5WC

G-CJXD Test Inflation

20th November 2014 – Igualada, Spain

You can debate the reasons why until you are blue in the face but there is no getting away from the fact that balloons are getting heavier; and for craft which rely on lightness to underpin their very nature, this creates a problem. Take, for example, the Lambert Smith Hampton balloons; three envelopes – all the same size and basic shape – yet burdened by an undeniable progression of weight with age. The original balloon (built in 1988) tipped the scales at 90kg; move forward 8 years and in 1996 the second balloon arrived a fraction heavier at 94kg (although sporting different artwork and a “long life” top); advance 10 years further and the third balloon entered the world at a whopping 113kg!

This natural inclination towards ever heavier equipment creates two issues. Firstly, and put simply, flying is about ‘maximum take-off mass’. However much describing passengers as nothing more than a component of the total mass of the aircraft may seem a little rudimental, it is the ultimate truth. The more weight you give over to equipment the less weight can be carried as people. While secondly, time is a constant. We’re all getting older and sadly, as age catches up with us, bones start to ache and lifting ever heavier equipment just isn’t fun.

Anorexia had caused me both a lack of flying and a lack of strength, so my plans to use the third Lambert Smith Hampton balloon for a small public rides company had fallen through – resulting in us selling the balloon on; after all, why would we fly the 113kg 3-person balloon, when the 82kg 2-person balloon (Tutti Frutti) was just as good – and lighter? However, after a couple of years, the limitation of only being able to carry 1 passenger at a time was starting to tell and with ballooning starting to reverse the trend and manufacturers starting to push the idea of lighter equipment a decision was made to investigate whether it would be possible to buy a bigger but lighter balloon?

Discussions took place with the major manufacturers – we had one simple specification: it needed to be a 77,000cu ft balloon that weighed less than 77kg. Cameron Balloons said they could do it but were tentatively moving into “lightweight ballooning” only offering a premium price beset with limitations which sadly limited their appeal. Lindstrand Balloons, at the time my natural home, whilst the cheapest option were evasive and noncommittal. They couldn’t promise to meet the weight target but would do their best, we couldn’t pick the colour scheme it was whatever was available (a visual was produced and discounted) and ultimately, talked themselves out of the deal because for the first time ever I lacked the confidence to believe they could deliver. Ultramagic, however, wanted the business. Richard Penney, their UK dealer, invited me flying in their lightweight demonstrator balloon twice to show me the ‘fit and finish’ of the kit on offer. He spent hours answering every question I had and said they’d meet the specification (and backed this up with weighed examples of existing built balloons).

The other huge tick in the Ultramagic box was the shape of the balloon. They offered a 12-gore balloon. The same bulbous design as Tutti Frutti and Rainbow Blue. What constitutes the “true” balloon shape is another debate for another day, but for me, whether 8, 12 or 16 gores, a true balloon should always have that bulbous design. Also, what we’d come to refer to as the family colour scheme – the navy blue, royal blue and light blue spiral – could be revived. So, the order was placed; the challenge set.

G-CJXD arrived at the end of 2014, weighing only 74kg; three kilos below the challenge set and a scary 39kg lighter than Lambert Smith Hampton 3 – or to put it another way the weight of a small child! When we placed the order we knew we were likely to be buying our last balloon as a family, my father having virtually retired from flying and my airborne adventures diminishing as life moves in new directions and so the registration was chosen to reflect this – C for Chris, J for James and XD for Rainbow Blue the balloon that gave us the colour scheme.

Sadly, once again anorexia marched into my life and delayed the maiden flight for over a year – in fact the first annual inspection of the balloon took place before the balloon had ever flown (imagine getting a car MOT’d before it’d ever driven on a road!) – but when my life got back on track and the weather was right G-CJXD took to the skies of South Oxfordshire and delivered everything Ultramagic said it would and more. It was a joy to fly, to share with friends, to Bumble around the sky in. And that’s why it’s called Bumble: because it’s my balloon to simply bumble about in with my mates!

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