Good Things Come To Those Who Wait: G-CJXD Maiden Flight Report

There is always something about the maiden flight of a brand-new balloon that gets the tingle of butterflies prickling inside. However, much the manufacturers have honed the art of construction, however tested, checked and approved it may be, you cannot help but remember that you are about to take to the skies in a brand-new craft for the first time in its life.

I have been privileged to feel those internal flutterings more than I probably should. I flew Tutti Frutti, Lambert Smith Hampton 3 and G-CEGG on their maiden flights and shared the sky as my father christened Rainbow Blue. But G-CJXD looked like it’d never even get to the launch site!

A paperwork issue left the balloon legally unable to be flown. Misunderstandings, lies and false starts all resulting in the balloon being grounded, stuck with the manufacturer, as frustrations grew, and arguments raged. Eventually, when it felt all hope had been lost and we’d actually put the balloon up for sale having decided to simply cut our losses and move one, the dogged determination of a two people finally got the situation resolved and the correct paperwork issued. One year and 7 days since the balloon was meant to be delivered G-CJXD was finally mine and legally flyable.

Of course, being over a year old, the balloon had to be inspected and passed as airworthy again – with zero hours having never left the manufacturer! – and with the weather in the UK rubbish during the winter, any thoughts of a maiden flight were put on hold. And they seemed to stay that way for far too long, the balloon destined to never fly, as wind and rained battered the UK for month after month. Finally, though, as May 2016 ticked by, a flying slot appeared.

It was a weird sensation towing a trailer onto a launch site again. I remember this slight feeling of almost embarrassment. The issues with the balloon had been quite high profile and so, arriving that afternoon, with the balloon is question, bathed me in an unpleasant spotlight – I really did feel like all eyes were on me and all whispers were about me.

Maiden flights usually attract a lot of people, keen for that initial first glimpse, and this was no exception. The launch site seemed packed. But all we could do is just get on with it; checking, double checking and trying desperately to remember what we’d no doubt forgotten. Thankfully, everything was present and correct and as G-CJXD took to the skies for the first time ever I instantly fell in love. The balloon was amazing. 12 months heart ache, headaches and the never-ending nightmare were wiped away within the first few feet.

Flying north from Warborough Green, I toyed with the idea of christening the balloon with a splash and dash in the fishing lakes just north of Dorchester; my passenger (and fellow pilot) Woody pointing out, however, that it would be a far from popular move as the fish were worth a lot of money – point taken.

Usually, you find “right with height” as your track veers clockwise when you climb, this variation is how you can “steer” a balloon and while it wasn’t a huge change in direction there was enough to be helpful. But the “right” actually arrived as you descended closer to the ground. This meant that a decision had to be made as the stay high or go low debate posed an interesting question: stay high and head further west towards RAF Brize Norton, or go low but head north towards Oxford albeit slower?

Brize Norton, being a very active RAF base, while happy to welcome balloons into their airspace (with the correct procedures and radio communications) would be arriving just as we’d be looking to land adding more complications to finding a safe spot to end our flight. While, Oxford simply removes those spots full stop and at a speed whereby we wouldn’t clear the city! The only real sensible option was to mix and match but options staying high to start with to keep us heading to the west of Oxford so that we could then drop low and head north keeping us away from Brize Norton and skirting up the side of Oxford and hopefully, into the perfect landing site.

The plan worked out perfectly. Dropping low as we passed through the gap between Abingdon and Oxford brought the expected clockwise veer in direction as the altitude dropped away. Our track turning around more and more and giving us a line straight towards the playing fields at Kennington, the perfect place to land, and for the first ever return to earth I managed to land perfectly between the football pictures – the balloon really is a joy to fly. A few minutes after landing our crew arrived in the car park having watched us the whole way – proclaiming the balloon to look stunning in the air, the colour scheme holding the simplistic beauty we all remembered.

With the balloon packed away, and surrounded by friends, we toasted a maiden flight too long in coming. Champagne flowed as we sat under a setting sun dreaming of future ballooning adventures and bumbling around the skies. Only for my father to then throw the bottle and cork away; as I said, something has to go wrong on every maiden flight!


Photographs © Bradley Lewis, Hilary, James & Chris Dobson

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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