Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2016 - Review
This year in partnership with Bristol Waste, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta was returning to the city for a 38th year. Built in 2015 by Cameron Balloons, the solar balloon G-CIRX was the title sponsor envelope with a banner promoting Bristol Waste and operated by Phoenix Balloons. Sadly, there was a huge shortage in the number of special shapes that attended in 2016 with the Palletways and Scottish Cup contracts coming to an end with no new ones starting.
The press launch took place from the Sea Walls part of the Downs - a location not used for any balloon fiesta related activities since back in the early 1990s. Phoenix Balloons were first to start inflating at 6:20am surrounded by many local private and sponsor balloons. It was said in the briefing that the direction was towards Pucklechurch and that Bristol Waste, Anana, ABC Flights and Hardys would be first to fly with the others following behind. Nearby Bristol Zoo was also mentioned; it was important not to fly low over the animals. As you can see from the photos, it was an amazing launch. Some landed the other side of the Downs whilst others had a much longer flight over the city. We saw Exclusive Ballooning's Keltbray and Flying Enterprises' Raffaello make their Bristol debut too.
Thursday Afternoon + Evening
We arrived at the 38th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta on Thursday 11th August at midday. The weather forecast was not looking promising for the first half of the event with gusty winds threatening to ground flying. 20mph gusts were forecast until after dark on the first day, so of course the evening launch would be cancelled. We were just hoping that the night glow would take place as planned. There was no ballooning action in the arena throughout the afternoon and leading up to the briefing at 6pm. It was simply impossible to tether a balloon in those winds and not worth attempting as it could easily damage the envelope. It was obviously far too windy to fly, but much to our amazement it was announced the night glow would be going ahead.
Thursday Night Glow
Balloon teams drove onto the field to start setting up at around 8pm. Ian Martin, chief pilot of Flying Enterprises and in charge of the night glows, would tell the pilots whether to pull out their parachutes depending on the wind strength. The circular part found at the top of the balloon is the parachute. After over an hour of setting up, the ten second count down started and the teams turned on their fans and started to inflate. The pilots hot inflated and it turned out to be okay, despite the odd gust coming through, moving the balloons around a lot. Each balloon was stood up next to each other very close, so they didn’t move about as much as if just one had tethered. Two pilots had pull out because they were struggling to keep the balloon under control in the challenging conditions. It was one of the gustiest night glows ever at the fiesta, but they put on a great show for the thousands of people who had arrived at Ashton Court. The usual ones took part, but G-STAV also glowed, returning to Bristol for the first time since 2010. G-BVCN was also a nice surprise.
Unfortunately Friday morning wasn't any good for flying because of the strong winds and low cloud. It's always a huge press morning for the fiesta as it's meant to be the first mass ascent, so lots of tethering took place. Phoenix Balloons inflated the Bristol waste solar balloon before 6am for the crowds to enjoy. Then after the briefing, Exclusive Ballooning inflated their Ricoh Cube special shape. This was its 4th year in a row appearing in Bristol. Their new Longleat Lion shape, registered G-LEAT and built by Ultramagic, also tethered, being made for Longleat's 50th anniversary and Sky Safari event in September. Flying Enterprises got 2014 title sponsors Hardys and Fishtank stood up.
Lindstrand Media tethered JLL built two years ago, which was their only balloon at the 2016 fiesta. Exclusive Ballooning's brand new Keltbray created by Lindstrand Technologies appeared after glowing the night before. Another new one is BT Sport registered G-CJEI. The pilot had flown BT G-ZOIZ the last couple of years, but it was great to see the new one.
Fortnum & Mason and Renishaw were inflated, then G-CBMK joined them. Ballooningmedia began laying out their new Southern Plasticlad balloon for its first ever public appearance, registered G-CJIH. One of the Power Rangers' trailers drove on, but we didn't think they were attending this year. Inside the trailer it was in fact a special shape, the Stowells wine box, which hadn't been out of the bag for 3 years and hadn't flown since the 2007 shapes rodeo right here in Bristol. It was a blast from the past seeing this again, as it was first seen here in 1998. We were told it would appear and possibly fly this year if it passed its CofA a few weeks before, which it did easily. Even though it's nearly 20 years old, it's in superb condition. It was the last balloon to inflate as the wind began to pick up even more. The wind wasn't much of an issue this morning on the surface most of the time, despite the odd gusting whipping through, but up higher at a few thousand feet it would have been far too windy to fly safely. Similar to 2013, it was a great Friday morning of tethering and seeing G-STOW was fantastic.
