G-CJXD: Exclusive Ballooning & DatumRPO Cross Channel Flight

Hot air ballooning doesn’t really have a sacred list of places to fly, meets to attend or flights you must make. Some claim you have to experience flying in the snowy mountains or the packed skies of Albuquerque before you can truly extinguish your burner, but I’ve never been driven by a desire to tick every box and fly every flight purely so I can say “I’ve done it all”. I grew up surrounded by the flying of my father and so, the few high-profile flights I long to make are the few high-profile flights he made. I’m not interested in seeing it all or proving I’m the best, I just want to follow in his footsteps and say I shared his experiences.

My strongest memory of the high-profile flying he did was when he flew across the English Channel in 1991. Even though I was only 8 years old at the time I can remember the freezing cold morning and the rough stone walls of Dover Castle, stood with my family while the pilots were being briefed. I can see the balloon taking to the sky, as normally as any other flight. I remember standing on the dock, the balloons just an outbreak of dots, already over the water, as we waited to board the ferry. And I remember sitting in the car, as we returned across France, soaking in the emotions of everyone else, having picked up my Dad after he landed.

So, when Andrew Holly and Exclusive Ballooning, announced they were organising a mass crossing I longed to enter but, annoyingly, couldn’t find anyone else wanting to go. This lack of desire from everyone around me to undertake the flight meant I didn’t enter, leaving me feeling deflated for quite a while. Having finally moved on and forgotten about the flight, I was called by a fellow pilot, and friend, Josh Taylor. He had an entry but felt my balloon, being newer, would give him better duration, and was wondering if he could borrow it? One cheeky request deserves another, and so, I politely told him that I was happy for him to borrow my balloon on the understanding that I came to!

The flight was scheduled for any day in March with a standby system – very similar to the 72hour/24hour system I had used with the Norwich Cathedral Beat tether – being employed when the weather predicted there may be a chance. There is a very limited window of opportunity to make the flight each year due to the weather conditions required. You have to plan for a potential flight time of up to 4-5 hours but cannot risk thermal activity inherent in the summer months increasing the wind surface speed by the time you land in France. March, however, never met these demanding weather requirements and the flight rolled on and on, occasionally moving to ‘Standby’ only to be called off. There were even murmurings that, due to the number of balloons involved (and the varied pilot experience levels as a result), that conditions would never be deemed suitable. This rumoured weakness, sadly, seemed to be true, as the final days of March slipped by without the flight taking off.

Exclusive Ballooning was suggesting holding the flight until October, when the conditions again would be suitable, but before they did, they would have one “last chance saloon” attempt. The long-range forecast was giving one, final chance of getting the flight airborne if we waited 7 days and let it creep into April.

And I swear the weather Gods were smiling because the long-range forecast proved true and the winds blew not far from perfect.

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

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