Bristol, in South West England, is considered by many to be the United Kingdom’s ballooning capital as throughout the year, weather permitting, balloons can be seen floating across the city and over much of the surrounding countryside. Bristol is also the home of balloon manufacturer Cameron Balloons Ltd, who have been making balloons of all shapes and sizes here since 1971 and the city is the location of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
Held annually in early August at the Ashton Court Estate, the fiesta is one of the largest free events in Europe and attracts hot air balloons from all over Europe and this year included two from the United States of America.
This year’s event, the 39th and sponsored by Bristol Energy, was held from 10th to 13th August and provided four days of spectacular events and not just from the hot air balloons. Air displays from Rich Goodwin in his Pitts Special, Parabatix Flying Display team and the Breitling Wingwalkers, stalls and other attractions and activities, together with Happy’s Circus, fairground rides, kept all members of the family entertained throughout each day.
Visitors were also able to view the new Great Western Air Ambulance helicopter at close quarters as it was parked in the main arena, and for a small donation members of the public were able to have a tour of the helicopter and talk to the crews. During the weekend both the new Air Ambulance, G-GWAC, and the older helicopter it replaced, G-GWAA, both visited.
The initial special shape balloon launch on Thursday evening was unfortunately unable to take place due to the wind speeds being in excess of the safe operating limits, but this did not deter the balloonists from taking part in the first of the magical night glows, where the balloons are illuminated to music.
Friday morning dawned with much better flying conditions which meant over 100 balloons were able to launch from the site with the wind direction such that they were able to float across the city of Bristol, in beautiful weather.
During the day, the Great Western Air Ambulance also provided an exciting role demo to showcase the valuable and important work that they carry out across our region.
Unfortunately the British weather was back to its normal uncertainty for Friday evening with low cloud and winds stopping any chance of a balloon launch.
Saturday morning too was marred by bad weather. A promising start by some of the more experienced pilots saw around 30 balloons take to the skies, despite the strong winds, but then low cloud also came in and the rest of the launch was unfortunately cancelled. Despite the weather improving through the day, what appeared to be a nice evening also saw the mass ascent being cancelled due to strong winds. Once again though the crowds did get to see an excellent night glow.
Sunday promised the best conditions of the weekend and the morning launch did not disappoint with around 115 balloons taking to the Bristol skies to the delight of the large gathered crowd. This included the Royal Navy balloon attaching a paraglider underneath the basket which was released from the balloon at height to land back into the arena, followed by two parachutists.
The evening launch for Sunday also did not disappoint and saw over 80 balloons launch, including a very special shape of G-POMP, a very rare sight in the UK skies.
Over the successful 2017 weekend, the public were treated to a number of mass launches seeing a total of 234 balloon flights, and a number of shaped balloons were to be seen. These included the new Busby Queens Guard (see above image), one of the Minion balloons and Lindy making its first appearance outside of the USA.
Southwest Aviation Photographers are grateful to all of the Fiesta organising commitee, together with Dani and Simon at Plaster Communicatons for making this article possible.
Report by Gary Morris and Kev Slade with additional images from Matt Sudol.
© South West Aviation Photographers 2017