Sadly as 6pm neared it was even breezier than the morning, so all flying was cancelled. Some sponsored balloons tethered for the TV cameras though. BBC Points West were going live at 6:30pm. The sun made a brief appearance, but Taittinger got hit by a strong gust of wind, therefore had to be pulled down before they went live. Flying Enterprises, Exclusive Ballooning and Lindstrand Media managed to tether for a short time in the extremely challenging conditions. Sadly hopes were not high for the morning either, but the weather was meant to improve later in the day.
Saturday morning arrived and again the launch was cancelled due to strong winds, and low cloud. In the pilots briefing, flight director Clive Bailey said he was 70% sure a balloon would get away in the evening, so that gave everyone some hope. The usual ones tethered to give the crowd something to look at. Vauxhall, registered G-CCRG, was new to the fiesta in 2016. The M-77 was manufactured by Ultramagic in 2004.
Next to inflate was G-BOOB owned by Phil Hooper, which hadn't been out of the bag for 2 years. Simbaloo the Longleat Lion was brought to life at the other end of the arena, not in Exclusive Ballooning's usual spot just in front of the balloonist marquee. Unlike on Friday morning, G-LEAT faced the crowds this time for everyone to enjoy.
On Saturday afternoon there was an inflation race with the Bristol University Hot Air Ballooning Society (BUHABS), Loughborough University and the new Lindstrand Tech racer. The demonstrator won fairly easily, but all 3 tethered for a while as Ashton Court filled up in anticipation for the evening ascent.
Click here to watch a video of the inflation race on YouTube.
It was looking good for the first mass ascent of 2016 to go ahead and briefing started at 6pm. We entered the balloonist marquee very hopeful to see some flying finally take place. The launch was called on after a long wait! The gradient wind was 9-10kts, 500ft wind 12-15kts and surface wind 5-8kts and gusting 10-12kts up to 7pm. The flying committee told the pilots nothing would happen until 7pm because they needed to wait for the gusts to die out. Anyone was allowed to fly, but it was still very breezy so take off and landing would be somewhat interesting. Lots decided to wait until the morning however, as it was looking light and variable.
Fortnum & Mason was stood up just outside the marquee before it got hit by a huge gust. Once everyone knew the launch was going ahead by the signal of the green smoke, Exclusive Ballooning entertained the crowds with their Ricoh imagine change cube, which was built in 2012. G-FMGB was the first balloon to take to the skies, followed by CTS, G-CBMK, JLL and Pattersons. As the first bunch of balloons became airborne it became apparent that conditions were even trickier than anticipated. Some special shapes were pulled by the round balloons, and G-OOEY had false lift very low across the crowds. However, pilots were keen to fly as they've been waiting two days, so they kept flying. A particularly bad take off was done by G-CIUA, just because of the wind. Bristol Balloons, a familiar sight across the Bristol and Bath skies during the season, inflated and there was a very noticeable rip in the top of the balloon. Bath Building Society caused this as it left Ashton Court. Amazingly the pilot still decided to fly! Virgin Balloon Flights decided to bring two A-400 ride balloons to the fiesta for 2016, perhaps copying Red Letter Day's idea from 2015.
New to the fiesta, Greetzz, registered PH-GRK, a ride balloon from Holland, took off alongside HepcoMotion. The brand new Lindstrand Technologies racer made its second appearance as it took part in the afternoon's inflation race. Badkap all the way from Germany had recently been bought by the same pilot who flies the Snow White and Aston Martin special shapes. They inflated next to Bailey Balloons with their ride balloons including Anana and Bristol & West.
Once Polar Bear Windows and Taittinger took to the skies, the Despicable Me round balloon G-DMEE operated by the Airship & Balloon Company left for its flight over the city. Of course everyone wanted to see the Minion shape though. The 'Have a Nice Flight' team flying PH-MAR travelled from Holland to be here in Bristol!
Unipart G-BWEW was a nice one to see, flying with Pollywallets that attended the first ever Bristol Balloon Fiesta in 1979, and still going strong! G-CFXP, G-ERRI, Team GB, Team Honey B, Oxford Balloon Company, Tango, Aero, the old Somerfield balloon G-SFSL, BUHABS and Bristol Waste were next to take flight. It was great to see Aero back in the Bristol skies - the envelope last attended in the late 1990s. The Fastrat envelope, although you might not think so, sponsored the 2010 fiesta, though the artwork was somewhat different! Astra were title sponsors six years ago but due to copyright reasons the artwork had to be changed. This was the cheapest option. The last few balloons left the arena, including G-WJAC, G-BYHU and Elite Air's Cash4Cars, leaving Exclusive Ballooning's Ultramagic B-70 special shape tethered.
