2012 Articles

JAN 21 2013
Balloons and Blimps: Women's Balloon Meet 2012

It was a cold, crisp January morning when I first met Allie Dunnington at the Icicle balloon meet. I had just struggled to get our rather tired Viva 77 on to its feet and sent my partner Paul Dopson off to play with the trees when Allie approached and asked if I would be interested in taking part in the 3rd Annual Women’s Meet due to be held in October 2012. It seemed like an interesting idea but both it - and my PPL - felt like a distant dream. I had been struggling with a fear of heights since I had started my training three years earlier. Flying solo at a balloon meet felt impossible but Allie reassured me that I could take part even if I was still in training and we agreed that I would.

Nine months, one PPL and a new balloon (G-HCPD) later and we were heading to Welshpool. After a long wet summer the weather was perfect - bright, crisp and calm. We had missed the Saturday morning slot flying passengers in South West Wales but after a quick dash home to swap trailers and throw a few clothes in a bag we were on our way, arriving just in time for the afternoon flight. It was my first balloon meet as P1 and with a lingering anxiety about heights I was feeling nervous and ever so slightly sick. But we were greeted like old friends when we arrived and before I knew it we were making our way up to Powis Castle and driving on to the Great Lawn to set up for our launch.

The setting was truly spectacular as fourteen balloons all laid out in four rows and then gradually lifted up into the evening sky. I hadn’t flown for some time and had forgotten quite how light our new balloon is with just one person aboard so the departure was somewhat quicker than I would have liked. Before I had time to worry about flying on my own among other balloons, I was several hundred feet above the Castle looking back at the remaining balloons laid out and taking off behind me. It was truly an amazing sight for both pilots and spectators.

I headed across Welshpool and then up the valley towards Buttington. The challenge was finding somewhere dry to land but with the help of Paul and a group of kids on a nearby football field who had seen me land, we packed away the balloon and made our way back to the Royal Oak for the evening meal. A quick change into Indian tops and scarves and we made our way down for an Indian themed dinner of curries, samosas, pepper salmon and ‘Spotted Dick’. We had a great – if rather too late – evening, meeting new friends and exchanging the inevitable tales of ballooning triumphs and near-misses. The fact that our companions were dressed from head to toe in cricketing whites (they had come as the Indian cricket team) only added to the experience!

On Sunday morning we flew again, this time from the airport. It was another fabulous flight with wonderful light winds and very good steerage. As I took off (a little less dramatically this time) I realised that there was a narrow band which was taking me in completely the opposite direction to everyone else and straight towards the Castle. I nearly made it but then the morning sun burnt off the inversion layer and I found myself heading back towards the airport, past Hannah Cameron who was somehow managing to stay in the virtually the same place that she had taken off from and over Lisa Cowlard, who normally flies easyJet planes but was just landing after her first training flight in a balloon. As we headed back for the prize-giving ceremony we saw the Cameron team were still flying above the airfield, where they remained for a further hour or so, flying for nearly 3 hours in total and eventually landing only a few hundred yards from the take-off site!

Eventually we all gathered for one last time at the airfield. The main prize went to Hannah Cameron for her overall support of the event, her help in organizing and lending a balloon to pilots without a balloon, the very creative outfit worn at dinner (this was the Indian Cricket team!) and the incredibly long flight that morning.

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