TETHER: G-WATT ~ 18th June 2017

Note: This video has no sound

I love strapping GoPro action cameras to my balloons when I fly. I love the post-flight challenge of creating timelapse videos that encapsulate the spirit and emotion of the flights I’ve flown, as well as, allowing all those involved to relive the memories and experiences. One problem though is that, no matter how many GoPro cameras I buy, how many strange locations of the balloon I discover to attach and hang cameras from, I’m always shooting aerial footage away from the balloon. I’m looking out rather than looking in.

My friend Grant, however, owns a DJI Mavic Pro drone and he’d come along to shoot some footage of the Beat balloon (G-ISOB) on a flight from Streatley Recreation Ground, allowing me to finally get that allusive “looking in” flying shot. I’d been so impressed by the footage he’s got of Beat inflating and launching initially into the sky that I decided to buy my own drone – forgetting that you can either fly a drone, or a balloon, but not both.This meant that opportunities to use it have been extremely limited. I had actually spent more time filming my friends play golf, than balloons flying free and if I’m honest, my knowledge of how it worked was extremely limited and poor. What I needed was an excuse to get it out and play. Bradley Lewis had been talking to me regularly about getting the National Power Cooling Tower special shape balloon out of storage and inflated, and it seemed that it might be the perfect way to kill to birds with one stone – air the balloon and learn how the drones many functions worked.

I will always be attached to the Cooling Tower. I spent 18 months, unpicking stitches and rubbing off glue to remove the previous branding. You never quite realise just how big a hot air balloon really is until you start unpicking it and it will always have a place in my heart as a result, even if it’s one of the most boring shapes you’ll ever see! I must shamefully admit though, that with all the issues that have gone on in my life, the lack of free-flying, let alone any other ballooning, I had let the balloon be neglected. It’d sat in storage for over 7 years without even a thought towards inflating it and as we dragged the balloon out on Streatley Recreation Ground it very quickly became apparent that the balloon hadn’t enjoyed its prolonged stay in it’s bag.

The Cooling Tower was constructed using specially painted silver fabric – costing phenomenal pounds per litre as the paint was designed to not only reflect sunlight so it would shine bright white during the day, but if inflated at night, would allow radiant light from the burner to seep though creating the traditional night glow illumination that balloons are renown for. Unfortunately, this paint is extremely fragile – rubbing and flaking off easily – and the balloon was often returned to Cameron Balloons at the start of its life for “touch ups”. The prolonged hibernation had resulted in the balloon rubbing against itself causing large quantities of the paint to rub off leaving the balloon looking very sorry as it started to fill with air.

Soon though, the internal doughnut tube which holds the base of the balloon in shape when inflated filled with air and as it rises up unnaturally infront of the basket all my affection for the balloon flooded back. Inflating the balloon revealed the full extent of its storage woes, although, once fully upright, the balloon was as eager as ever to leave the ground. I’m still convinced that no matter how “ugly” it may no look, and no matter how many hours the balloon may have (300+) it would still safely free fly if asked.

Leaving Bradley in control of the balloon I went off to experiment with the drone, realising quickly that I still had a lot to learn regarding how exactly every setting and function worked and combined to shoot the amazing tracking and rotation shots drones are becoming synonymous for. And that battery packs don’t last as long as you wished they did!

We’d had the balloon inflated for around an hour when it started to get thermic, with the morning sun heating the air and creating gusts of wind that made it sensible to deflate the balloon. There is a knack to deflating the Cooling Tower, unlike a traditional balloon where you simply squeeze the air from the bottom of the balloon up and out the vent and the top once it’s lying on its side, when you deflate the Cooling Tower, the doughnut, so humourous on inflation, traps the air on deflation and with only a handful of tiny velcro vents to squeeze the air out of available, it’s actually easier to squeeze the air from it back into the main body and then attack the balloon as if it was a traditional balloon. This means, however, that whilst the quickest way to get it back into it’s bag, it does require a lot of heavy work, as you’re pushing air out of the widest part of the balloon – twice!

Thankfully, with enough people, we managed to get it deflated, not in record time, but certainly a respectable second best. Unfortunately, however, it had become obvious the fabric paint, even with an airing, was now beyond repair, touching the balloon would leave you covered in silver paint and as I strapped the balloon up to ease the final packing, I seemed to resemble Casper the Ghost than a normal human being. However much I love the balloon, the state it is now in, and the state it left me in, meant it was never likely to be inflated by me again – getting covered just wasn’t fun – and so I made the decision to pass her on to a new home and so, no long later, G-WATT made the trip to Belgium to be reunited with the rest of the National Power fleet in a private balloon collection held out there.

Posted on by 5WC in Cooling Tower, Hot Air Ballooning Updated On: 29th September 2019

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