July 2, 2019 – VILLA DE MERLO, ARGENTINA
The inception moment for the Argentina entry into the World Sky Race would fit into an epic movie script. Bob Fowler, CEO of Aerovehicles Inc., and airship pilot met Don Hartsell, Commissioner World Air League out in the middle of a field in rural Argentina during the last total solar eclipse. Hartsell was in Argentina participating in an international balloon expedition consisting of 19 hot air balloons to observe the total solar eclipse. During the critical inflation launch window as the countdown for the total eclipse was in its final minutes, a wind storm unexpectedly burst and blew through the balloon expedition camp. Hot-air balloons with crews were suddenly being dragged through the rocky struggle, colliding into other balloons and entangling crew baskets with one catching fire burning parts of its envelope while frenetically trying to launch. The Swiss Hart balloon on which Hartsell was crewing was bouncing wildly over the rocks, gyrating from side to side, starting to lift without a pilot controlling its bucking. Hartsell was grappling with its topmost tether rope and was about to be dragged or lifted in whatever direction the balloon careened. Bob Fowler, a local volunteer for the balloon event, ran and grabbed the rope with Hartsell. Together they wrangled the balloon until the winds abated. Of the 19 balloons, 6 balloons succeeded in launching, 13 did not.
In the grateful and discovering conversation after, Hartsell and Fowler connected their mutual interests and learned about the friends that they share from around the world. Among Bob’s credentials, he is a certified airship pilot. He moved to Argentina to pursue developing hybrid airship technology. He knew George Spyrou, one of the greatest friends and supporters for the World Sky Race. On the spot, Bob agreed to be the Chairman for the World Sky Race Argentina Local Organizing Committee ALOC.
Appreciative and pleased, Hartsell said, “Bob materialized in a dire moment and I am so glad he did. I did not know whether to let go the tether and watch our expedition balloon dash into the rocks or billow and be blown away into the darkening skies above. This was not, is not, a metaphor. It was a celestial alignment. Another proof on how small our world is.”
Starting preparations and planning for the global challenge, Bob Fowler said, “All of the personnel at Aerovehicles Inc are extremely happy to assist and participate in the World Sky Race. Personally, I am honored to accept the position of Chairman for the World Sky Race Argentina Local Organizing Committee ALOC and look forward to entering an airship representing all of South America.”
Since starting their involvement, AVI has made profound contributions to charting the Race route, improving the safety and doability of the entire program. The newest route additions are within the technical capabilities of the Skyships, Zeppelin NTs, and ABC Lightships. The impact of seasonal weather is more refined. Communications, logistic management, and predicted movement of ground crews, flight crew hours aloft, and aircraft maintenance have all been examined to improve and make safer operations on a global basis. The Rules and Regulations for the Race are clearer on the team requirements.