Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 14th May 2016

With the nightmare, and stupidity, of something as basic as paperwork having kept me from sharing the sky with friends for so long it was obvious, that as Bumble was now good to go, I had been well and truly bitten by the flying bug again. Like an animal let off the leash I just wanted to run and run, excitement over spilling anticipation, the chance to go flying not coming around quickly enough. Watching the weather, however, it became clear that I wouldn’t have to wait long.

Only eight days after it’s maiden flight and I was back on a launch site, rigging the balloon and briefing passengers. Having had to wait so long to get the balloon into the sky I’d built up a long list of promises ‘…of course you can have a flight when the balloons finally flying…’ and now it was time to deliver.

Whilst I will always love the open and expansive solitude of flying in a cloudhopper, your mind free to wander thoughtlessly and detached from the realities of life below, there will always be a greater pull to having someone stand beside you. Whether it’s the first time together, or the hundredth, lighter than air flight creates shared emotions and reactions that combine as the experience flows into a shared memory that is beyond words.

I’d be sharing the sky with Bradley Lewis and Natalie Emmett. Bradley has grown up chasing balloons around Oxford with his friends, plucking up the courage to say hello and offering to help out on launch sites, eventually buying his own balloon and learning to fly. While this would be the first time I’ve flown with Natalie since Bristol 2012 when we took Choc Dips for a flight! The forecast was for a perfect late spring evening, a warming sun and a northerly wind taking us south, the perfect line to fly from The Dog House at Frilford Heath – with a view to landing somewhere around Grove or Wantage.

Getting airborne it became apparent that the forecast winds, while correct in the direction, were actually a lot slower than expected. When flying in the evening, you will quite often find that as the natural heat of the sun slips away, and the world appears to be falling asleep beneath you, that the winds get slower and slower towards dusk – tonight it appeared that it was going to bed early!

While the winds might be dying away, there was, however, enough steerage to keep the flight safe. Looking into the distance and keeping an eye out for potential landing sites you’d be able to pop up and down to pick the winds you’d need to take you to your chosen field; ensuring you didn’t simply get stuck over the open, growing, arable countryside with failing light and already decreased winds.

One of the nice, albeit lazy, things about flying with another licenced pilot is the ability to let them “have a go” and fly the balloon. I’m always conscious about ensuring I do enough launches and landings to remember how to safely get in and out the sky but the bit in the middle? I’m more than happy to let others have control. After all, it gives me a chance to take photos and videos! So, when I asked Bradley if he fancied being the first pilot after me to fly my balloon I didn’t need to invite him twice!

Having flown for around a hour, finding that elusive early season landing site was now the priority and, as mentioned earlier, through a bit of prior observation and planning I’d spotted an area of scrub ground next to a sea of solar panels which had an obvious track running back to the road making retrieving the balloon easy – it looked the perfect place to end the flight.

Taking control back from Bradley, I dropped the balloon low to the surface to ensure that I backed my track and picked up the virtually straight southerly line I needed to head to the scrub. All I’d need to do is keep the balloon low to the ground, hopping the trees and hedges as required and we’d fly right there. The last obstacle to clear were the solar panels themselves. I’ve never flown over such an array of panels before and not only do they make quite a sight from a few feet above, but they also create an echoed report every time you turn the burner on and off – for anyone nearby it must have sounded like a shotgun being repeatedly fired every time I tickled heat into the balloon!

We landed on the scrub, exactly as planned, and a few minutes later the retrieve crew arrived ready to pick us up. We’d flown for just over an hour, travelled a measly 4 miles but it didn’t matter, Bumble now had two flights in its log book and I was growing to love the balloon more and more with every flight.


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

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