Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2015 - Review
The 37th Bristol Balloon Fiesta took place between 6th to 9th of August and was sponsored by St Austell Brewery's Tribute Ale. One year later they decided to get a hot air balloon created of their own, a Cameron Z-210 operated by First Flight. Above + Beyond were the charity partners attending with their Z-90 G-CIHG.
Lloyds Amphitheatre was the chosen location for the 2015 press launch. The evening before it was announced that it would be going ahead on Friday 31st July, after being delayed from Thursday morning due to windy conditions. Balloonists arrived at 5am and most went into the Lloyds Amphitheatre, whilst others set up on the outside. Between the amphitheatre and Millennium Square, Lindstrand Media with JLL were setting up next to ABC Flights and Snap Surveys. Around the back of the amphitheatre was Exclusive Ballooning with Puddles the Penguin, Doombar, Above + Beyond, SM Gauge and Dribuild. The friendly penguin character was created by Ultramagic in Spain and registered G-UINS. It was sure to be very popular on the fiesta weekend. Almost all of the 100 club balloons were present, except Hardys as Flying Enterprises were busy with two brand new balloons. The power ranger round balloons, registered G-GOPR and G-OPWR, were test inflated on the 23rd July and their maiden flight took place from this launch. Western Region British Balloon & Airship Club (WRBBAC) member balloons could also take part.
The wind direction was a slow easterly, so this enabled the pilots to handily land at the fiesta site, Ashton Court. The Visit Malta team landed by the car park and the Power Rangers landed stood up next to each other!
The Tribute Bristol Balloon Fiesta began at midday on Thursday. We couldn't wait for a busy four days of hot air ballooning as we arrived on the opening day to watch the afternoon tethering. Weather forecasts were showing superb conditions over the majority of the weekend, but Thursday was expected to be the breezier day. The JHA Associates Balloon Team G-JHAA, which had the SM Gauge banner attached, were first to cold inflate for the press. At around 1:30pm Lindstrand Media with the Palletways Z-105 and JLL attempted to inflate along with SM Gauge, Pattersons and the Airship & Balloon Company (ABC) who had their Stuart the Minion special shape with them, attending Bristol for a second time. Surprisingly the only team that managed to fully stand the balloon up and tether was ABC. The wind was whipping through the arena at this point, but once Stuart was tethered it wasn't too bad. Sudden gusts kept hitting the Cameron-built special shape, but it was tethered for fifteen minutes. This made us a little doubtful if the launch would go ahead even though it was meant to drop out as we neared the night glow. Exclusive Ballooning had their William Hill Scottish Cup led out, built by Kubicek in 2013, but they decided against tethering. A lot later in the afternoon, the G-BGAZ team put their cold fan on for a CofA. No basket was attached.
6pm was briefing time for special shape, ride and sponsor balloon pilots, plus any others that got permission to fly. At the briefing the flying committee explain to the pilots what the situation is. Clive Bailey, owner and pilot of Bailey Balloons, said what the wind speeds were on the surface, at 500ft, 1000ft and beyond. The launch was to go ahead and the shapes rodeo hasn't been cancelled for four years now! Ian Martin, Landowner Relations Officer, explained that the direction was good and what SAs (sensitive areas) the pilots would have to watch out for. They said to wait around for a while for the wind to drop out, so Flying Enterprises inflated their new red and pink Power Ranger balloons alongside Exclusive Ballooning with the Scottish Cup and Ricoh Cube to entertain the crowd. This was very challenging for the pilots as the gusts hit the envelopes and therefore moved about lots. First Flight with A-GAS, Virgin Balloon Flights, the Ballooning Network's and Bailey Balloons' fleet of balloons all began to take off at about 7pm. Elite Air were there with Cash4Cars, Royal Navy and Polar Bear Windows. Lighter than Air secretly turned up with their Dutch special shape, Oons Kearlke. They kept this secret for some reason.
We knew that the Modemakers team from Belgium would be back, and this year they brought their Cameron Z-120 OO-BNL, made earlier in 2015. The Swatch Watch, as announced previously, appeared, taking off for it's 30th birthday. We didn't expect to see the Oxford Balloon Company to be there, but it was great to have another passenger balloon flying.
