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Piccard-Jones trophy launched in Chateau-d'Oex

The adventures of Piccard (left) and Jones have now inspired an annual competition

(Keystone Archive)

A new hot-air balloon competition has been launched in the Swiss mountain resort of Chateau d'Oex to mark the second anniversary of Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones' non-stop flight around the world.

The Piccard-Jones trophy will involve more traditional balloons than the space-age style craft that carried the Swiss psychologist and his British co-pilot from their Chateau-d'Oex take-off point and into the record books, and the eventual winners are not expected to fly for more than a day. But the rules of the new competition have been closely based on the original adventure, as organiser Philippe Sublet explained to swissinfo.

"The competition will run from March 1 to March 21, the exact same time that Bertrand and Brian were in the air. The pilots can have up to three attempts to get as far as possible with as much fuel as they want to take. The three attempts recall the three tries that Bertrand needed before completing the round-the-world flight."

Although the competition has now been launched, there were no flights on Thursday's opening day with bad wind conditions preventing any of the pilots from attempting a take-off. The organisers are confident, though, that the three-week duration of the event will give the crews plenty of time to challenge for the inaugural title.

Of the 15 crews registered for the first ever Piccard-Jones trophy, no less than 13 come from Switzerland, with two French teams and one Austrian balloon also entered. However Sublet is confident that the competition can grow into a truly international affair in the years to come.

"This year is a test year," he told swissinfo. "But we're already in discussions with the World Air Sports Federation to get official recognition for next year's event. Still, we're happy to have 15 teams entered this year, because this really is hot air ballooning at its most extreme and not every pilot can do it."

While the Piccard-Jones trophy is intended as a living monument to the incredible achievements of two years ago, Sublet insists that there is still plenty of new adventures still to be had in hot air balloons.

"The next major challenge, I think, would be for a pilot to go around the world single-handed," he suggests. "That's part of the reason why we're holding this event - to remind people that Chateau-d'Oex is a good place to start from. When people ask me if the adventures of hot air ballooning are over, I say that maybe they are only just beginning."

by Mark Ledsom, Chateau-d'Oex


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