Test Inflation

22nd September 2016 – Ashton Court, Bristol

I first day-dreamed the idea of flying a branded balloon for Beat (the UK’s largest Eating Disorder Charity and one very close to my heart after my battles with anorexia) in late 2013. With the ability to create 3D concepts of hot air balloons I’d created a design for a pilot only cloudhopper, and knowing I’d never afford it myself, turned to Twitter, cap in hand, to ask for help – drawing no response.

Designing the balloon, though, had sown the impossible seed. The idea of flying a balloon for Beat created this sense of potential pride that felt good. I longed for the balloon and, for the life I saw it giving me, but I just couldn’t fund it. People suggested bake sales to raise money, but I’d have to sell far too many cakes to make it plausible. Letters asking people for sponsorship were posted, but like Twitter, the silence they received was deafening. I even tried to crowdfund the project! Excitement and optimism spilling over on day one when a splattering of donations arrived, only to dry up completely as the campaign failed to meet its target.

When your failing to fund one balloon, the logical thing to do is, of course, to decide to purchase two! Years ago, I’d dreamed up an idea for Airship & Balloon Company, that, using modern fabric printing, we could print each panel of the balloon envelope with a different photograph to create a photomosaic of corporate branding. The idea had failed to sell – but it could be recycled. We could buy a second balloon, selling each panel and allowing people to print their photo, creating a mosaic of supporters – the total funds raised covering the purchase price of both balloons. Finding a few hundred people to buy one panel each more plausible than finding one person to buy an entire balloon. The idea worked on paper, but there were just too many tax and logistical liabilities to make it work in reality.

Fast forward to June 2016. The paperwork nightmare that had kept Bumble, my new lightweight Ultramagic 77, out the sky for so long had been sorted and my passion for flying was very firmly back. I was now making up for the lack of flying over the previous few years and, in doing so, becoming convinced that lightweight ballooning was the future for my flying. Anorexia had just sapped too much of my physical strength to lug 100kg+ balloons around anymore. A philosophy, and outlook, my parents totally agreed with.

Knowing just how much my dreams of a Beat hopper were still bubbling under the surface, and with proclamations of how I could finally create a life through the portfolio of work and skills I could develop alongside it ringing in their ears, my parents asked if either Cameron Balloons or Lindstrand Technologies could build a ‘Beat balloon’ which would be lighter than my current hopper – G-CEGG? Cameron’s had now built numerous examples of their new “super lightweight” cloudhopper, all of which were lighter than G-CEGG, so were confident in saying yes. Lindstrand Tech’ had built a prototype envelope, which was as light an any offering from Cameron’s, and while their finished product was still in development, again they felt capable of rising to the challenge.

Production Photographs

Lindstrand Technologies had entered balloon manufacturing after the collapse of Lindstrand Balloons (two totally unrelated company’s) and were run by Lee Hooper. Lee had been a friend for many years – we’d flown the Palletways balloons together – and so, in a straight fight between the two, friendship prevailed, and I placed the order with Lindstrand Tech’. What happened next falls squarely on my shoulders; I cannot criticise Lindstrand Tech’. They were a young company, developing their products to meet demand and Beat was their only request for a cloudhopper. This lack of demand meant finalising the technical details of their balloon hadn’t been a priority. But my anorexic mind needed control, I demanded answers about fabric colours, artwork techniques, even the actual shape of the balloon before I’d pay the invoice. I needed to feel reassured that it would all work out in the end, and sadly, they just didn’t have concrete proof I craved. My heart trusted Lindstrand Tech’ would deliver the balloon I wanted, but without the certainty I needed I was too scared, and too nervous, to commit to the order. Looking for regain that control I spoke to Cameron’s, asking if they could provide that certainty, and when they said yes, I pulled the plug with Lindstrand.

Cancelling the order with Lee tore our friendship apart but it was the right thing to do. Cameron Balloons understood I needed reassurance, however over the top my questions were. They invited me to their factory; where sheets of fabric had been printed with blocks of colour so I could exactly match the printed logo to the base fabrics, they’d calculated each component to predict the final weight so I knew it’d be under my target from the start and they even allowed me to sit with the designers, talking through how the branding would be reproduced to ensure it looked correct when flying.

G-ISOB (a registration chosen to reflect the ‘In Support Of Beat’ branding) was delivered in October 2016, a few days before my birthday. Cameron’s had kept their promise of beating the weight of G-CEGG, building a balloon that was only 33kg in its bag – 13kg lighter, and made even more impressive as the balloon is 25% greater in volume as well! A very wet and muddy winter delayed the launch of the balloon until the start of 2017 and then, a few weeks after I’d finally taken to the skies, flying in support of Beat, the project completely fell apart and the balloon deflated into a state of limbo – having been promised before it was built that it wasn’t in their future plans, Beat announced they were changing their logo!

What the future now holds for G-ISOB I really cannot say. After Beat changed their logo I felt, every time it flew, like I was wearing the wrong kit, that I’d turned up to play with my friends, proud to show off my new jersey, only to be laughed at as I was wearing last years strip. Since June 2017 the balloon has been for sale, but it still remains in my garage, the price getting ever low and lower, without any takers. As I write this, a balloon that was purchased with such enthusiasm and such belief in the power it held to raise awareness has become a constant reminder of the foolishness of my actions and the blind stupidity that can occur when you listen to your heart over your head – and the advice of friends.

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