Right above the crowd, the huge Ricoh shape became airborne and joined Lindstrand Media's Palletways Dragon special shape and JLL in the sky. The Palletways contract is still active and both balloons look in excellent condition, so hopefully they will be back in 2016 too. As Bailey Balloons drove onto the launch field they had an orange trailer. Instead of bringing G-CDIT or EDF Energy to fly with their ride balloons, they brought along the old Bristol & West Cameron N-105. This hadn't been seen at the Fiesta for 11 years. Exclusive Ballooning had the Scottish Cup tied to their vehicles with tether ropes, so it wouldn't be flying this evening. A few days before this they announced Splash the Penguin, joining Puddles and they would take off together. They were ready and waiting to fly together for the first time. Meanwhile Cameron Balloons' UP was nearly ready for it's hot air inflation! Also the Minion and G-CIHN were preparing for take off.
The Minion launched shortly after the ABC Flights passenger balloon and the Penguins did a synchronised take off. Bailey Balloons have one of the Red Letter Days balloons (G-PRZI) and Aerosaurus Balloons have another brand new one (G-RLDZ). G-RLDZ was fresh from the Cameron Balloons factory so it attended this year. After a long time inflating and getting ready, the UP balloon, made in 2009, ascended and joined the other 7 special shapes in the sky.
As Puddles drifted low over Ashton Court, Ballooningmedia were busy tethering their L.E Electrical Light Bulb and Satzenbrau Bottle for the thousands in the crowd. Pattersons also tethered as they're 100 club members. Two hoppers flew to finish, and these were ALUK and G-OBAB. It was a brilliant special shapes rodeo, but with only four proper shapes flying as Oons Kearlke, UP and the penguins are rounds with add-ons. It was a fast flight.
Thursday Night Glow
The balloons that remained in the arena got pulled down and trailers started coming in for the first nightglow. The wind from earlier went and left the balloons perfectly and easily stood up, ready to glow. Lighting up Ashton Court, 26 teams burned to music. G-HPCB and Webster Balloon Flights from Scotland took part and it was both their first time in Bristol. The new Visit Bristol balloon was also involved, making it's first ever public appearance. Others that lit up included Visit Malta, Penny, CTS, Kewtech, Dribuild, Snap Surveys, Renishaw, G-BYHU and many more. A spectacular firework display by Skyburst began as the balloons deflated. DatumRPO remained tethered, partly glowing for some of the display.
After a brilliant start the previous day, Friday arrived and briefing started at 6am. It was near perfect weather to go flying! The usual round balloons flew, including a few new ones such as Morson / Vital Resources G-CILM. This was Red Box's first time under new ownership at the Fiesta. Seen at the night glow, this launch saw the maiden flight of the new Visit Bristol balloon G-UWEB. It was test inflated by the Cameron's team as the balloons flew in from the press launch a week before.
Exclusive Ballooning's penguins took off whilst their Scottish Cup and Ricoh cube stayed on the ground. The Minion ascended alongside the Bristol 2015 Solar balloon. This was built as Bristol was European Green Capital and the balloon is mostly powered by the sun, but there is a burner too. Incredibly, pilot Pete Dalby only needed to burn three times during the whole flight. It's owned by Phoenix Balloons and Taittinger flew this morning as well. The other special shapes that took off were the light bulb and Swatch Watch. The Per Lindstrand 'He's back' envelope, owned by Lindstrand Technologies, appeared, creating competition with locally based Cameron Balloons. Lindstrand Hot Air Balloons Ltd had recently gone bust, so they will now be called Lindstrand Balloons Ltd and they will make balloons in Oswestry once again! 'Tashi', the Tibet balloon, was seen for the first time here. They were going to glow but weren't allowed. G-HPCB became airborne for the first time over the three days of mass ascents. They went in almost every direction this morning, but if the pilots decided to go high up they would gently float towards the city. Staying low meant they would travel west towards Nailsea. The Lindstrand Media team used this to land back in the arena in JLL.
103 balloons flew altogether, leaving the Palletways balloons, Power Rangers, Co-Operative racer, Exclusive Ballooning shapes and Visit Malta tethered. Then we saw the British Balloon Museum & Library (BBM&L) drive onto the launch field with the British Gas Flame, known as Mr Wonderfuel. G-BLKU was tethered for a short time for the crowd. The White Label Hop shape, registered G-MALT, tethered for around thirty minutes and it looked in quite good condition for it's age. This is owned by the Hertfordshire Balloon Collection. Ricoh deflated and the team started getting their pirate ship special shape G-ENMY out of the bag, laying it on top of the cube. This was its first appearance since being built in 2013.
The afternoon tethering was excellent with three special shapes appearing, plus Omega, Fortnum & Mason and more. It got cloudy, but with some sunshine.
