Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2013 - Review
Another year, another balloon fiesta. Bristol was getting ready for the 35th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta held at Ashton Court and it promised to be a cracker. As part of the 100 club, Barton Willmore had won title sponsorship and we were hearing of many exciting special shapes looking to attend, not just from the UK.
Following on from last year’s successful press launch from Greville Smyth Park, the organisers decided this would again be the location in 2013. Slow winds were forecast as Clive Bailey and other members of the committee delivered the pilot briefing bright and early at the park. Lindstrand Media were in attendance with their Palletways Dragon special shape, returning to Bristol for a fourth year, alongside Jones Lang LaSalle. Exclusive Ballooning brought along two of their balloons too - their Kubicek Renishaw envelope built in 2012 and shiny brand new Fortnum & Mason. This beautiful balloon was created by Cameron Balloons right here in Bristol, a sign that this contract was set to last more than a couple of years. You won’t find another balloon made from this exact colour fabric, as it was specially dyed at the factory. Locally based Dribuild registered G-CHXS was also new, piloted by local pilot Ben Whatley. Bailey Balloons’ Anana Z-140 was appearing at a fiesta launch for the very first time too.
Once fully inflated and ready to go the balloons slowly lifted into the sky in the very calm winds that surrounded the Ashton park. Some of the landings were interesting with Slick the Dragon and Fortnums coming down in a residential street!
Thursday Special Shape Rodeo
The start of the 2013 Bristol Balloon Fiesta was upon us and the weather was looking very promising. Conditions were good enough for the planned special shapes launch to go ahead, as announced by the fiesta commentators at 6pm. Many old and new trailers began driving onto the field, some round balloons and some huge special shapes. As well as Fortnum & Mason, Exclusive Ballooning had three brand new commercial special shapes at the 2013 fiesta. The first was the Ricoh imagine change cube registered G-RCOH and built by Cameron’s, which enjoyed its maiden flight from Royal Victoria Park in Bath. Secondly, a new favourite for many, the Scottish cup created in the Czech Republic by Kubicek Balloons and registered G-WHIL. You may recall the Financial Times newspapers from back in the late 1980s, of which three were built. To celebrate the 125 years, FT launched a new marketing campaign with a series of global events. Part of this was getting a giant, brand new FT tablet created by Ultramagic Balloons in Spain who hadn’t made that many special shapes compared to other manufacturers.
But they weren’t the only new UK shapes attending, oh no - the Airship & Balloon Company (ABC) had brought along something very exciting. Loveable character Stuart the Minion was inflated and instantly became a hit with the kids (and big kids!), being one of two identical Minion balloons G-DMES and G-DMEZ. These larger than life characters are from the popular movie Despicable Me and were commissioned by Universal Pictures to advertise the upcoming sequel. Having two would allow ABC to take them places when times clashed, although this never really happened.
Click here to watch Stuart’s test inflation video on YouTube.
2013 was certainly a great year for UK special shapes. Yes, we have one more! The Paddy Power Pants registered G-EGES were operated by Lighter Than Air for a short time, only ever making one appearance in Bristol at this very launch. Built by Lindstrand, they tethered at Cheltenham racecourse and Bristol before later appearing in Taiwan. It was nice to see Cameron Balloons’ UP back at the fiesta too after being built for Disney Pixar’s showcase film in 2009 and operated by Exclusive Ballooning. Once the contract ended the balloon was given back to Cameron’s. Bailey Balloons’ and Bristol Balloons’ fleet were taking off one by one as the crowd enjoyed the wonderful array of balloons inflated in the arena of all sizes and colours.
With a huge cheer from the thousands of people watching this spectacle, suddenly the Scottish Cup soared into the Bristol sky for the first time. Lindstrand Media were the second special shape to fly in their Palletways Dragon envelope known as ‘Slick’. More began to take off including UP alongside the FT Tablet, which was dramatically swaying from side to side as the wind hit into the side.
