Prepare to launch

On a sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of May, I and Ben Skingly, (a fellow member of the FORP committee), went along to Phil Hooper’s first passenger balloon launch to see the process and take some photos. Ben is our official photographer and brought along his lovely wee boy, Sonny (who very much lives up to his name).

We wanted to check out the process ahead of the RedcatchBalloon Launch on 24th June, to make sure our event plans are on track.

What an afternoon! We were blessed with the weather, and surprised to find when we got there, that there were four other balloons also getting ready to launch from a beautiful field near Bath.

Sonny was in his element galloping around the field playing commando and watching the balloons inflate and launch, and Ben snapped the stills, while I shot some video on my iPhone.

Phil’s company Sky High Ballooning is a commercial operator and takes passengers on flights over Bristol throughout the season. He had four passengers yesterday.

Siân Scantlebury and husband Simon from Knowle and Trish Lukins and her partner Dave Callis from Brislington.Sian was a bit nervous, but we had a good chat and it was lovely to meet someone who knows and loves the park and Redcatch Community Garden so well, and who’ll be attending our event.

Watching Phil and his crewman Anthony Nash very coolly go through all the pre-flight set up and safety procedures, made me realise just how much expertise and skill is involved in this ballooning lark. Phil is so utterly adept and relaxed, he really makes it look like a walk in the park and this clearly helps to allay his passenger’s (and my) fears.

During the wait to launch, small test balloons were sent up to check the wind direction. The wait is long, but the conditions have to be just right. Phil just will not take any unnecessary risks and Anthony tells me that sometimes they have to abandon launches at the last minute. It’s always Phil’s call.

Towards the end of the wait, another balloon crew arrive. They unload next to Phil and when they get out, Anthony tells me it’s none other than Don Cameron himself. The godfather of ballooning and one of Bristol’s big business success stories; Cameron Balloons. He talks to Phil and they discuss the wind conditions. Don’s presence is a bit like royalty arriving and other balloonists come over to pay homage. It’s quite lovely to see this 84 year old aeronautical legend, still in the thick of it, launching a balloon with his sons.

At last the conditions are right. All around us in the distance beyond Bath, we can see balloons coming into view in the sky.

The other balloons in our field start inflating and taking off. It’s very exciting.

Phil’s balloon starts to inflate. Then Phil calmly walks inside the balloon to do his final checks to all the internal ropes. This was something I hadn’t expected and was great to see.

Ben is snapping away with his camera and Sonny is transfixed.

Finally and so very quickly, the balloon is ready to fly and the passengers are hurried into the basket. The wait has added to Sian’s anxiety but she digs deep and gets in (go girl!).

And suddenly they’re up, up, and away!

It was a truly thrilling spectacle and I’m so very glad that Phil is part of the team that’s helped us pull our RedcatchPark Balloon Launch together.

It’s going to be a stupendous day. Weather permitting of course

Big thanks to South Bristol Voice for sponsoring this event.

Don’t forget that you can win a balloon flight over Bristol in Phil’s balloon for just £1 by buying a raffle ticket to support our event and other great things for the park. There are lots of other prizes too, all donated from generous Knowle businesses.

photos by Ben Skingly