the Event Staff has supplied those competitors with an additional logger in hopes that this will remedy any further logger issues.
Monday AM Flight
Balloons took off this morning from a Common Launch Area, which in this case was an old Russian Air Base. It was pretty interesting to see the majority of GPS's lose satellite reception when driving on to the base. Event Director Matthias DeBruijn called a supplemental briefing at the signal's point to inform pilots of an invalid goal because it was placed too close to a tower. The briefing was short and pilots were released for launch shortly after.
Task 1 was a Hesitation Waltz with two targets selected as options within a kilometer of each other. Scores seemed to be relatively competitive but all baggie drops were required to be gravity and its too early to speculate on results. Task 2 was a Land Run that required pilots to declare their center points of a circle at one of the declaration points on the launch field. The idea of the Land Run was to make a triangle within a circle that had the largest area. The radius of the circle (the center point declared by pilot before take off) was 2500 meters. The results should vary widely on this task but it was clear that very good results were possible on this task. Task 3 was another Hesitation Waltz and again it had two targets for pilots to choose from. The targets were roughly 3 kilometers apart and it was evident early on that the only way to make it to the final task for the morning was to choose the eastern most of the two targets. We have a handful of videos from this eastern most target below. Task 4 was a Judge Declared Goal and it looks like at least 20 pilots were able to successfully place baggies in the confines of the field.
Scores should be distributed relatively quickly and we'll have them for you here just as soon as they become available. The good news is a brisk surface wind this morning seems to have given way to lighter winds so an afternoon flight seems probable. Check back later for another update on developments from this morning.
Monday AM Briefing
Here we go! The first briefing of the 2010 World Championships has just ended. It's a pretty chilly morning here in Debrecen, about 5 degrees celsius. Winds are relatively slow going from east to west across the map. Event Director Matthias Debruijn has called a four part task: Hesitation Waltz, Land Run, Hesitation Waltz, Judge Declared goal.
Pilots will be using a common launch area and must declare a enter point for their land run task before launch. The land run task will be the greatest triangle shape within a circle with a radius of 2500 meters. Point A in the circle is where you enter the shape, Point C is your exit point. Point B will be the furthest difference from the line created by line AC. This is a very similar task to what was run at the U.S. National Championship this year.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
BalloonPong has officially arrived onsite in Debrecen, Hungary and are preparing to offer unprecedented coverage of the World Championships. We had quite a journey to get here and you can get a taste of it in our first video below.
The Master Briefing took place this afternoon where competitors and Event Director Matthias DeBruijn raised several concerns around rules, policies, and procedures for the event. One of the most important issues pilots will be forced to address regards the event issued GPS loggers - Competitor will not be given a warning and will receive a no result if they leave their GPS logger in the car, don't hook it up in the proper position on the balloon, or forget to power it on. There will be no grace period so anticipate several pilots being affected by logger scoring blunders.
Competition starts bright and early Monday morning. Look for an instant snap shot of the task sheet and generalities regarding flight conditions before BalloonPong heads out to start filming. We'll then be back after the flight with more in-depth analysis of the flight as well as all the media we collected.
Competitors at the 2010 World Championships are arriving early in Debrecen, Hungary to give them plenty of time to get comfortable with the flying area. Pilots traveling from overseas must unpack and assemble their balloons, rig their chase vehicles, and settle into a foreign culture. See the pictures below.
The buzz around the competition center is of course the weather. Initial 10-day forecasts showed rain for the latter part of the week, however, the latest forecast has improved considerably. There are countless variables in a balloon race, the biggest being the weather. It dictates decision for pilots fly, task calling, strategy, and if enough tasks have been called to crown a Champion. The best case scenario is for a World Championship week is predictable and steerable weather eveyday to allow for the most amount of competitive tasks to be called.
Event Director Mathijs de Bruijn is known for his creative task calling and teams are busy strategizing for the tasks he may call. Many look to the German/Austrian Nationals as a model for this Championship. De Bruijn likes to challenge pilots to strategize during a flight. Many are expecting a fair number of 3-D tasks along with the standard "X" tasks. These task combinations generally favor the racer balloons, which make up the majority of the field at this year's Championship.
The usual power nations of Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States have a long history of good performances at the World Championships. Many teams are keeping an eye at some of the new nations on the international scene. Japan is sending eight pilots to this year, while Brazil, Sweden, and Spain are each sending five. Will it be the usual suspects on the podium this week or will one of these up and coming countries be able to score the upset?
