5WC

G-WATT Test Inflation


16th January 1990 – Ashton Court, Bristol

It’s a sad fact of hot air ballooning that a lot of the time balloon purchased for commercial advertising reasons end up disappearing from the public glare long before their useable life has passed. Purchased to reinforce a campaign or message these balloons, especially the special shapes, end up tucked away in company storage before sadly, being destroyed. Hot air ballooning had gone through a vast boom during the 1990s, with more and more impressive balloons: parachutists, bunny rabbits, flying trucks and even hungry monsters for instance, all taking to the skies. However, sadly foot and mouth struck the UK and advertisers moved away from ballooning as a self imposed grounding of ballooning swept the UK to assist the national farming response to the spread of the disease. This meant that a lot of campaigns refocused and a lot of balloons, as a result, were placed into storage to await their fate. A fate that sadly arrived when the companies operating the balloons withdrew from the industry.

This meant that suddenly, there were a huge number of balloons, with vast amounts of historical sentiment, about to be lost forever and so a group of enthusiast’s and balloonist’s created a ‘Preservation Group’ to re-home the balloons and keep them available for future generations to enjoy. But this posed a problem. Where do you store all these balloons? And so garages, barns and chicken sheds were all procured and new homes, even temporarily were found. And one home the preservation group found freely available to them was our barn. Suddenly, we had light bulbs, parachutists, coffee jars, a Japanese hedgehog and randomly enough a power station cooling tower!

The National Power Cooling Tower, G-WATT, was created in 1990, along with a regular balloon and smaller cloudhopper, by Cameron Balloons, to advertise the national energy supplier. Operated by Air2Air Limited the balloon undertook a huge amount of work throughout the early 1990s, taking it’s maiden flight on 20th January 1990 in Château-d’Oex, Switerland. In fact, the balloon has clocked up over 300 hours of commercial flying and tethering during it’s life, which is a lot for a regular balloon let alone a shape! This is likely explained though, by the fact that the balloon was not made directly of white fabric, but rather silver fabric that has then been painted. This paint, while adding a bit of weight to the balloon, also adds another layer of sealant to the balloon ensuring it remains air tight longer than it otherwise would naturally.

When Air2Air was purchased amalgamated into Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, the Cooling Tower was retired and replaced by a flying pylon called Pete. Put into a storage container on a local airfield, the balloon sat unused, and unchecked for many, many years, and sadly nobody had noticed that the storage container had developed a leak. As a result, when the Preservation Group collected the balloon, they found the container swimming in water and therefore, they actually intended to throw the balloons stored within straight in the bin as they thought they had all rotted away. I offered to inflate the Cooling Tower and gauge what condition it was actually in, on the understanding that the balloon would be passed into my permanent care if it was in any survivable condition.

What we discovered wasn’t a rotten balloon but rather a tired old girl in need of some care, and so as per the agreement, the balloon was passed to me in 2005 on the understanding that the branding be removed, and she has remained in my care ever since.

I keep toying with the idea to look into returning her back to the skies, as part of me thinks she will fly, rather than just tether her from time to time to give her an airing but I am not sure whether it’s the right thing to do… Never say never though!

Tales From The First Flight…

Mike Evans – G-WATT First Flight

On 20th January 1990, the National Power Cooling Tower took to the skies of Château-d’Oex, Switzerland, for the first time ever as part of annual week long balloon festival. Piloting the balloon for the very first time was Bristol based balloonist Mike Evans, and I spoke to him recently about his memories of that first flight.

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