Flight Report: G-ISOB ~ 25th May 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Beat, Hot Air Ballooning

Less than 12 hours after the maiden flight of the Beat hopper, with the weather again perfect for flying, and still buzzing from the night before, it was back to a launch site for another flight. This time it would be a more private flight, the only balloon launching into the air, although this time I was being filmed! My friend Grant, who I’d swapped a flight in a plane for a flight in a balloon previously, owns a drone and whilst I’m becoming more and more adept at hanging, strapping and attaching action cameras from balloons to record the flight they always give you a ‘pilots eye’ as it were. You never get to see the balloon from the third-person perspective.

Grant was looking for interesting things to record with his drone, and living locally, it seemed the perfect opportunity to get together and record some external shots of the balloon during the preparation and initial take-off/flight phases. It’s strange how, when you start preparing and inflating a balloon you become focused on the job at hand and actually shut out the world around you. You can be in the main arena with a crowd of 100,000 people watching at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, or under the constant surveillance of a drone and never realise it. I completely forgot that Grant and his drone were buzzing around the launch site with us and simply got on with the job of inflating the balloon. Read more

Flight Report: G-ISOB ~ 24th May 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Beat, Hot Air Ballooning

After the Beat Hopper – G-ISOB – was launched at Norwich Cathedral I have been trying to come up with somewhere special to take off from for its maiden flight. It seemed somehow wrong to simply fly from my local recreation ground, or the field behind the pub, that I use every time I fly locally. Virgin Balloon Flights fly locally from Henley and their pilot, Mark Shemilt, now owns and flies my old cloudhopper – G-CEGG. I also knew that a couple of supporters of Beat lived in Henley and so, a couple of emails later, I’d arranged to fly alongside Mark, from a launch site right next to the river, my old and new hoppers together. It seemed like a fitting start to life for Beat.

As ballooning is a social sport, even if cloudhoppers aren’t, we’d invited another local hopper pilot to join us. The launch site – The Upper Thames Rowing Club – is literally just upriver from the Leander Club, site of the Royal Regatta, and on the grass next to the banks themselves we set about inflating the balloons. As this was the first time Beat would ever free fly, I took a little bit longer than usual on the preflight checks to make sure everything was correct and present – to the slight annoyance of the others who ended up waiting for me to be ready – but after a handful of photographs the three balloons were ready for a syncronised take-off. Although, annoyingly, my crew gave me a gentle push as I took to the skies and I launched swinging happily back and forth like a child on a swing! Read more

FLIGHT REPORT: G-CJXD ~ 23rd April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

Hot air balloonists usually arrange the use of a handful of local launch sites from which they can fly, allowing them to plan flights that avoid any problematic areas – like controlled airspace or dense pastoral farming – to enjoy the relaxed time in the air. I have 3 regular launch sites – in Streatley, Hungerford and Abingdon – which I use, but from time to time, it can be nice to head somewhere different, launch from a new location and just freshen things up.

The local ballooning region – the 3-4-40 – arranged a flyout from the Rye Farm Water Meadows in Abingdon to coincide with St. George’s Day. Granted,  as new locations go, it wasn’t very far away from The Dog House, which is my usually Abingdon based starting point, but with the weather promising blue skies and light winds, this promised the opportunity to fly alongside more balloons than normal and, starting that little bit further East than normal, whilst still flying over land I knew well, somehow change the perspective on it. Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 21st April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

Hot air balloons work by trapping a bubble of hot air inside the fabric envelope. In very simple terms, the larger the bubble the more weight you can then carry; whilst the hotter the bubble (compared to the external air temperature) the faster the balloon will climb. This means that once you’ve sewn the balloon envelope together, and thus fixed the ultimate size of the bubble you can trap, the amount of weight you can carry becomes essentially fixed as well.

