In the months between March and October, the main flying season, the sight of hot air balloons in the skies above Bristol is not unusual and yet people still stop to look and still snap away, nowadays posting the photos to Instagram within moments rather than waiting days or weeks for films to be developed.
Hot air balloons have been carrying passengers high into the sky for over 230 years, the first flight taking place in Paris, France in 1783 when Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes were in the basket.
The bit we think of as a balloon is technically the “envelope”, a bag that is capable of containing heated air. Suspended beneath is a gondola or wicker basket, which carries the pilot, passengers, and a source of heat (usually a propane gas burner). The heated air inside the envelope has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside, which makes it buoyant.
Bristol’s connection to ballooning dates back to the late 1960s when Don Cameron and three other members of the Bristol Gliding Club created the Bristol Belle, the first modern hot air balloon in Britain. Its maiden flight took place on 9th July 1967, so perhaps Bristol should start thinking about how to mark its golden anniversary next year!
Don went on to form Cameron Balloons in 1971, a company which today constructs approximately a balloon a day, 85% of which are exported, and which makes more than 75% of the world’s special shaped balloons.
Don’s achievements are many and include being the first man to cross the Sahara and the Alps by hot air balloon and making the first flight between the UK and the former USSR. He continues to chase “firsts” and in November 2015 was awarded the Bristol Green Capital Innovation Award for his work on the world’s first fully certified solar balloon, which took its maiden flight at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta last August (the writer of this blog ((Viv)) becoming its first passenger just 12 hours later).
The International Balloon Fiesta has been running since 1979, taking place at Ashton Court Estate each August. It is one of the most popular events in the Bristol calendar with some 100,000 people turning up for each of its four days. The mass ascents are a big draw, taking place at 6am and 6pm each day, but very much weather dependent, so there are also two spectacular “night glows”, at around 9.30pm on the Thursday and Saturday, when tethered balloons are inflated and glow to music.
A flight in a hot air balloon is something you will never forget, the perfect way to mark a really special occasion. They can be booked through several companies in Bristol including Bailey Balloons and Bristol Balloons.
The hot air balloon is definitely a Bristol icon and therefore it’s no surprise that it features on many items that can be found in The Bristol Shop, including this photographic print by Sequins and Glitter Photography:
This waste paper bin by Clifton Workshop:
The Bristol Belle by Jenny Urquhart, which commemorates the achievements of Don Cameron and Bristol’s other balloon pilots over the past 50 years.