Category: Hot Air Ballooning

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 19th April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

I’ve written before about how, as the holder of a commercial pilot’s licence, I have to undertake a competency flight test with an examiner if I wish to earn money from flying. Over the last few years, however, my battle with anorexia has meant that I haven’t flown much, and what little flying I have done, has been entirely private and purely for fun. In fact, I haven’t undertaken a paid commercial flying job since I took the Churchill Dog balloon for a walk in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and with anorexia still popping in and out of my life as it chooses, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I was, however, forced into needing a flight test. The reason? I’d moved house!

In the UK, a commercial pilot’s licence can have restrictions and limitations placed upon it, based on the type of flying you wish to do and the size of balloon you wish to fly. I hold an ‘Unrestricted Commercial Licence – Rated for Group A Balloons’ which means that, with the aforementioned flight test, I can fly “fare paying passengers” in a balloon up to 105,000 cubic feet (essentially taking 4 passengers at a time). As I’ve only been flying privately, however, I don’t require the flight test. I can just jump in a balloon and fly. Read more

Flight Report: G-BSEA ~ 17th April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

Good or bad, an old boys club with closed doors or a tight-knit community of like-minded adventurers, hot air ballooning is the preserve of a small minority of people. This minority means that, whether proceed by reputation or rumour, simple acquaintance or long-lasting friendship, everybody seems to know everyone and, more often than not, will happily help each other out.

It may appear, that training to fly, is all about getting in the sky and learning to control the aircraft safely back to the ground. There are, however, some ground-based hoops that also have to be jumped through. Five written exams need to be revised, learnt and passed, while a day must be spent learning the differences between a cow and a sheep, oil-seed rape and winter wheat and how not to upset the very farmers whose land we so often rely on. Read more

G-CJXD: Exclusive Ballooning & DatumRPO Cross Channel Flight

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

Hot air ballooning doesn’t really have a sacred list of places to fly, meets to attend or flights you must make. Some claim you have to experience flying in the snowy mountains or the packed skies of Albuquerque before you can truly extinguish your burner, but I’ve never been driven by a desire to tick every box and fly every flight purely so I can say “I’ve done it all”. I grew up surrounded by the flying of my father and so, the few high-profile flights I long to make are the few high-profile flights he made. I’m not interested in seeing it all or proving I’m the best, I just want to follow in his footsteps and say I shared his experiences.

My strongest memory of the high-profile flying he did was when he flew across the English Channel in 1991. Even though I was only 8 years old at the time I can remember the freezing cold morning and the rough stone walls of Dover Castle, stood with my family while the pilots were being briefed. I can see the balloon taking to the sky, as normally as any other flight. I remember standing on the dock, the balloons just an outbreak of dots, already over the water, as we waited to board the ferry. And I remember sitting in the car, as we returned across France, soaking in the emotions of everyone else, having picked up my Dad after he landed. Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 2nd April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

When my family ran a small ‘rides’ company, offering flights to members of the public in Rainbow Blue – the 4-person balloon that was the first to carry the family colour scheme, we used to say there were two types of passenger. The first would book their flight long before they wished to fly, only to be delayed from taking to the skies for months on end as attempt after attempt was curtailed by wind, rain and rubbish weather. The second would ring up at the last-minute, wishing to step almost straight into the basket, and usually, the weather would oblige. It never seemed fair that the last-minute chancers were somehow always luckier with the weather than those who had waited patiently.

Please don’t think, however, that I’m suggesting either type of passenger has more worth than the other, or that one was in some way nicer. It was just that, noticeably, the last minute “I don’t suppose…” seemed to always get into the air first. I’d even found it when I flew some school friends. Chris Aram had rung up the day before and was flying the next morning. Jo Tucker arranged to fly as a birthday present, weeks in advance, and ended up waiting months to fly, long after blowing out the candles. Read more

Launching The Beat Balloon At Norwich Cathedral

Posted on by 5WC in Beat, Hot Air Ballooning

The ‘Beat balloon’ was delivered by Cameron Balloons in October 2016 and the first consideration was how Beat’s staff could get to see it. Photographs are all well and good, but until you see a balloon up close (and especially a cloudhopper) you just can’t quite grasp the true size, scale and beauty of it. The problem though is that Beat are based in Norwich, and I’m not. As an area, East Anglia isn’t heavily flown – there aren’t any existing balloon meets organised there – which made this tricky. To allow the staff to the see the balloon, I’d have to arrange an “event” myself and make a special trip.