Saturday Night Glow
The launch field had to be cleared very soon after the flying as the glow pilots had to set up their balloons. It was a spectacular night glow followed as always by a superb fireworks display brought to us by Skyburst. The Cameron Balloons superlight envelope glowed extremely well, as most of the balloons did, apart from a few like HS-BRT. This one only took part because it was shipped over to the UK wet in its bag, but the night glow certainly dried it out.
Sunday morning arrived, the launch that many pilots thought would be the first of the 2016 fiesta. The windy conditions didn't stop a large bunch of pilots going for it on Saturday evening, however. We arrived at 5:45am. All the balloons were laid out and pilots were making their way to the balloonist marquee for the briefing. Everyone knew the launch would be going ahead because of the nice, light winds but the pilots need to know the different wind directions at different heights (typically 500ft, 1000ft and 2000ft). Also the wind direction was a potential problem this morning, with a risk that the balloons could travel close to Bristol airport. The aiport gave them up to 4000ft to operate and the balloonists could not go south of the Northing 67 line without emergency contact with Bristol radar. In the briefing it was also advised to avoid low flying and to move away from the launch site once airborne. It's also important for the pilots to always be aware of where the other balloons are around them, essential this morning because they would be travelling slowly. If there was any steerage at all it would be between the 500-1000ft mark as the winds were slightly stronger there.
Lots of teams inflated very quickly even though there was no rush to get airborne. They had to wait for the siren which gave the pilots clearance to take off. The light bulb pilot Craig Thompson forgot about this and consequently had to sit in the naughty chair in the evening briefing! The Tribute balloon was meant to be the first airborne.
Aero, the Longleat Lion, G-ERRI, the Fortnum & Mason racer, Rotork and Unipart G-BWEW were just some that took off towards the start of the mass ascent.
There were well over one hundred balloons taking to the skies this morning as a large amount of the teams hadn't flown previously, but finally the winds were calm enough! It was nice to see Utility Warehouse flying - it's quite unusual to have ride balloons at the fiesta besides the local ones (Ballooning Network, Bailey Balloons, Virgin).
Two of the new Lindstrand Technologies balloons were present, not the hopper, but the racer G-CJGO and round balloon G-OPER. Don Cameron brought along his new D-77 airship, knowing that the winds were going to be light and variable, narrowly missing a mid-air collision with one of the competitor Lindstrand demonstrators! G-VITL was back at Bristol this year with a new sponsor, because the pilot sadly had his new balloon stolen.
Finally the moment had come for Flying Enterprises to fly their Stowells wine box special shape for the first time since 2007. It was a great sight and we hope the Bristol-built special shape will keep on attending for many years to come. As the last dozen balloons bunched together in the sky, Exclusive Ballooning's Ricoh cube remained on the ground. And it wasn't the only special shape tethered for long, as the British Balloon Museum & Library (BBM&L) began getting their two old balloons out of the bag.
Once the flying was over, the BBM&L inflated their two special shapes. First up was the champion sparkplug G-BETF, built in 1977 by Cameron Balloons and de-registered in 1992. Standing closely it didn't smell the best! Next to be inflated was the golf ball G-PUTT. Made by the same manufacturer, this envelope was previously registered in Luxembourg. The artwork was removed at some point and replaced with the BBM&L's inflation day location, which happens every two years in Pidley. The shape didn't look in very good condition, but it is 30 years old. The pilot had to burn a lot more than they'd have to with an airworthy envelope, so after just over five minutes it was pulled down. Meanwhile, some hoppers were also inflated. G-SEAT that we saw in 2015 with a basket at the Friday morning ascent made an appearance, as well as G-UHOP, which had never attended Bristol before. G-ONCB is the old Sainsbury's flying circus hopper, widely recognised as it made many appearances throughout the 1990s. The most memorable moment being when the five Sainsbury's special shapes (bunch of flowers, carrots, apple, bananas, strawberry) ascended from College Green in 1996, leaving the hopper tethered.
After a fantastic morning of ballooning, we headed back up to Ashton Court late afternoon. It was obvious that the evening ascent would be going ahead because it was around 5kts wih clear skies It was the best ascent for photographers by far, with the blue sky giving a perfect background as the balloons drifted into the distance. First Flight were first to take off as usual, this year in Tribute and not A-GAS. Normally the last launch of the fiesta is small, but because of Sunday being the best day in 2016 lots stayed to fly. It was an excellent ascent and it was nice seeing G-BXUO towards the end. It attended last year but had completely different artwork with the Per Lindstrand ' He's Back' banner attached. Bristol Balloons wasn't used because it was ripped on Saturday, so they used the Ballooning Network ride balloon instead, which hadn't been seen at the fiesta since 2008.
All photos MJ Ballooning.
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Balloons at the 2016 Fiesta
See all the hot air balloons that attended Bristol in 2016 below.