Smiling happy faces

by Chris Dunkley

Now, it is a while since we ventured to attend a balloon meet proper but despite a very dreary day, low cloud and drizzle, that is exactly what we did, just that, on Saturday 19th May. Following a bit of a let down on the original venue, at short notice (very), that very kind supporter of basic ballooning and owner of Pidley’s Lakeside Lodge Golf Centre, David Hopkins offered his award-winning Driving Range as an alternative site for inflating the BBM&L’s collection of rusty balloons.

Fortunately, after a few dryish days and good drainage, David declared the ground firm and thumbs up were given. Come early morning Saturday the doors to the range were closed and one by one the ‘been here since six’ golfers, keen on smashing their balls into the surroundingundergrowth, were firmly ushered away by David’s Team to be replaced by an awesome menagerie of smelly bags, very enthusiastic Balloonists and Spotters. As the last ball plunked into the grass, a fan went on for the first balloon out the bag.

Now the BBM&L Inflation Day has been going on for a few years now and every time it happens the weather somehow miraculously holds. Today was to be no exception. Drizzle surrounded the area but steered itself around Pidley. Fair enough it got a bit gusty from time to time but the overcast conditions meant that inflations were able to be carried out all day.

In the old-fashioned days the old IR4 Inspection bit of paper had provision for the balloon’s name and so it is that older balloons are generally referred to by name. Nice tradition that, we ought to look into reinstating it. People kept referring to this ‘old balloon’ or that ‘old envelope’. Now modern hot air balloons haven’t been around that long and some of the registrations were from the nineties so pretty new by my reckoning. ‘Rarely’ or ‘seldom seen’, I think, seems a lot politer! Like us, there were some now (non-PC) Old and Rusty balloonists wandering around. Lenny Vaughan and Helen turned up and inflated Lunardi their old and trusty Airtour. It was also 21 years to the day that Helen got her licence. Blimey.

Next minute we were chatting to Bob and Carol Howes, who had actually knitted Lunardi together in the Airtour prefab at Cranwell! Bob, it transpired, recently built himself a replica Bentley out of a Sherpa van and Rolls Royce six cylinder engine (gasps from the Bentley Owners Club there then!!).

Make no mistake this is also a very social event, meeting up with a lot of friends old and new is more than part of it. The Nottingham Balloon Club turned up in force, last seen in India. Rowland Benbrook and his mum, Geoff and Val Roberts, Sandy Mitchell and Martin Freeston busy puffing stuff up. Barry Newman, John and Wendy Tyrell, Glen Boyle and David Rawlings, Andy Austin and Rob Cross, clearly getting a few tips on running the Grass Roots Meet, Steve Cloudhopper Roake chewing a pencil stub and noting the rarer hoppers. The chatting went on.

Looking around the improvised arena all sorts of balloons were now coming out of the bag, all expertly anchored on three point tethers and sharing lent bottom ends. That old favourite Golli, Hoover, Turkish Delight, Nuclear Electric (as promised by Ken the Fireman), Captain Chadwick & Co, performing a gallant tether with his Russian bint, the nearly new but seldom seen Plymouth Argyle Balloon, in very fetching green, putting on an equally adventurous display, Busy Bodies (which I thought we chucked in a skip!), and the very first BOAC balloon all came out to play.

Now if you have ever thought that the BBM&L and those that have helped preserve the rarer balloons only get them out on fine days think again. These pilots are of the highest calibre and, like the drivers of historic cars on race days, don’t take any prisoners so the odd gust or two didn’t deter them and the scene was constantly changing. As one balloon deflated another inflated, the spotters and photographers moving as a pack, noting this registration and that, and discussing the history of the particular envelope which had just erupted out the bag, a subject they clearly knew a lot about.

This event didn’t need the Red Arrows it had Team Green Ice. Three of the original Green Ice Cloudhoppers were lined up and as one they inflated, timing par-excellence!

The balloons originally had a small cylinder with built-in burner and eight were ordered by the Hot Air Balloon Company and starred in the film of the same name. All about stealing emeralds and starring Ryan O’Neal (Robin Batchelor always claimed he played his double, not his obviously but Ryan’s). It was interesting to see the various states of repair they were in. Janet Folkes had a complete one and the original burner was there on display. If I recall the last time I saw one of them was following an impromptu inflation at Ian Ashpole’s following a fine lunch. I seem to remember the burner caught fire! Hmm!

We had sewn the late Frank Barnes old Thunder Sky Chariot back together last year (or was it this!!) and blow me down I was asked to inflate it. What an honour. Best not burn that then. Aided by Neil Ivison and Martyn Turner, with gloves stolen from John Tyrell and the, by now long-armed, Norman the Crown holding the rope, the hopper was soon swaying about with the best of them. I reckon Frank smiled in that kind, sort of, certain northern way. We certainly did.

Time was moving on yet still the balloons were coming out. John Aubrey’s Fire Extinguisher soared skywards and towered over the site swaying magnificently. The 60 mark had been passed. Pete Bish was now trying to get everyone’s attention as prize giving was announced. ‘Boop, boop’, went his hooter. Stuff n’ nonsense. Martyn T had got the BBM&L flagship Halycon out and, in less than ideal conditions, inflated it. Stunning was the only way to describe its appearance. It ruffled in the breeze quietly content. You’d be well happy to have taken that home in your trailer!

