Coming To A Sky Near You, For The First Time Since 1995!

One aspect of commercial hot air ballooning is sponsorship, where companies’ will buy a hot air balloon with the envelope artworked to promote a specific brand or product. Balloons provide a perfect and proven advertising medium and companies have used this (and continue to do so) for over 25 years to gain low-cost high-quality exposure. Unfortunately, there are cases where a company will buy a balloon and then a year or two later, completely unrelated to the balloon, close a brand down resulting in an almost new balloon that is perfectly flyable being put into storage, from which, they very rarely reappearing or worse still, destroyed.

Virgin Cola is a prime example of this. In 1995 Richard Branson started his first attempt to fly a hot air balloon non-stop around the world, something which, at that point had never been achieved. Virgin Cola had been launched the previous year and to push the brand in an attempt to win a market share from rivals Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Virgin made the decision to brand the large fuel cylinders as Virgin Cola Cans and purchased a small 21,000 cubic foot cloudhopper, shaped to look like the planned ’round the world balloon.

The Virgin Cola brand failed to gain a sustainable marketplace and Richard Branson lost out in his attempt to be the first to fly non stop around the world to the Breitling Orbiter 3. As a result, the Virgin Cola cloudhopper balloon, which had only been free flown 3 or 4 times was put into storage where it stayed until 2008.

In 2008, the balloon was returned to Chris Sanger-Davies, now Sales and Operations Director at Lindstrand Balloons, who previously had been Chief Pilot of Virgin Airship and Balloon Company (who operated the balloon) and therefore, Chris was now responsible for the balloon. The size of the balloon means that it doesn’t have the ability to lift much weight, something which isn’t helped by its unique shape and large amount of artwork meaning it weighs more than a standard cloudhopper balloon. It’s therefore, not able to fly that often and sadly, Chris was unable to get it back into the sky. So at the start of 2012, I asked whether I could loan it and get it flying again as I am actually light enough to be able to fly it on cool days.

So at the start of May 2012, with the envelope having been inspected, insured and had a number of minor repairs completed the Virgin Cola hot air balloon took to the skies in absolutely perfect conditions for a 45 minute flight from Streatley to Blewbury over the West Berkshire and South Oxfordshire countryside. The first time the balloon has been free flown since November 1995 and only it’s 5th ever flight!

Virgin Cola Hopper Streatley May 2012 Track
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Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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