Show Review: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2019

Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th August 2019 saw the return of the ever popular Bristol International Balloon Fiesta for its 41st year. With the success of last year’s fiesta, attended by so many classic special shape balloons, the organising committee decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to bring a very special shape to the fiesta. The shape in question was the Cameron Balloons built Darth Vader balloon, which although constructed at Cameron’s Bedminster factory, had never actually flown in the city. This envelope also tied in nicely with the fiesta 2019 theme of the ‘Best of Bristol’, including the celebration of 50 years of Concorde and 30 years of Wallace and Grommit. Darth Vader is from Bristol after all, well at least David Prowse, the actor who played him, is.

In the week leading up to the fiesta the weather forecast were not looking very favourable to say the least meaning a dramatic and quick decision was made by the organising committee on the Wednesday before the fiesta to bring the opening forward with a mass ascent on Thursday morning. Around 60 Hot Air Balloons took to skies of Bristol heading easterly towards Wick, South Glos. The highlights of this launch included the Taiwanese Oh Bear, a Japanese registered Sport 80- fresh from the Cameron factory and of course the Darth Vader special shape. Many other balloons, including the Chubb Fire Extinguisher, tethered for the visiting crowds.

Special mention must also go to Andrew Holly of Exclusive Ballooning who brought six envelopes to the show, all of which flew, and then all bar one tethered for the crowds at lunchtime. Joining the Exclusive fleet at lunchtime were several locally based balloons together with the unusually shaped Paddy Power pants balloon, operated by Lighter Than Air Ltd.

Sadly, the weather wasn’t suitable for free flight in the evening, instead a selection of balloons again tethered for the media broadcastings, including Darth Vader and the Stowells wine box.

The planned Thursday nightglow took place as a “naked nightglow” with rain and high winds preventing the full display. Instead the balloons team carried out the nightglow with just baskets and no envelopes.

Both of Friday’s ascents were also cancelled, in fact the arena area was closed to all vehicles to try and preserve the estate of which they are merely guests of. With the lousy weather of Friday carrying over into Saturday, the organisers took a drastic measure and closed the whole of the event site to the public, something we understand they have never had to do before in 41 years. Both flying slots and the nightglow were again cancelled. These decisions aren’t taken lightly by the committee as the fiesta isn’t a cheap event to put on, with huge amounts of infrastructure brought in to create the well-loved and free event. Safety had to come first, which ultimately was the correct decision with winds bringing down tree branches and damaging temporary structures.

Sunday morning came around and overnight the winds had died down and the rain had eased off enough for the site to reopen at 10am to the public and for some balloon tethering to take place in the afternoon. Hats off to the many crews that stayed to tether so late into the day with a lot of them having to also return to their day on Monday morning. The weather was unfortunately still not suitable for flying on Sunday evening with crews battling against passing showers to keep their balloons up. These balloons will now need to be dried out in the next few days to preserve the material. Aside from the ballooning, there was plenty for the visiting public to see, with many traders in attendance, activities for the younger family members and a fairground for the thrill seekers and it was great to see many visitors enjoying themselves.

The weekend was brought to a close with the final tethering of the Darth Vader balloon, joined in the arena by the Emoji balloon, Oh Bear from Taiwan and many others.

In conclusion, the British weather did its best to restrict the event, but thanks to the quick and timely decisions by the organisers and the hard work put in by all of the balloon teams and crews visitors did get to see something.

We now look forward to Thursday 6th August 2020 when everyone is hoping the weather will behave itself a lot better than it did this year. Fingers crossed….

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and  Plaster Creative Communications for making this article possible.

Report by Matt Sudol and Gary Morris and  with additional images kindly provided by Tom Balson.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2019