GEMAB19, Chambley Aerodrome, Lorraine, France – 26 July – 4 August 2019
Report by Peter and Kim Davison
This, the sixteenth such meet, celebrated thirty years since the first in 1989. Metz born Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier was the world’s first aeronaut in 1783 and Philippe Pilatre still coordinates the event; supported by the Region Grande Est with a budget of three million Euros though the estimated local benefit is ten fold. Visitor numbers are estimated at 400,000. Although extremely weather dependent, after a rough start, 2019 brought hot dry days with light winds from Sunday onwards. On the morning of the Grand Line 456 balloons lifted within an hour in still conditions; filling the sky overhead and equalling a previous record. Similar conditions heralded the famous ‘night glow’ on the Wednesday evening.
Due to its rural setting the public tend to camp locally or drive to the site so free entry and parking is provided and mobile food vendors punctuate the site. Nearby are numerous hospitality options where, for a little extra, an excellent view can be had whilst eating or drinking in relative comfort.
The twice daily launch windows are at around 0700 and 1900 hrs. During the intervening hours there are other entertainment options, particularly for children and those wanting ‘experience’ flights in a helicopter, microlight aircraft or autogyro. The surrounding arable land is ideal for the ‘random’ but skilfully planned balloon landings with the prevailing wind dictating the direction of each flight. Fortunately, 2019’s hot July had facilitated an early harvest reducing any chance of crop damage during touchdown and recovery.
This year’s balloons included those registered in Israel, Russia, Canada and Mexico among the more regular attendees; Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, the UK and France were in the majority but the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary Austria, Monaco, Ireland, Denmark, the USA and Poland were also represented. Among the novel ‘special shapes’ were Swiss examples and a large and imposing one from Taiwan making this a truly global gathering.
Mention should be made of the support crews, each of the approximately 500 pilots require a team of, say, four to assist with erection and inflation who then either travel in the balloon basket or drive to the unpredictable landing site to pack up and return. Following each flight the propane gas is re-filled for the next event. Hence the very early starts are combined with extremely late finishes late into the night. This dedication and professionalism was witnessed first hand following a flight with Jerome Laferriere for which I am truly grateful.
Other paid and volunteer staff man the event to assist in traffic, media, safety and hospitality. Their dedication and priceless contribution is both essential and appreciated. Some baskets accommodate up to a dozen passengers and the public can purchase flights during the main launches.
The airfield is a former USAF base which now houses new purpose-built hangars allowing the airfield to accommodate general aviation activities year round, further enhancing the recreational benefits to this scenic region.
2019 is a true ‘year of air-mindedness’ with numerous anniversaries. 110 years since Bleriot’s channel crossing, 50 years since the Boeing 747 and Concorde first flew and the moon landings. A century of commercial air services and the crossing of the Atlantic by aircraft and airship. Of further commemoration was the 20th anniversary of Bertrand Piccard’s round the world balloon flight. He attended GEMAB and gave the event his blessing. We can look forward with optimism and confidence to the next meet in 2021!