There is a saying that the British public can tend to have a bit of an obsession with the weather. This is very much more prominent in and around the City of Bristol in the week prior to the the annual Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Will it be sunny (remember the extreme heat of 2022), will it rain, will it be too windy and will we see red or hopefully green smoke to confirm if there will be a launch. These are some of the questions asked on social media pages in the lead-up to the event in the hope that the weather will be kind and allow for a mass launch on some of the allocated slots.
This year the weather has tended to have been generally breezy with July being quite a wet month. The forecast gave a glimmer of hope with the prospect of a very short window of warmer and calmer weather.
Thursday 10th August saw the event open at 12:00pm with a number of special shape balloons tethering in the arena, with model aircraft displays and a free fall parachute display from the Army Parachute Display Team during the afternoon. The pilots briefing for the evening launch was at 5.45pm and review of the weather conditions sadly prevented any balloon launches due to the higher wind speeds. A small number of balloons did conduct some tethering, including the surprise unveiling of the older ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ balloon, which has recently been re-imported to the UK from the USA and is now in the MJ Ballooning camp.
The traditional first night glow of the Fiesta was then held from 09:00pm with 25 balloons being lit up in time with the music. As we have seen in previous years, this really is a great spectacle which is always a bit of a hit with the large crowds that remain to witness it.
Friday morning brought the good news that the balloons would be able to launch with around 55 balloons taking to the air, including ‘Slick the Dragon’ from MJ Ballooning and the visiting ‘Bravo! Bear Balloon’ from Taiwan. After the launch a number of balloons tethered for the public during the day, the favorable weather in the evening allowed another launch, with a similar number to the morning launch taking to the skies.
Sadly Saturday saw deteriorating weather and during the morning pilots briefing the news that the winds at higher levels were too fast and unstable to allow any balloons to launch. This also meant that only two balloons were able to safely tether, an older Cameron V-77 and the Kubicek BB ‘Mascot’ of the Bristol Balloon Collectors. During the afternoon part of the flight arena was opened to the public where they could meet the ballooning teams and have the opportunity to climb into a balloon basket with the burners attached to give a feel of what it would be like in flight. Judging by the length of the queues this can be seen to have been a great success.
The weather then deteriorated yet further and no evening launch was possible, although the night glow was able to proceed as planned, which like the first glow, was a great success and gratefully received by the visiting public.
The prospect of a Sunday morning launch was not looking too good late on Saturday but on the morning the green light was given by the flying committee to fly. Unfortunately due to the fast upper winds, only four pilots were brave enough to lift off. A number of balloons also tethered before some rain came through which put a temporary halt to proceedings. After some hope earlier in the day, the weather again deteriorated and come 6pm it was not possible to launch due to a weather front approaching from the south west with yet more unstable air and the prospect of rain.
Overall despite the rather breezy and, at times, wet weather that was forecast which tried its best to dampen the event, there were opportunities to launch the balloons, the numbers taking part were somewhat down on previous events, but none the less, the Bristol public were able to see the sight of 50+ balloons taking to the skies and floating across the city of Bristol.
We now look forward to next year on 8th August 2024 with the hope that the event will be able to continue after the financial losses incurred, and if it does proceed then be blessed with some dry stable weather conditions.
Report by Gary Morris with images from Matt Sudol and Kev Slade.
© South West Aviation Photographers 2023