VH-ACU   Leave a comment

Saturday, 14 March, 2015

As you know by now, every year Canberra host a week long international Ballooning Festival in which balloonist from all over Australia and beyond converge on the Parliamentary Triangle and weather permitting launch their balloons into the early morning air. I say weather permitting, as yesterday I got up at 5:30am to drive down to the launch area only to be told at 6am that it was too windy to launch the balloons safely. Mind you, every cloud and all that, this meant that I was in work extra early thus enabling me to leave extra early, bonus! Especially on a Friday afternoon.

Anyway, I was up again at the same time this morning and seeing that I was in the vicinity of the briefing tent when the decision was being made I got to hear first hand that it was a go for the day’s flying. Soon afterwards the lawns around control point were alive with activity as the pilots and their helpers were busily inflating the various balloons that were laid out on the lawns. Soon, as the light began to increase, I could make out the shape of dozens of balloons and the thousands of spectators who had descended to watch them. Then at a given signal, they were off and so was I, as this time I had brought my bike along and as soon as I could tell which way they were heading in the prevailing wind, I was racing around the lake to catch them coming over my head and towards the lake where I knew I would get some great shots of some of them dipping into the water and taking off again.

As the first balloons came over the trees, I could see quite a few SUPers/Kayakers on the water waiting for them as well. The first to arrive looked like he had done this sort of thing before, as he made a perfect ‘landing’ on the water, where he was immediately surrounded by the watercraft. The next one in, the RAAF balloon wasn’t as practiced as the first and he only got to within ten foot or so of the water’s surface. Soon there were many more balloons coming in to land and at one stage it got pretty crowded. It was obvious to me at this time that there was hardly any wind at all and this was confirmed by the sight of various balloons at different levels going nowhere fast. The call must have come over the radio to land, because soon enough they all started to loose altitude looking for somewhere to land.

The spot where four or five of them decided to head for was the area surrounding the Southern Cross Yacht Club just across lake from where I was standing. So jumping on my bike again I rode around to the peninsula that the club stands on. The first balloon to land only just made it onto the peninsula, but it looked to me that he had landed in the trees. The second and third made it onto the empty car park which left one more, VH-ACU floating above the trees just beyond the club itself. By the time I got where he was, he was shouting down to a number of us to grab I line he was about to throw down and drag him over to a small clearing between the trees and the waters edge. I tell you it’s not easy towing a hot air balloon to where you want it to go, especially when the wind wants to take it somewhere else. Eventually, we managed to pull the balloon into the middle of the clearing and the pilot dropped it down. The next problem was access for the backup vehicle to get to the balloon, so he hovered there for a few minutes while his father-in-law, as it turned out, raced up and down the road looking for a way into the clearing with his 4×4 and trailer.

This was a real family affair as soon enough the pilots wife and two kids turned up along with the mother-in-law! When the balloon envelope was dropped onto the ground, we all helped to fold it up into a its bag and load it up onto the trailer. That wasn’t too hard as surprisingly the whole thing only weighted around 100kg, what was awkward was the basket that hangs below the balloon, now that was heavy, as not only is there the basket, there’s also the gas tanks which were still quite full due the shortness of the flight. When everything was sorted I had time to chat to the pilot, Bob and his wife, Belinda who it turns out had come over from Western Australia to take part in the festival in their brand new balloon which they had only just picked up from the manufacturer in Sydney.

Again, as these things take part very early in the morning, I had plenty of time to return to the car and arrange to meet James and Grainne for breakfast in Deakin.


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A Blog about Mario's life down under!

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