Flight Report: G-CEGG ~ 1st August 2015 AM

It feels like I’m getting rather good at this precision flying. Once again I’ve manage to mirror a flight I’ve previously made – taking off and landing in exactly the same places – because, almost a year to the day that I flew from Hungerford to Chieveley, I’ve done it again. However, this time I even manage to predict it before I took off.

Conditions weren’t as good as the previous morning. Rather than light winds, blue skies and a warming sun it was a little grey, misty and with a marked surface inversion meaning any wind on the surface had yet to appear but also, any sign of summer temperatures, I took to the skies trying to convince myself that it really was August and not October.

While the surface inversion (where a layer of cold air becomes trapped under a layer of warm air) meant that the wind speed on the surface was virtually still it did thankfully have some direction to it and climbing up it didn’t take long to reach the top, around 500ft, breaking through without notice into the natural air above. I had expected a change in direction. To veer and head more Easter but there wasn’t really any steerage, I was heading on a pretty constant North Easterly track no matter how high I climbed. The only real change from the surface were the obvious ones: temperature and speed.

This gave me food for thought because while the increase in temperature was much welcomed, the increase in speed wasn’t. It was only around 10 knots at 1,500ft – a useable pace that means you feel like you’re making progress but also capable of flying on and over when needed – but from my initial flight planning, if I wanted to try and land around the Showground I would reach the area just a bit quicker than I like, and thus curtail my flying time. Forty minutes instead of an hour.

The lack of real steerage meant I could solve this by accepting I’d be cold  but descending back into the inversion. To fly low, keeping the speed down and thus, taking longer to reach my target. However, even if I wanted to, at the start this wasn’t an option. There are a lot of game birds and woodlands to the east of the launch site in Hungerford and obviously, I don’t want to upset or affect them so I had no choice but to stay high until I was clear of their areas.

Staying high meant that I could get a good look around at sights fast becoming familiar. The wood that too me looks like a duck, Welford Park (although there was no sign of Baking in the garden) and the M4 snaking along parallel to my path. I was concerned about my speed though and as soon as I could I drop low, scrubbing my speed and allowing me to literally walk through the canopy of a wood. There is an old, almost extinct, tradition in ballooning of plucking the leaf from a tree as you fly past and while I could have easily done so I decided against it, I did thankfully, remember to lift up my map instead so it didn’t get tangled in the branches!

The trick of coming low had worked and my in flight calculations were suggesting that I’d reach the Showground area around the hour’s flight time mark. Perfect. Due to the haze and natural topography, I struggled to get an exact bearing on the Showground and instead flew “percentages” knowing that from my current position I would have options of a private school if I veered to the right, the Showground if I backed to the left and even the Motorway service station car park if I was really desperate!

As I was closing in on the area I actually thought I’d miss the showground. I thought that by having to climb to avoid not only some horses directly on my track, nut also, ensure I was the legal height for crossing the motorway, I’d lose the left I needed. I also expected the natural flow of the traffic, like the flow of a river, to suck my along it’s length. None of that happened though. As I climbed up my track continued to edge ever so more left and it actually felt like I was being pulled into the Showground. That I was caught on a line and being reeled in. Staying high to ensure I was fully clear of the motorway junction and that I wouldn’t risk drifting back towards it as I came in to land I suddenly noticed my crew pull up in the retrieve car and walk to meet me (the crew follow your flight in the car to retrieve you after landing – essentially orienteering by car to a moving target.) There is as much skill and fun in “chasing” as flying because it’s all about trying to be there when the balloon lands. So to be on site, walking across the field to before the balloon has even touched down is very impressive indeed.

It really was a lovely, albeit cold flight that couldn’t have gone any easier. It was the second flight of my “Mini Metz” and while the weather turned afterwards curtailing any further chance of getting in the air I didn’t mind. It was the perfect flight that reminded me why I love flying as much as I do.

Retrieve Driver Pictures

Photographs © Keith Harbor

Flight Track

G-CEGG (01-08-15 AM) - Flight Track
Posted on by 5WC in G-CEGG, Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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