Flight Report: An Evening With An Ultralight Ultramagic

Tekno 70 - Header

Over the past year or so, an ever increasing voice of change has been gathering force and getting louder and louder within the ballooning world. People are suddenly starting to realise that bigger is not always better and that when it boils down to it, for a type of aviation with essentially is about carrying a set maximum weight into the air, wasting valuable weight on unnecessary luxuries, even to the point of long life fabric, is a foolish thing to do.

It was Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, who famously based everything on the idea of “simplify and add lightness” and it’s a philosophy I fully support and practice. Whether it was once my choice of car, or ongoing love with the lightest and smallest balloons you can buy, I firmly believe that you just have more fun when things are small, simple and weigh next to nothing.

And it’s with this in mind that I am currently reviewing the ballooning kit I have, what I fly and the type of flying I do. Over the 30 years my family have been involved in ballooning we have manage to horde a rather impressive collection of baskets, burners, tanks, fans, envelopes, pretty much everything and anything and all shapes and sizes you can imagine and with a transition away from commercial flying back into private teaching and sociable fun flight, the timing was right to tap this rapidly and excitingly expanding area of the market and see what it has to offer.

Having discussions with all the major manufacturers about lightweight kit, what was available and the associated costs, I was blown away when Richard Penney of Ultramagic Balloons suggested that rather than just talk about lightweight fabric and single burners, I put him to the test and join him in the sky! He had a few days left with a new, super lightweight Tekno 70 balloon, that he’s been flying to promote lightweight ballooning (or the future of ballooning as I see it) and so, his offer wasn’t something to be missed.

Flying from his base just North of Basingstoke, the first thing you notice about the Tekno envelope is just how much though has gone into weight saving. From the shrunken load ring – identical to that used on the hoppers – to the kevlar load tapes, even down to the fabric gore structure and panel construction. If they can save weight without compromising safety then they have, and the results are stunning. A 3 person balloon that weighs less than 60kg.

We took off into almost perfect conditions, a useable 5-6kt surface wind that while never really increasing in speed with height, did provide enough steerage to ensure the flight was fun. Heading in a South-South West direction, we took in the glorious views of the late autumn harvest and the first thing that hits you is just how controllable the balloon is. I will grant you, the fact it’s virtually brand new will have played as bigger role as its svelte figure, but the almost obscene lack of fuel consumption has to be a compliment laid firmly at its construction rather than age.

This was also the first time in approximately 18 months that I’ve joined somebody else in the sky, I have been horrifically anti-social in terms of my predominant flying of cloudhoppers recently and so it was nice to not only have someone to talk to but also prove that I haven’t lost the memory or touch for flying, what are for me larger balloons. Challenged by Richard to steer the balloon to the tennis courts on which his children were having a lesson that evening and I don’t think Tim Henman ever had to stop play due to interruptions of the hot air variety!

The longer the flight went on the more I fell in love with the balloon and with being back in the sky surrounded by a basket and sharing the experience. As we approached an hour’s flying, Richard again challenged me piloting skills with a request to land at Oakley Hall Hotel, a request that once I was happy to oblige landing on the grass right next to the main entrance, and of course our crew were already waiting to pick us up. The perfect end to the perfect flight.

I truly cannot thank Richard enough for the flight, it was great to be back in the air, and with a lot of thought going into not only my future as a personal, but how ballooning fits into it, last night has really relit the passion for sharing the sport I love with the widest audience possible, and most definitely in the lightest kit possible!

Photographs © Richard Penney & Chris Dobson

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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