Balloons, for a number of reasons, have been getting ever heavier. The first Lambert Smith Hampton balloon – G-LSHI – weighed 90kg, whilst 18 years later, the third balloon – G-CDYL – weighed 113kg, an increase of 23kg even though the balloons were technically the same size! This has lead, over the last few years, to a real drive to decrease the weight of the kit and whilst developments in the area of tradition baskets and burners still lags behind, huge strides have been made regarding envelopes, and especially the base weight of the fabrics used. Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 19th April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

I’ve written before about how, as the holder of a commercial pilot’s licence, I have to undertake a competency flight test with an examiner if I wish to earn money from flying. Over the last few years, however, my battle with anorexia has meant that I haven’t flown much, and what little flying I have done, has been entirely private and purely for fun. In fact, I haven’t undertaken a paid commercial flying job since I took the Churchill Dog balloon for a walk in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and with anorexia still popping in and out of my life as it chooses, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I was, however, forced into needing a flight test. The reason? I’d moved house!

In the UK, a commercial pilot’s licence can have restrictions and limitations placed upon it, based on the type of flying you wish to do and the size of balloon you wish to fly. I hold an ‘Unrestricted Commercial Licence – Rated for Group A Balloons’ which means that, with the aforementioned flight test, I can fly “fare paying passengers” in a balloon up to 105,000 cubic feet (essentially taking 4 passengers at a time). As I’ve only been flying privately, however, I don’t require the flight test. I can just jump in a balloon and fly. Read more

Flight Report: G-BSEA ~ 17th April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

Good or bad, an old boys club with closed doors or a tight-knit community of like-minded adventurers, hot air ballooning is the preserve of a small minority of people. This minority means that, whether proceed by reputation or rumour, simple acquaintance or long-lasting friendship, everybody seems to know everyone and, more often than not, will happily help each other out.

It may appear, that training to fly, is all about getting in the sky and learning to control the aircraft safely back to the ground. There are, however, some ground-based hoops that also have to be jumped through. Five written exams need to be revised, learnt and passed, while a day must be spent learning the differences between a cow and a sheep, oil-seed rape and winter wheat and how not to upset the very farmers whose land we so often rely on. Read more

G-CJXD: Exclusive Ballooning & DatumRPO Cross Channel Flight

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

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. Read more

Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 2nd April 2017

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

When my family ran a small ‘rides’ company, offering flights to members of the public in Rainbow Blue – the 4-person balloon that was the first to carry the family colour scheme, we used to say there were two types of passenger. The first would book their flight long before they wished to fly, only to be delayed from taking to the skies for months on end as attempt after attempt was curtailed by wind, rain and rubbish weather. The second would ring up at the last-minute, wishing to step almost straight into the basket, and usually, the weather would oblige. It never seemed fair that the last-minute chancers were somehow always luckier with the weather than those who had waited patiently.

Please don’t think, however, that I’m suggesting either type of passenger has more worth than the other, or that one was in some way nicer. It was just that, noticeably, the last minute “I don’t suppose…” seemed to always get into the air first. I’d even found it when I flew some school friends. Chris Aram had rung up the day before and was flying the next morning. Jo Tucker arranged to fly as a birthday present, weeks in advance, and ended up waiting months to fly, long after blowing out the candles. Read more

Launching The Beat Balloon At Norwich Cathedral

Posted on by 5WC in Beat, Hot Air Ballooning

The ‘Beat balloon’ was delivered by Cameron Balloons in October 2016 and the first consideration was how Beat’s staff could get to see it. Photographs are all well and good, but until you see a balloon up close (and especially a cloudhopper) you just can’t quite grasp the true size, scale and beauty of it. The problem though is that Beat are based in Norwich, and I’m not. As an area, East Anglia isn’t heavily flown – there aren’t any existing balloon meets organised there – which made this tricky. To allow the staff to the see the balloon, I’d have to arrange an “event” myself and make a special trip.

But this raised the question of how? The simplest option would be to arrange to fly alongside one of the few pilots operating in the area, but this would be tricky for the staff – you can hardly ask an entire office to decamp to a field on the outskirts of Norwich purely to watch me take off! A better option would be to arrange a tether – where the balloon would remain tied to the ground – within the city itself. This would solve the problem of the staff coming to see the balloon, as well as, counter the ‘Harry Houdini’ disappearing act that would happen after take-off as I floated off away into the distance.

Now it was time to solve the issue of where? Read more

Flight Reports: Royal County Of Berkshire Show 2016

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning

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.  Read more