From Rugby To Golf : G-CEGG Flight Report

You may have noticed that it’s been a while since my last flight report. And in fact, the last aircraft I flew was actually of the fixed wing variety. The reason for this is very simple. Read my website and it’ll become clear that I am fighting, and winning, a battle against anorexia. An illness that demands control, and when ballooning is essentially all about giving up that control, things don’t lie easily. Unfortunately anorexia also has an ally in keeping me out the sky – PTSD – the result of a number of flights combining where landing sites and angry farmers left me feeling so panicked and anxious about being in the sky, I would end up shaking and petrified at the prospect of what lay ahead before I’d even got near a launch site.

And so I’ve shied away from it. Routine times for breakfast or dinner, acceptable excuses to miss flying slots and stay away from the sky. I’d sit there and munch through corn flakes or slicing up steak while the sun shone, the trees lay still and my heart and head went to war with each other. I was desperate to fly but distressed by the thought. So I stayed on the ground.

But things change, minds rewritten and desire can overcome fear. So with the weather looking good and the chance to fly from a new launch site over a town I know intimately I decided to set the alarm clock for 4.15am and go for a flight. Even if I did come very, very close to cancelling it the night before. 4.15am really?

The forecast was to be light and variable on the surface, with a decent jog up stairs heading towards the north east. So I took off expecting to fly over Newbury, to the right of Vodafone’s HQ and potentially land around Cold Ash and the Met balloon we’d let off before taking off seemed to confirm this. Then the first balloon into the sky went West, climbed a bit higher, and stayed going West. No worries, West isn’t a bad line either and the met balloon had tracked North with height. So I took off. And went South!

Deciding that going South wasn’t part of the plan I climbed, and climbed, and climbed. As I went the wind did veer and in fact I performed this stunning clockwise arc around an apparently stationary balloon as I climbed away from them. The more I climbed the more the wind veered and the more my track went from heading West, to North, to East and then round even more.

At 4,500ft above Newbury I was actually heading towards the South East and with the other balloon having continued to stay low and continued to head West a plan instantly hatched in my mind. Box the Rugby Club. A box is essentially flying a square: the lower wind 180° that of a upper wind allowing you to fly around and land back where you took off. Sadly it became obviously fairly quickly that while I was looping round, the arc wasn’t tight enough to get me back into the Rugby Club easily, and it’s very cold at 4,500ft when you’re just sitting on a chair!

I decided, therefore, to drop back down to a more sensible flying height – 1,500-2,000ft and see where I went. I’d been flying for about 25 minutes and the idea was, knowing the rough speeds I’d transitioned through as I climbed, descending back down would slow me and allow me to over fly Newbury, reaching the Northern edge after 40 minutes or so. This would then be the perfect time and place to start looking for a landing site. With plenty of golf courses and playing fields covering virtually all possible angles depending on where I went, it made sense, kept the nerves at bay and seemed the perfect plan.

As I descended I expected my heading to back towards more of a Northerly direction, which it did, but then it simply carried on going. In numbers: I went from a heading of approximately 100 degrees at 4500ft to 300 degrees at 1,500ft. Realising that this extra left would push me closer to Donnington than originally thought, I re-examined my thoughts for potential landing sites, two appearing quickly: Donnington recreation ground (where Tutti Frutti had landed on a flight many, many years ago) or Donnington Grove Golf Club (home of the 2016 Icicle Balloon Meet).

As soon as I was clear of Newbury I dropped it to tree top height to get an idea of the surface wind, and picked up the straight westerly I’d seen at take off. Realising I had too much left too early and would, in fact, miss the golf course let alone the recreation ground if I stayed at this height, I quickly climbed back into my previous North Westerly flow, deciding to drift over the course before descending quickly, ready to turn left once again and land on the course itself.

I came down, turned left, and then I sped up! Walking pace at 500ft became a quick jog at 400ft and a few moments bewilderment arrived as I contemplated missing the perfect landing site by overflying it before I was low enough to land. My only option was to drop it low, quickly, and see what happened. Slightly fearful that the A34 bypass runs at the Western edge of the course and I’d have to climb rapidly if I didn’t slow down to make my landing site.

To say the wind was all over the shop is an understatement for this flight though, because, as 400ft became 150ft the most bizarre thing happened. I performed a wonderful hairpin pirouette, slowed to nothing more than a crawl and started going backwards into the golf course. Passing straight over the main house, I simply dropped it down, landing next to the main drive, borrowing a wooden marker post as a hand anchor keep me on the soft grass verge rather than the hard unforgiving tarmac. In the end I flown for 45 minutes but kept the balloon inflated for a few more while I waited for my retrieve to arrive. Entertaining a few of the hotel guests who came out with coffee and croissants and ate breakfast to the unusual sight of a man in his mad flying machine.

Didn’t offer me any though!

G-CEGG - 5th July 2015 - Fligh Track

Photographs © Chris Dobson & Keith Harbor

Posted on by 5WC in G-CEGG, Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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