Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2005 Review
Thuesday 11th August - Sunday 14th August
2005 saw the 27th International Balloon Fiesta held at Ashton Court, Bristol. The event lasts for four days and there's more to see than just bags of hot air. There's a stage area with acts from chart artists, arena displays and plenty of stalls to browse. Any balloon activity is weather dependant, and for this reason manoeuvres can only take place at the crack of dawn and later in the evening. For the most part the weather played ball, often providing an excellent backdrop for photographs and a very dramatic scene to any mass launch.
got up with the early birds in a sunny South West. Additional photography from .
Being a Bristol Balloon Fiesta virgin I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, isn't it just a collection of primitive aircraft taking to the skies? I can assure you it's not! There's plenty of things to do for all the family, especially the younger members who like pop music.
One of the great things about the Fiesta is the fact that it's free, although if parking a car on the grounds it will cost you £7. From the public car park it is a bit of a hike downhill to where the action is. There's a funfair, numerous catering outlets of the kind found at airshows, stalls, craft tent and err, oh yes, balloons.
I arrived on the Thursday afternoon in time for the special shape launch at 6.00pm. Unfortunately there was a breeze which was too strong to allow any flights but some balloons including the Churchill dog and Monster.com did make the valiant effort of tethered flight although the conditions did prove a handful. It ultimately proved too much for the Churchill dog as the wind blew the envelope around thereby closing off the opening to the burner!
Flying a balloon is definitely a team effort, you need people to hold the balloon envelope open and to hold the top of the balloon in place as it's inflated. For those who have never seen a balloon inflated it is quite an experience.
Firstly the envelope is laid out on the ground. Then the basket and associated rigging is put in place and turned on its side facing the bottom of the balloon where it is attached by steel cable. Obviously you can't start blasting hot air inside straight away so a portable fan is used to inflate the envelope first. The fan is just a little stronger than you'd find on a desk!
Once the envelope is full of cold air from the fan, the burners are pointed inside and fired up. Gradually the air inside heats which is warmer than the air outside and so lift is achieved as the hot air rises and the balloon take shape. Collapsing a balloon is easier, there is a draw string hole at the top and this is opened to let some of the hot air out. Obviously if you're descending you don't do this all at once!
As the evening wore on preparations were made for the main event, the night glow. In almost complete darkness the crews prepared their balloons on the ground. The wind had dropped so it was much easier to handle them. The event started off with a formation start of the portable fans with the balloons inflating in unison.
Before long they were inflated, ready for their performance. In time to music they lit their burners which made the whole envelope glow. There were also baskets dotted around without balloons attached which too released blasts into the night sky. It was a great atmosphere and one of the highlights of the whole Fiesta. Afterwards there was a firework display to finish the evening off.
After only four hours sleep it was time to get up for the 6:00am launch on the Friday morning. Bleary eyed we made our way to Ashton Court but we weren't the only ones. There can't be many places you see a load of people driving into before 06:00 in the morning.
On the launch field were a huge number of balloon envelopes all laid out like a giant multicolour carpet. As the sun rose the first of the balloons started to inflate, followed by more until the whole launch field was full of people and balloons towering above.
The first balloon then rose into the air in the light morning wind. A balloon is launched by a quick release on its tether. A blast of gas (quite literally!) and up you go. Balloon after balloon took off and it wasn't long before there was a gaggle of them floating downwind which made for quite a spectacular sight. All in all over 100 balloons took off that morning.
Once the balloons go it's much like Fairford is at the end of the departure day. All the movement has ended and the place falls silent, until the 6.00pm launch that is! The morning launch was quite enough for me although there were more events planned during the day. It may have been my first Fiesta but hopefully not my last.