Taking A Dog For A Walk In Bristol

Each year in August, Bristol plays host to the UK’s largest hot air balloon meet. With over 100 balloons and 500,000 spectators, the largest free outdoor event in the UK, from a ballooning point of view it’s simply 4 long days entertaining clients and the public alike over the skies of Bristol.

For the past 3 years I’ve been attending Bristol, as the pilot of the Churchill Dog special shape hot air balloon on behalf of Airship & Balloon Company who operate him commercially for Churchill Insurance. While he is currently only tethering (where he is tied to vehicles and doesn’t actually take off) to gain as much media and brand exposure as possible, he is still as spectacular as every, and as hard to pack away!

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 01


The event starts for me on Thursday when I arrive on site ready for the special shapes “rodeo”; an evening ascent of purely special shape balloons for the public’s enjoyment and media spectacle it creates. This year was slightly different though, as to start off with we had to renew the Certificate of Airworthiness inspection (the equivilant of a cars MOT) on the balloon.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 02

Once the inspection was done we were ready to go. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t playing ball and with strong winds and a threat of rain later in the day, so, we rather annoyingly retired back to the hotel to wait out the next morning and a promise of better weather!


Friday is the traditional press day at Bristol, and so we are usually required to tether for a long time to ensure maximum press coverage. BBC One and ITV flagship Breakfast programmes both usually broadcast from site and local/region programmes will also cover the event. As a result, I will try and have Churchill inflated as one of the first balloons and not deflate him untill long into the morning.

This has it’s advantages that I get to watch the amazing sight of 100 taking off around me, although that does bring with it the slight dissapointment of not joining them in the sky.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 03
Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 04

BBC Weather

There is one advantage though, Airship & Balloon Company  are a BBC approved aerial filming supplier, which means they can undertake work with BBC presenters and cameramen on board their balloons etc. This meant that when the BBC needed a balloon to do Carol Kirkwood’s final weather broadcast from the site for BBC Breakfast they turned to Churchill!

I did eventually get Carol into the sky, well 10 feet into it. But it brought to a close a perfect morning, and sent my phone into an overdrive of text messages and voicemails going “was that you I just saw?!”. After that, all that was left to do was to deflate and pack away Churchill before grabbing a well earned breakfast!

With media being the name of the game, breakfast was quickly eaten before it back onto the launchsite to reinflate Churchill for a lunchtime media slot of radio interviews and magazine photoshoots. I’m not 100% how well the photoshoot about suncream will look on a totally overcast day, but the message about protecting yourself from skin cancer is massively important none the less.

After that came the second mass launch of the day and another chance to watch lots of balloons take flight. I still get excited watching balloons take off. Even if I’m not joining them, there is just something about the sound of the burners and the noise of the fans, seeing it rise from a bag of fabric into a majestic flying machine that puts a smile on my face.

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 05
Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 06
Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 07
Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 08
Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2011 09


Unfortunately the weather was against us on Saturday morning and we awoke to a rather wet and soggy launchsite. The rain was due to clear through, but not in time to allow for any flying or tethering that morning, and so it was back to bed, in the strange scenario where you’re glad of the extra sleep but would prefer to be ballooning.

Saturday afternoon was dry but now rather windy. It was Churchill’s final launch of the weekend, with the balloon not attending the Sunday, and after an aborted inflation due to the strength of the wind, a decision was made to call it time on a very successfull weekend.

I just need to add a massive thankyou to Team Churchill – James, Ian and Kevin. As a pilot we take all the credit and glory, but without the help of the ground crew we’d never get the balloons inflated. Especially not ones shaped like Churchill!

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

Comments are closed.