Flight Reports: G-DIPI ~ Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2012

Posted on by 5WC in Choc Dips, Hot Air Ballooning

Every August, Ashton Court in Bristol plays host to the UK’s largest free outdoor event (and the largest annual balloon meet in Europe) – the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. This year, we were asked whether we’d like to bring the Choc Dips special shape balloon to the Fiesta – a balloon not seen at the Fiesta for 22 years having last flown there in 1990! Of course, we said yes!

Mass Launches take place in the morning and evening on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday but to “open” the Fiesta in style they organise a Special Shapes Rodeo on the Thursday evening. Unfortunately, as you’ll have no doubt read in previous blog posts about my time piloting the Churchill Dog special shape – we’ve been unable to free fly from the Shapes Rodeo for a number of years – however, things were a little different in 2012…
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Churchill Wishes The Queen A Very Happy Diamond Jubilee – Oh Yesss

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

With celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee taking place across the UK: towns, cities, and villages came over all red, white and blue with street parties (my village held the longest street party in the UK crossing a bridge over the River Thames!), music concerts and the spectacular lighting of over 4000 beacons across the UK.

One of these beacons was placed on Durdham Downs in Bristol and, a day’s activities had been planned to entertain the crowds before the beacon was lit at 10pm. Bristol is known as the home of UK ballooning due to both the largest hot air balloon meet – the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta – and the largest producer of hot air balloons in the world – Cameron Balloons – residing in the city. Read more

Flight Report: G-CEGG ~ Hedgehopping

Posted on by 5WC in G-CEGG, Hot Air Ballooning

One of the nice things about owning a cloudhopper hot air balloon is having the ability to grab a flying slot at the last minute. Unlike a traditional balloon which requires a number of people to go flying (passengers, crew etc.) and the use of a big 4×4 to tow a trailer as the balloon flies ready for recovery once landed, you can simply throw a cloudhopper into the back of a family sized car and with one driver go flying. Perfect!

With a forecast of very slow westerly winds, I made a last minute decision that there was in face enough wind to safely fly and not risk becoming becalmed, I made a phone call, found a driver and headed up to The Dog House at Frilford Heath to join two other balloons in  taking to the skies. Read more

Sometimes The Weather Is Just Too Good To Miss

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

Hot air ballooning is a real passion, I have never just looked at it as a “job”. I truly enjoy flying in balloons: whether it’s flying solo in my cloudhopper enjoying the freedom it brings, taking first time passengers for a flight and seeing their reactions or taking to the sky in a special shape knowing that people on the ground will be stopping in amazement as a dog, dragon or chocolate pot float serenely by!

I just love being in the air and so any opportunity to fly I will take. I had flown with my father on a very long flight from The Dog House to Cold Ash and while the weather was perfect the following morning, the late night meant my father had, annoyingly, elected to stay in bed rather than get up before sunrise to go ballooning again. Read more

Flight Report: G-ODAD ~ Getting May Off To A Flying Start

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

Unfortunately, a few weeks or was it months ago somebody decided that most of England were now in drought conditions due to a very dry winter and so enforced a large scale hosepipe ban. The mere mention of drought and hosepipe bans, of course, guarantees the start of weeks of rain and unsettled weather and once again, this proved true.

With weeks of endless heavy rain, the chance to go flying has been virtually non-existent; however, a brief ridge of high pressure covered the UK bringing with it the opportunity for a couple of flights and so I grabbed them. Read more

Coming To A Sky Near You, For The First Time Since 1995!

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

One aspect of commercial hot air ballooning is sponsorship, where companies’ will buy a hot air balloon with the envelope artworked to promote a specific brand or product. Balloons provide a perfect and proven advertising medium and companies have used this (and continue to do so) for over 25 years to gain low-cost high-quality exposure. Unfortunately, there are cases where a company will buy a balloon and then a year or two later, completely unrelated to the balloon, close a brand down resulting in an almost new balloon that is perfectly flyable being put into storage, from which, they very rarely reappearing or worse still, destroyed.

Virgin Cola is a prime example of this. In 1995 Richard Branson started his first attempt to fly a hot air balloon non-stop around the world, something which, at that point had never been achieved. Virgin Cola had been launched the previous year and to push the brand in an attempt to win a market share from rivals Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Virgin made the decision to brand the large fuel cylinders as Virgin Cola Cans and purchased a small 21,000 cubic foot cloudhopper, shaped to look like the planned ’round the world balloon. Read more

On Your Marks, Get Set, Go! The Virgin London Marathon 2012

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning

Each year, as around 35,000 runners start the grueling 26-mile course around the streets of London, they are wished good luck by a mass display of tethered hot air balloons. For the last 3 years, this display is organised on behalf of the Marathon by Airship & Balloon Company and it has become a real feature of the start line gaining mass television coverage, print media and in recent years the social media platforms (e.g. Twitter).

I was there this year working for Airship & Balloon Company tethering the Lucozade cloudhopper and while wind conditions on the surface were faster than you would ideally like, especially for tethering a one-man balloon where the basket is replaced by a seat, at no point did they become unsafe. Read more

Flight Report: G-BYIY ~ Like Father Like Son (A Start Of Season Tradition)

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning, Tutti Frutti

The ballooning season in the UK runs naturally from March to October as the summer months bring high pressure, settled weather and a greater number of flying days. My father taught me to fly and we are now both commercial pilots flying balloons over the Berkshire and Oxfordshire skies.

Over the last few years a tradition has started to form that at the beginning of each season we have a flight together, mainly because the opportunity to get in the sky and share our passion together doesn’t come along too often. Having managed to fly together on the very first flight of 2012 we have also managed to get another flight together, at the start of the season, taking our private hot air balloon Tutti Frutti for a flight in slow conditions over the countryside south of Abingdon.
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Flight Report: G-CDYL ~ Perfect Conditions For The Perfect 21st Birthday Present

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning, Lambert Smith Hampton

Pilots’ from time to time have been accused of believing they are the most impotant people on an aircraft, whether it’s a commercial airliner or a simple hot air balloon, the reality is that no matter what the pilot thinks, without the ground crew, no aircraft would ever take to the skies!

When one of our ground crew asked if I could fly his daughter Rachel and her boyfriend as a present for his 21st birthday it was my absolute pleasure to say yes. Unfortunately, low cloud scuppered any chance of being able to fly them on his actual birthday, however, only two days later and in near perfect conditions, we were able to take to the sky over South Oxfordshire for arguably, one of the best flights I’ve ever had.
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Flight Report: G-CDYL ~ Start Of Season Test Flight (A Pilot’s MOT)

Posted on by 5WC in Hot Air Ballooning, Lambert Smith Hampton

A hot air balloon is a registered aircraft in exactly the same way as a commercial airliner, fixed-wing plane or helicopter – as a result, you must have a pilot’s licence to legally fly a balloon. In the UK, we have currently have two types of licence for balloons – a Private Pilot’s Licence which allows you to fly a balloon as long as it’s not for hire or reward (i.e. just a pleasure flight with friends on a sunny evening) and a Commercial Pilot’s Licence which does allow you to fly for hire and reward and earn money from flying.

Holder’s of a Commercial Pilot’s Licence, however, and rightly so, have to undergo a test flight with a Civil Aviation Authority appointed examiner every year to ensure continued competency to the required high level of flying. I hold a Commercial Pilot’s Licence, and therefore, have to undertake a test flight at the start of every season. A flight I make with my local examiner, and balloon inspector,  Chris Dunkley. Read more