But this raised the question of how? The simplest option would be to arrange to fly alongside one of the few pilots operating in the area, but this would be tricky for the staff – you can hardly ask an entire office to decamp to a field on the outskirts of Norwich purely to watch me take off! A better option would be to arrange a tether – where the balloon would remain tied to the ground – within the city itself. This would solve the problem of the staff coming to see the balloon, as well as, counter the ‘Harry Houdini’ disappearing act that would happen after take-off as I floated off away into the distance.

Now it was time to solve the issue of where? Read more

Flight Reports: Royal County Of Berkshire Show 2016

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

Every year the Royal County of Berkshire Show (Newbury Show to the locals) seems to come around quicker and quicker – insert some quip about the passage of time with age here – and each year I seem to arrive on the launch site, crossing my fingers, that the weather will be kind. That we can put on a worthy display for the attending public. Each year, in the days before the show you can guarantee the weather forecast will promise a full weekend of flying. Wall to wall sunshine teasing all four flying slots, only to disappear under a sea of cloud, wind and, more often than not, rain when the weekend finally arrives.

This year was no different. The week leading up to the show proclaimed two days of glorious blue skies and light winds. A high-pressure system apparently pushing towards the UK ready to bring settled conditions, however, by the time Saturday came, and reality dawned, the truth was just another cold, grey weekend, with rain on the way.  Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 31st July 2016

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

I try not to promise people balloon flights. It’s not because I’m antisocial and don’t wish to fly them but simply because I don’t want to let anybody down. I only fly a dozen or so times a year privately, and whilst I’m happy, and really enjoy, sharing the experience with friends I just hate the knowledge that a promise now may take months, or even years, to come to fruition. Friendships can be solely tested when your word appears to be nothing but empty.

So, I was acutely aware that it was now getting well over 18 months since a very long-standing friend had swapped me a flight in his plane for a flight in my balloon. And while he was being completely understanding as to the reasons why I hadn’t kept my side of the bargain, the weight of knowing he’d been waiting that long was starting to sit far too heavily on my shoulders. Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 24th July 2016

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

A period of ill health, the issues that delayed Bumble from taking to the skies for over a year and qualifying as a cricket umpire reigniting his passion for leather on willow, has seen my father hardly fly over the last couple of years. He’s been happily coming out to crew for me when I’ve been flying cloudhoppers but getting into the air himself – whether as pilot or passenger – has been severely limited. In fact, until he’d flown with me the previous day, it had been over two-and-a-half years since he’d last been in the sky!

It was obvious the previous morning had unlocked all the memories and emotions that draw him to flying. As with withdrawal from anything, once the initial pangs and cravings pass, the natural pull becomes so dulled that eventually the original source is forgotten; and I think that had happened with my Father. Life had moved on, the gap caused by a lack of flying naturally filled with other things. But just like addiction, all it takes is that first sip, that first inhale, and the flood gates reopen. Flying had flooded through him again the previous morning and when I offered him the chance to come flying again he didn’t need to be asked twice! Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 23rd July 2016

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

While many people have many theories, and the question as to exactly why will never be truly be answered, the undeniable fact is that hot air ballooning is in decline. Increased cost, bureaucracy and changes in agricultural practices have all certainly played a part but the simple, most obvious result, of whatever driving factor is behind it, is that you just don’t see many balloons in the sky anymore.

Whether morning or evening, when it’s perfectly flyable you can turn up to a launch site and, instead of seeing half a dozen or more fellow aviators rigging their craft, preparing to fly, be met by empty solitude. Too often a wonderful flying slot only attracts one or two others out to play. So, imagine my surprise, when I arrived at The Dog House at Frilford Heath to find not one, two or even three other balloons but 6 getting ready to fly. Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 4th June 2016

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

Having returned Woody Woodward to the ground on our previous flight with slightly more than a gentle bump it seemed only fair to apologise to him with another flight. This time, however, not only was the chocolate box appearance of cloudless skies and a warming summer sun replaced by a cold, grey, almost depressive monotony, but Woody declared he wanted to land the balloon himself!

Previously, I’d explained how local knowledge can play a vital role in decision making when flying and tonight proved how, sometimes, all the local knowledge in the world can count for nothing. If the winds aren’t there, there is nothing you can do. Read more

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