Flight Report: G-DIPZ ~ Here Comes The Rain Again

While it would be nice to fly under crystal blue skies on a warm sunny evening as the chocolate box countryside basks in the last throws of a beautiful days memory, but we can’t always get what we want, or to be precise, we’d hardly ever fly if it did. Occasionally you have to grab a chance to get a flight in between patches of weather and accept, that even though it’s going to be cold, grey and overcast, a flight is a flight and an opportunity to take to the skies once again.

Now sadly, there is no video this time, purely because I’m not used to these early mornings at the moment and my brain wasn’t in “videographer” mode, so attaching the camera rig to the balloon while it’s inflating and leaving it lying on wet grass, results not unsurprisingly, in a wet camera case and therefore, footage that isn’t sharp and clear but rather mottled and hazy. Oh well, lesson learnt.

As I said originally, this was very much a case of seizing a gap in the weather to get a flight in. There had been heavy rain the day before, so heavy and stormy in places that it had in fact shut Glastonbury music festival down for a brief period and another band of rain pushing in late morning, but in between was a brief window of opportunity. There was a risk of some mist around due to the amount of moisture in the air but the slot was there if you got your timings right.

Based on forecast direction, it was back to Folly Dog Leg near Hungerford and upon arrival at 6.15am the risk of mist was very apparent, while you could see across the field, the surrounding area was particularly white. I decided to rig the balloon and wait and see if it cleared. On the drive over it was apparent that as the sun broke through it was burning the mist off quickly and so, with everything ready, it was simply a case of waiting to see if the sun could work its magic. The cloud base was fine, but to fly legally in the UK below 3,000ft you need to be able to see for 3KM and right now I couldn’t. There is nothing worse than waiting around for the mist to clear, wondering if it ever will, but as predicted, as soon as the sun broke through the cloud things changed in an instant, and legal flight conditions appeared.

Now, one of the nice things about cloudhoppers, and especially one as small as the Choc Dips hopper – G-DIPZ – is the speed with which you can go from flat fabric laid out on the grass to inflated balloon ready for launch. And on this morning, it proved very useful indeed. We’d been waiting for the mist to clear for 55 minutes. 5 minutes after it did I was airborne.

Taking off, the first thing I found was that the forecast, while correct on speed, was completely wrong on direction. I was expecting a heading of around 60-80° giving me a line from Folly Dog Leg back toward the Newbury Showground, exactly the same flight as the last time G-DIPZ flew. Instead, as I took off I went west. I had a heading around 300° and climbing up to 2000ft I simply veered only a few degrees past north, spending most of the flight heading 350-020° backing closer to the west the nearer the surface I came.

This meant that my planned route to Chieveley was now looking more like the gallops around Lambourn. A very pleasant and beautiful part of the world, but also a part of the world renowned for horse racing, something I was keen to avoid. So with a lot of climbing and descending I managed to steer the balloon enough to the east to avoid getting too close to my horse riding friends, instead ending up on a lovely bridleway track at South Fawley, much to the amusement of a chap out riding his bike while walking his dogs and much to the amazement of the landowner, who was told a balloon hand landed and came out expecting to find lots of happy champagne swigging passengers and instead found me, on my own, and a strange metal contraption!

This really was a case of simply seizing the moment and getting a flight, and while they may have got the direction wrong, the forecasters did get the later morning’s rain correct with the first spits of water hitting the windscreen as we drove home. I’ll have more picturesque flights, I’ll have warmer flights, but for simply grabbing the chance to take to the skies again, I’ll remember this flight for a long, long time.

G-DIPZ - Flight Track - 28th June 14 AM

Photographs © James Dobson & Awet Gopro

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

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