High desert winds Saturday took the air out of the 1988 Gordon Bennett Balloon race, forcing postponement of the international competition between world champion aeronauts piloting seven helium-filled balloons.

Concern that the winds would cause unstable conditions interfering with the inflation of the balloons prompted race organizers to reschedule the contest for Sunday night, said race spokeswoman Debbie Fawcett.It was the first postponement of the race since the competition founded in Paris in 1906 by New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett resumed in 1979 in California after a 40-year hiatus, Fawcett said.

The world's oldest balloon race has one objective to float the farthest distance in any direction in the shortest time.

Japanese restaurateur Rocky Aoki set the Gordon Bennett distance rec-ord in 1981 when he and the late Ben Abruzzo flew 1,347 miles from Fountain Valley, Calif. to Millarton, N.D., in about two days.

Balloonists last year battled uncooperative winds and ended the race in a two-way tie for first place between the Cherokee, piloted by Jim Jones of Phoenix and co-piloted by Dale Yost of Columbus, Ohio, and the Swiss-designed Solvag-L.A. Times balloon, piloted by Gerald Signer and Wener Pfenninger, the only men ever to cross the Swiss Alps in a balloon at night.

The winning balloons last year traveled less than 50 miles in less than a day as contrary winds often pushed them back to the starting point.

The race is usually decided by much larger distances and organizers say that, with the right conditions, the helium-filled balloons can fly across the country.

Jones and Yost have returned to defend their title in the 1988 version of the race, challenged by Aoki and co-pilot Ron Clark, of Albuquerque, in the Benihana, named for Aoki's worldwide chain of restaurants and flying under the Japanese flag.