The Favourites Bristol Balloon Fiesta
We have picked some of the stand out, most complex special shapes to ever grace the skies of Bristol from the annual balloon fiesta. You can read more about them below.
Reg: G-BTML Built: 1991 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON RUPERT BEAR-90 Operated by: Flying Pictures / Private
Rupert Bear is one of the all-time favourite shapes ever to grace the skies of the south west. Rupert enjoyed many flights across the city until 1995, brightening up the sky for thousands of people. Unfortunately, nowadays it’s not in the best condition as there was an incident a number of years ago with vandals sadly setting the envelope on fire. It was thought that the whole bottom half would need rebuilding to have any chance of seeing the popular shape inflated again. Despite this, quite amazingly, as we walked down the arena on the opening day of the 40th anniversary fiesta, we could see a balloon of red and yellow in colour being laid out by pilot Steve Kinsey. You guessed it; it was Rupert - back at Bristol after twenty-three years in storage!
Reg: G-PIPY Built: 1997 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON PIPE-105 Operated by: Private / BBM&L
Known as 'pipy' amongst balloonists, the piper special shape is one of the most incredible balloons ever built for detail and size. Often taking off at the end of mass ascents to playing bagpipes, the piper attended the fiesta most years from 1997 until 2009. Lots of balloons are commercially operated and built for advertising purposes, but the piper was purely built for fun and to put a smile on people's faces. Creator and pilot Muir Moffat said in 1997 TV interview, "I had seen some wonderful shapes and the reaction people have to them and I thought it would be nice to do something that would put a smile on so many faces", before going on saying "when I was at school in Scotland I was in a pipe band and piping is something that has always inspired me". After we saw the piper fly in 2009 on Sunday, taking off alongside Mr Bup and the Jaguar Car, which also has the same owner, it was thought that the Scotsman would never return to the grounds of Ashton Court. But nine years later for the 40th anniversary, standing 156ft tall, the magnificent Piper was brought back to Bristol by the British Balloon Museum & Library for one last time.
Reg: G-CGIS (ex G-RIPS) Built: 1997 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON PARACHUTIST-110 Operated by: Virgin Airship & Balloon Company
Action Man first appeared at Bristol in 1997, which was an incredible year for special shapes. As well as it being the first year for Action Man; the Piper, Jaguar Car, Bertie Bassett, Barclays house, Lurpark, plus more made their debuts in the city. Action Man was seen at the fiesta until 1999 until the contract ended. In its commercial years it was mainly piloted by Mark Simmons, who worked for the Virgin Airship & Balloon Company and now flies for Virgin Balloon Flights in Bristol and Bath. It tethered for a very short time in 2007 to see the condition of the envelope as it switched owners. Then unexpectedly in 2012 it returned to the fiesta alongside Babybel G-BXUG, taking off twice over the four-day event, including at the shapes rodeo with others such as the Panasonic battery and Choc dips. The highlight was seeing it fly with Babybel on the Friday, drifting towards Nailsea. It's now not airworthy, although was seen in the UK in 2018 at the Midlands Air Festival.
Click here to watch a video of the 2012 take off.
Reg: G-BXAL / G-BZTS Built: 1997 / 2001 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON BERTIE BASSETT-90 SPECIAL Operated by: Phoenix Balloons
These two liquorice allsorts characters are iconic Bristol special shapes built by the skilled team at Cameron Balloons, loved by thousands of people of all ages. Two were built, not completely identical with one of the arms raised on G-BZTS. Upon hot inflation, the fiesta commentators were known to encourage kids to shout, "wake up Bertie". After not attending the fiesta since the windy year of 2006, both Berties returned for the 40th anniversary in 2018. They are owned by Andrew Kaye along with Aston Martin, the Barclays house and orange, and appeared at Longleat and Midlands Air Festival in the same year. It might be a while until we see them again now, but you never know…
Click here to watch the 2018 fiesta inflation.
Cadbury's Caramel Bunny
Reg: G-BUNI Built: 1993 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON BUNNY-90 Operated by: Virgin Airship & Balloon Company
Operated by the Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, G-BUNI attended the Bristol Balloon Fiesta for four consecutive years until 1996. In the 90s it was a common sight in Bristol each August to see the giant bunny taking off with others including Rupert bear, Sonic, the Converse trainer, Unipart and national power shapes. Sadly, it's now in a very bad condition and would need a lot of work, after supposedly the ears and chocolate bar were cut off due to copyright purposes.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Reg: G-SEGA Built: 1992 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON SONIC-90 Operated by: Virgin Airship & Balloon Company
Commissioned by Sega, Sonic attended the fiesta for several years in the mid-90s, instantly becoming one of the most popular balloons on display. It was operated by the Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, who flew many of the other shapes around that time including Thomas the tank engine and Ordnance Survey Map. By 1997 the balloon was no longer at Bristol and is now owned by Malcolm White in Ireland. He restored Sonic and flew it at Albuquerque not too long ago. It still looks great!
Click here to watch a short video of an inflation in 2011.
Reg: G-PNEU / G-GRIP Built: 1997 by Cameron Balloons Type: COLT BIBENDUM-110 Operated by: Aerial Display Company
Douglas the Lurpak Butter Man
Reg: G-BXCK Built: 1997 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON DOUGLAS-110 Operated by: Flying Pictures
Thomas the Tank Engine
Reg: G-BXND Built: 1998 by Cameron Balloons Type: CAMERON THOMAS-110 Operated by: Virgin Airship & Balloon Company
Thank you to Ballooning Pictures, Matt Cleaves and Kevin Pearman for providing some of these photos.
Blog 'Anatomy of a Special Shape'
Read all about how a special shape hot air balloon comes to life in our blog post written by Mark Lockwood, who has designed many classic shapes himself such as Action Man, the Tesco trolley and Cadbury's caramel bunny. It's not as easy as you might think...
Read more from MJ Ballooning
We have written reviews of the Bristol Balloon Fiesta from 2004 to 2022. Click here to view.