A visit to the World Rankings
It's widely known that BalloonPong likes discussing ranking systems. To date we haven't made mention of the World Ranking system so we'll take a peek at it in light of this week's Championship. After either the World Air Games or FAI World Championships the World Rankings for Hot Air Balloons are updated. This list, which is distributed by the CIA, in its latest version includes 752 pilots from 40 nations and consists of several years worth of results. According to the FAI the ranking system was first established in 2000 with the goal of placing the top pilots in the world at the top of the ranking list. The list includes finishes from the World Air Games, World Championships, and to a small effect a competitor's 'National Ranking position'. We're not really sure what all is included in the World Ranking System regarding a competitors National Ranking, but are sure it varies depending on the member nation.
The FAI is quick to note that the ranking system is not to be used for invitational purposes but rather to compare performance among the top pilots in the world. You'll note that the system heavily favors top finishes either of the top World competitions, which clearly makes it tough for good balloonists, who might not have qualified to compete at on the World level to be listed.
Since the ranking's inception Uwe Schneider has been either at the top or close to it, which is a pretty impressive feat. Currently, John Petrehn, of the United States holds the second spot with finishes of fourth, and first in 2004 and 2006. Francois Messines of France is third followed by Japanese pilots Takoa Mizukami and Masahiko Fujita. Overall the powers of Germany, France, Japan, and the United States hold eight of the top ten places on the list. We'll look for a significant shake up in the rankings after this week and report back once the CIA has updated their system.
What is the World Championship? The 19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship is a Category One biennial event much in the spirit of the Olympics where pilots from participating countries compete against one another for the coveted title of World Champion. It is no knock on the Championship but this event is not a collection of all the top pilots in the World - but rather the top pilots from each country competing against one another. Like many other sports there are certain regions or countries that seem to churn our more top pilots than others and the qualification system limits the number of entrants those regions or countries can register. Nevertheless, the FAI will accept any pilot who earns a bid through his or her National governing body's qualification system and owns an FAI sporting license. So in theory each pilot only has themselves to blame if they don't qualify through their country's system.
*Fun fact: Countries not in good standing can be suspended from time to time by the FAI. Currently Jordan, Korea, Peru, and Vietnam are suspended for various reasons. During the suspension pilots from those countries are banned from participating in FAI events. Here is a current list of FAI member countries.
How are bids distributed among qualifying member nations? From what we know (unfortunately haven't been able to find it in writing) based on experience the top three finishers from the previous World Championship are guaranteed a bid that doesn't count against their home country in the selection process. It is basically a bonus reward for their past high finish. After that organizers use the top thirty pilots from the most recent Championship and their country, not the pilot, is awarded a bid. Qualifying member nations that did not finish in the top thirty from the previous Championship automatically receive bids (number determined by size of the field).
What does the winner get? As many of you already know ballooning isn't a glamorous sport in general. As such there is no prize money awarded to the World Champion, but you do receive a Gold Medal and FAI diploma that looks great framed in your front hallway. Most of all you receive the title of World Champion that will forever stick by your name. It truly is quite an honor.
Helpful Links: Event Rules can be found here. Competitors List can be found here. Schedule of events can be found here.
19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship
We're right at a week out from the start of the 19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship which will be held in Debrecen, Hungary October 2nd through the 10th. This biennial event will feature 122 competitors from roughly 30 participating countries. Countries earn bids to the Championship by being a member in good standing of the FAI as well as order of previous Championship's finish. A country is allowed to determine which pilots to nominate for the Championship independently and qualification systems differ greatly. France takes the crown for most entries into this Championship with eight followed by Japan with seven and the United States with six. Several other powers have five entires: Great Britian, Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Brazil.
BalloonPong will be sending two correspondents with the sole responsibility of covering the Championship for the webiste. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Lindstrand Balloons USA and Lindstrand Balloons Limited for their continued support of BalloonPong and hot air ballooning in general. Without them our coverage at the World Championship would not be possible.
The Championship should present some unique challenges to the field. Event Director Mathias Debruijn is widely known for testing pilot's strategic skills as much as flying. Competition will surely differ from traditional baggie throwing, but Debruijn has even been known to call a double hare and hound. Competitors that flew in the German/Austrian National Championships administered by Debruijn received a crash course in what they can expect in the form of task calling, which is certain to include plenty of non standard tasks, such as 3-D shapes, Land Runs, and Elbows.
Teams will begin arriving in Debrecen this week to receive shipment of their balloons (most to Budapest) and ready them for the week of flying ahead. An official practice flight is scheduled for Saturday October 2nd, with the competition officially beginning the morning of Sunday the 3rd. We're going to run a handful of features to help get you acquainted with the Championship, teams, and flying area so look forward to checking back frequently. BalloonPong will have as many as 6 onboard cameras moving around throughout the week as well as target cams, pictures, and instant updates. Buckle up, this is going to be a fun next couple of weeks for competition enthusiasts.