Flight Reports: Royal County Of Berkshire Show 2016

Every year the Royal County of Berkshire Show (Newbury Show to the locals) seems to come around quicker and quicker – insert some quip about the passage of time with age here – and each year I seem to arrive on the launch site, crossing my fingers, that the weather will be kind. That we can put on a worthy display for the attending public. Each year, in the days before the show you can guarantee the weather forecast will promise a full weekend of flying. Wall to wall sunshine teasing all four flying slots, only to disappear under a sea of cloud, wind and, more often than not, rain when the weekend finally arrives.

This year was no different. The week leading up to the show proclaimed two days of glorious blue skies and light winds. A high-pressure system apparently pushing towards the UK ready to bring settled conditions, however, by the time Saturday came, and reality dawned, the truth was just another cold, grey weekend, with rain on the way. 

Saturday 18th September ~ Morning

The teased high-pressure did exist but it had slipped South. Sliding below the UK it had managed to quelled the impending autumnal weather that would dampen the spirits on Sunday just long enough to allow the chance of free flight. Conditions, however, would be anything but spectacular.

For numerous reasons the numbers of balloons attending the Show each year has been in steady decline – with the Palletways balloon team commenting on how it is now more of a local flyout than the major balloon meet of its heyday – but even so, the show is still supported locally, and a dozen balloons were being rigged ready to fly.

The forecast was giving a direction that would take us South, towards Newbury and Thatcham. With a large, thick layer of cloud covering the sky, temperatures would be low all morning – the sun failing to break through – and the winds staying light as a result. What they didn’t predict, however, was the cloud cover to start throwing up strange and unpredictable variations in that wind. Balloons would stop dead in the air.  I flew directly at one even though we were at the same altitude, confusing the laws of physics, forcing me to climb to avoid a mid-air bump as it hung stationery and lifeless before me. Another balloon dropped low to the surface and accelerate ahead, undertaking all those above, before seeming to just run out of momentum, watching on bemused as everyone above regained their lead as the traditional speeds returned.

By now we were reaching the edge of Thatcham, a number of balloons having landed safely on Henwick sports field and, I thought, with a bit steerage I could join them. Knowing that my current line wouldn’t take me there – the sports fields were off to my right meaning I needed to veer my track clockwise (traditionally down by climbing higher) – and so, ascended right up to the base of the clouds, hoping to get the sideways kick I needed. Annoyingly, while I did get the change in direction, I also got a large increase in speed, accelerating towards the playing fields at a rate which instantly ruled them out. There was no way I’d be able to get descend to the surface, whilst accounting for the anticlockwise shift in the direction I’d naturally get at the winds backed round to my original heading the lower I got, in time to land. I descended anyway and, as expected, by the time I was nearing the surface I was well beyond the sports fields. Not to matter, there were plenty of other options available.

Professionally, away from ballooning, I have done a lot of internet design work for Tom Edwards (I’ve even interviewed him for this site). Tom lives in Thatcham and it dawned on me I was about to fly straight over his house! Grabbing my camera to take a photo I realised that Tom was, in fact, in his garden, returning the compliment – the ultimate photographing the photographer!

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

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