Friday evening was flyable, so Flying Enterprises launched at the same time in the Power Rangers and Hardys to start the ascent. Many others followed and the special shapes that flew were the Penguins, the Palletways Dragon, Swatch Watch, Scottish Cup, UP, Ricoh Cube and the light bulb. They flew towards Keynsham. G-TCAN was seen at this mass launch and at no others over the fiesta. This left SM Gauge tethered in the arena after the G-CIPD hopper hopped to the other side of the field.
Perfect blue skies arrived at Ashton Court on Saturday morning and it was a very similar situation to Friday morning. Hoppers, round balloons, ride balloons and special shapes took to the skies. Elite Air's Polar Bear Windows went extremely low over the crowd and this just shows how close you can be to the action at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta! This launch featured the debut of the Fortnum & Mason racer operated by Exclusive Ballooning. It was built by Kubicek and is registered G-OTEA. Ricoh and the Scottish Cup stayed tethered with Kewtech, Visit Malta, the Palletways Dragon, G-BLVA, Complete, G-SUED, G-CBPW and Cameron Balloons' G-CDJX. The BBM&L joined them, tethering Mister Men G-OXBY that was last seen glowing at the Tiverton Balloon Festival. At different stages throughout the morning, G-BOTD, Miles Architectural and the Oons Wiefke special shape tethered.
The Power Ranger Cameron Z-90s did an inflation race in the afternoon. Exclusive Ballooning's two Fortnum & Mason envelopes also did this, with their new racer being the fastest to lift off the ground. As they tethered for the huge crowds a world record was set by throwing a Frisbee between the baskets!
At 6pm it was time for the briefing and it seemed very breezy at times. We thought the flying committee might put a restriction on the launch, meaning that only pilots with a certain amount of flying hours would be able to fly. This didn't happen, but the wind meant some pilots decided against flying. G-CGWU was first to take off and it created some odd shapes in doing so. Cameron Balloons and KBC followed. The old Michelin round balloon was next to ascend, but the take off wasn't as planned as they let go of their quick release far too late. The Kubicek racer and Modemakers became airborne next. Both ABC Flights balloons, Puddles and Splash the Penguins, Dioss Print Solutions, Linear Communications, the Cameron superlight envelope, PollyWallets, Unison, Barbour and lots more took off. The end of the ascent saw Phil's Balloons' Tango fly with Polar Bear Windows, David Hathaway and Sun Rise. Then all of a sudden Lindstrand Media launched, flying Slick the Dragon, travelling in a slightly different path to the others. Seventy balloons flew altogether. As visitors arrived getting ready for the night glow, Phoenix Balloons got their Solar balloon out to tether alongside Dribuild, Exclusive Ballooning and Flying Enterprises. So far all the slots had gone ahead and looking at the weather forecast for Sunday it was a possibility that 2015 could bring us a record seven launches. At some point in the afternoon/evening people had to be turned away at the gates because Ashton Court had reached its full capacity.
Saturday Night Glow
The night glow began at 9:30pm and all three Lighter than Air balloons took part - CJ Hole, boy and girl. These were the only two special shapes that glowed at this year's fiesta. Loughborough University took part with the usual round balloons. The firework display started as people on the crown line pulled the balloons down to finish an awesome day of ballooning.
Sunday morning was cloudy but excellent conditions for ballooning. Ninety-four balloons took off including special shapes such as the Palletways Dragon, Penguins, Swatch Watch, Scottish Cup, Ricoh Cube, Oons Kearlke and the light bulb. This was the Scottish Cup's second flight, but this time it was only airborne for five minutes as they went over the trees and came down in the Ashton Court bowl. Some managed to land on the Downs, whilst others went for a longer flight ending up over Fishponds or Wick. The arena was completely empty after Elite Air, Sun Rise, G-DUGI and CJ Hole left.
We only needed one more slot to go ahead for a record breaking fiesta. It was flyable, but rain was threatening to ruin the ascent. At the briefing the committee told the pilots that it was called on and the direction was the same as the morning. Many teams drove onto the field and started setting up. Then the heavy drizzle arrived, which wasn't forecast, and understandably this made a lot of the pilots change their mind about flying. Palletways were first to get away, with a big cheer from the spectators. Bailey Balloons' and Bristol Balloons' fleet took off alongside ABC Flights, Penny, First Flight, JLL, G-LOWS, two of Elite Air's trio and a few others. Ending the ascent and the 2015 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was KBC, Mexico City CDMX and the Oxford Balloon Company. Virgin Balloon Flights made a wise decision and cancelled. Twenty balloons managed to fly in the horrible conditions, with most making it to the Downs, but a handful went onto land at Filton.
Read more from MJ Ballooning
If you would like to read more of our fiesta reviews from 2004 to 2019, click here.