This left only a few balloons in the arena with one in particular stealing the show. It was Snow White! This massive special shape was brought along to Bristol by German balloon team who also own Action Man and Babybel that attended in 2012. It was built in 1993 and stored in Germany for twenty years before being saved and taken to many international balloon festivals including Albuquerque in New Mexico. Meanwhile the Trigger balloon team were busy tethering their newly purchased Satzenbrau pils bottle. G-BIRE first appeared at the fiesta in 1983 so had passed its flying days, but not Snow White. The playmobil character took off for an hour’s flight across the city, eventually coming into land at Oldbury Court in Fishponds, closely followed by the Ricoh cube the Minion. The Panasonic Battery also joined them, attending for the third year in a row.
Flying Enterprises’ fifteen-year-old Stowells wine box remained tethered in the arena as the French Cockerel team were last to fly. After attending in 2012 with Mr Peanut and ‘Mr Gas’, the British Balloon Museum & Library (BBM&L) were back with one of their historic collection. They chose to bring just one - the slightly dull 1979-built beer mug registered G-PUBS.
Thursday Night Glow
The night glow went ahead with calm winds and clear skies making for perfect photograph opportunities. Financial Times’ new Cameron Z-77 took part.
Hundreds of people had made the effort to get up to Ashton Court for the 6am mass ascent and the weather wasn’t looking too bad. However, the problem was the wind speed at 500ft and above, plus the increasing gusts on the surface. Due to this only pilots with 250hrs+ of P1 experience were permitted to fly. Around ten pilots decided to go for it with many commercial rounds and shapes tethered for the press, including Exclusive Ballooning’s very own G-OOEY demo. The Chelsea finance racer made it to Swindon in the fast winds and G-CFXP’s scoop was damaged from the flight, but this was easy to put right.
A tethering display took place at lunchtime but was extremely gusty. Sadly, this caused ABC’s Stuart special shape to roll onto another vehicle and was badly ripped. Luckily the reportedly ‘urgent’ repair was not so, as ABC opted to use their other identical balloon G-DMEZ for the rest of the event. At 4pm the RAF Red Arrows performed their dazzling display.
Wind was still a problem as we reached the evening, although it was flyable at a push. Rides were keen to get going so lined up on the metal track leading into the field and waited for the briefing. It was called on despite the somewhat tricky conditions with the wind taking them towards Hengrove and beyond. Thirty-two took to the skies with the only non-conventional shape being Cameron Balloons’ UP.
Saturday was the first chance for a full mass ascent and everyone was raring to go. The arena was packed with pilots, crew, trailers, balloons and baskets! Since Thursday the Snow White team had been waiting for another calm chance to fly, so this was the perfect opportunity. First up was ‘Betty P’ G-CDGN and one hundred more followed. It was a great mass launch.
Special shapes flew including Snow White, Palletways, the Scottish Cup, FT Tablet, Panasonic Battery and the Cockerel. A record number of seventy-eight balloons landed at the chocolate factory in Keynsham that morning, which was beaten a year later, again on Saturday morning.
Click here to watch a video of this flight.
Waiting for the decision on the evening ascent, a small amount of tethering took place mid-afternoon. ABC inflated Stuart with a Lindstrand hopper and G-LEXI in the glorious afternoon sunshine.
The evening ascent followed much of the same pattern, with over one hundred balloons taking to the skies from the main Saturday night slot. Cloud had rolled in from earlier in the afternoon, but it was all systems go at Ashton Court once more! The usual 2013 shapes flew including UP and the Ricoh Cube whilst Stuart tethered, watching the balloons drift away over the Bristol skyline. Exclusive Ballooning’s new Lord Mayor’s Appeal racer flew on this slot too. The BBM&L inflated their G-PUBS at the end for a second time.
Saturday Night glow
The full night glow and fireworks went ahead as planned. You can see the new David Hathaway Z-120 lighting up in the photos, which was another new balloon fresh from the Cameron’s factory in 2013.
So far the 2013 fiesta was missing just one thing. Blue sky. Superb flying conditions surrounded Ashton Court at daybreak with hardly a cloud in the sky by the end of the launch.
By the evening the winds had picked up too much to carry out a safe flight. 2012 title sponsors Jones Lang LaSalle, ABC Flights and Cameron Balloons’ G-CGVV tried to put on a show for the thousands of spectators, but this proved tough work. Although Sunday night was cancelled, on six out of seven occasions balloons managed to fly from the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in 2013.
Thank you to James McDonald, Ballooning Pictures and Ollie Warren for providing photos.
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Written by Matt Joyce 30/01/19