My dog barked in unison with the applause as the thank yous were finally made by Pete whilst in the background Howard Cusden inflated the now re-branded Vodaphone balloon with Andy Austin close at hand to give three PPLs, Ian Reidie, Nick Bissaker and Dave Turley, their tethering tick and Jamie Edwards an instructor tick. Good on you, no point wasting a perfectly good tether!!

Clearly there was no stopping them and envelopes were still coming out the bags. Last balloon up was SIXX, or more fondly known as Chickenshit, I believe.

Amazing event of the day had to go to a large pile of silver foil that had clearly had the attention of rodents. It was in fact a foil gas balloon, G-AWOK built by Sussex University in the late sixties and named Sardine. Thankfully it never flew. Quite a few bits of it blew into the gloom as it was unpacked. Miraculously the registration came out early on and was intact. Mike Drye was accused of taping it on but, in a senior moment, he denied it! Click, click, scribble, scribble, a Eureka moment for many! Somehow everyone vanished when the task came to stuff the wreckage back in a bag but somehow, aided by Ride Operator Tony Hill and crew, most of it got packed away. Small bits are to be sold on the Zebedee List, allegedly, and the rest is in the surrounding trees.

A very big thank you to Tim and Martyn Turner plus all those responsible for organising the event, especially David Hopkins, who had been tricked into hosting the Chiltern Region Maypole Meet on the same weekend and after everyone went home, had to get a pile of envelopes back into his barn and paint the scorched grass green. Also to all the pilots and crews who brought along their own balloons or inflated the Collections’ envelopes or lent bottom ends and to LAASi who helped sponsor the event. We truly had a great time and as we headed down the A1 homeward bound it started to drizzle. The Gods, it seemed, had approved.

So here it is the definitive list of all those that inflated (or maybe not!). Huge thanks to Martin Freeston and Sandy Mitchell for the info and pictures.

EI-BVC CAMERON N-65
G-AWOK SUSSEX GAS BALLOON
G-AZER CAMERON O-42
G-AZYL PORTSLADE FREE
G-BCFD WEST AX3-15 (HANGING UP INDOORS)
G-BCGP GAZEBO AX6
G-BDWO HOWES AX6
G-BEPO CAMERON N-77
G-BFAB CAMERON N-56
G-BHKN COLT 14A
G-BHKR COLT 14A
G-BHOJ COLT 12A
G-BHOT CAMERON V-65
G-BHRY COLT 56A
G-BHTG THUNDER AX6-56
G-BIBZ THUNDER AX3 MAXI SKY CHARIOT
G-BJSW THUNDER AX7-65Z
G-BKIU COLT 17A
G-BKVW AIRTOUR AH-56
G-BLGX THUNDER AX7-65
G-BLYT AIRTOUR AH-77
G-BOCF COLT 77A
G-BOLP COLT 21A
G-BPDF CAMERON V-77
G-BPFB COLT 77A
G-BPHD CAMERON N-42
G-BPYZ THUNDER AX7-77
G-BREL CAMERON O-77
G-BRXB THUNDER AX7-77
G-BSBM CAMERON N-77
G-BSWY CAMERON N-77
G-BTZY COLT 56A
G-BUPI CAMERON V-77
G-BUSY THUNDER AX6-56A
G-BWHC CAMERON N-77
G-BWNP CAMERON SS 90 CLUB
G-BXDR LINDSTRAND LBL-77A
G-BXJH CAMERON N-42
G-BXLF LINDSTRAND LBL-90A
G-BYOX CAMERON Z-90
G-BZFG SKY 105 (CAMERON BUILT)
G-CEJC CAMERON N-77
G-CHUB COLT SS CYLINDER TWO
G-DKBA DKBA AT 0301-0
G-ELLE CAMERON N-90
G-FFFT LINDSTRAND LBL-31A
G-GHOP CAMERON Z-77
G-HELP COLT 17A
G-HOOV CAMERON N-56
G-IVAC AIRTOUR AH-77B
G-LELE LINDSTRAND LBL-31A
G-LEXI CAMERON N-77
G-LIFE THUNDER AX6-56Z
G-LORY THUNDER AX4-31Z
G-MALT COLT SS FLYING HOP
G-NBSI CAMERON N-77
G-ODAY CAMERON N-56
G-OLLI CAMERON SS 31 GOLLY
G-OMXS LINDSTRAND LBL-105A
G-ONCB LINDSTRAND LBL-31A
G-PAFC CAMERON C-70
G-PRIT CAMERON N-90
G-PUTT CAMERON SS 76 GOLF
G-UKRB COLT 105A
G-VODA CAMERON N-77
OO-BAX CAMERON N-56
OO-BDW ULTRAMAGIC M-77
PH-LEV COLT SS FOOTBALL
G-BFOZ THUNDER AX6-56
G-SIXX COLT 77A