2012 Articles

OCT 08 2012
Balloons and Blimps >> Grass Roots Balloon Meet 2012

With the prospect of blue skies, lots of sun and a light breeze, the decision to visit my first Grass Roots Balloon Meet was not a difficult one and so my journey began at the unearthly hour of 3am!

Having previously attended some of the larger, more commercial hot air balloon events, and having heard great things about the Grass Roots, I was expecting this to be something completely different and altogether more relaxed. I wasn't disappointed......

Held this year over the weekend of the 7-9 September, the meet came about thanks to the vision of Rob Cross, whose goal was to create a summer meet akin to the Icicle Balloon Meet held each January at Savernake.

Initially held on a much smaller scale at nearby Cardington, it was in 2008 that Rob was introduced to Tim Wilkinson, the owner of Sackville Lodge Airfield and, in a short space of time, plans were in place for the first Grass Roots event. Its purpose was to bring together as many balloonists as possible, without the additional pressure of having to perform for the public.

A large emphasis is placed on helping less experienced balloon pilots (PUTs – Pilots Under Training) with their flying training and this includes activities such as a ‘tether school’, as well as training and instructional flights during the weekend.

At one point things were looking bleak for the 2012 event, as the application for a grant from the BBAC (British Balloon & Airship Club) had not come through, however, all was not lost and riding in to the rescue was a first time sponsor in the shape of balloon manufacturer Ultramagic UK.

None of this would be possible of course without a fantastic venue, and Sackville Lodge fits the bill perfectly. As the owner of the airfield, Tim Wilkinson and his family work hard to provide full camping and catering facilities for all the participants and to ensure that every need is taken care of.

From the communal balloonists' camp-ground, with its ample amenities, through to the extensive catering and hospitality tents, nothing is overlooked and it all helps to maintain the success of the event.

One unique element that has helped make the event the great success it has become is the strong relationship that Tim and his team have built with the local farmers and landowners. With the meeting intentionally held no earlier than in September, this ensures that the majority of the surrounding fields have already been harvested, providing suitable stubble on which the balloons can land.

As a gesture of goodwill from the event organisers, invites to the event are sent out to all the farmers and landowners, where the balloon pilots are encouraged to ‘fly a farmer’ in return for their generosity and co-operation in providing ample landing areas.

Although this is a private event at a private site, credit has to be given to the many organisers for taking steps to ensure that the growing throng of enthusiasts are accommodated for and are able to get the most from the event.

This included a communication being sent to some of the aviation-based forums giving general advice to the visitors on the "dos & don'ts", all of which helped in making for an enjoyable and incident free weekend.

Over the course of the meet, much enjoyment was had in watching the mass balloon launches each morning and evening (weather permitting) as well as the comings and goings of the numerous based and visiting light aircraft.

It was also great to see a considerable number of older envelopes being inflated, much to the delight of the gathered balloon enthusiasts, and this only helped fuel the anticipation of what delight would next be coming out of its bag!

Having experienced this event for the first time, I can only see it continuing to go from strength to strength and I can’t recommend it enough.

The image of over 70 inflated hot air balloons lined up from one end of the airfield to the other is one that will live long in the memory and will hopefully be repeated in the years to come.

Whether it’s new balloons, old balloons or even a bit of general aviation that you’re after, Sackville Lodge really does cater for all passions

You won’t find a more welcoming and relaxing aviation event on the UK calendar!

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