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Oswestry Balloon Carnival 2019 – A Pilot Review

Returning for it’s 3rd year, the second in Oswestry Town centre, the balloon carnival was, once again, welcoming around thirty balloons in support of Nightingale House Hospice. Staffed entirely by volunteers, organised by Lindstrand Technologies and Oswestry Town Council, this is an event I have been looking forward to since flying my solo here last year.

I had held a “meet the cider maker” event in the nearby(ish) town of Telford the previous evening, so was ready to assist in gearing up for the event on Friday. Tanks were filled, trailers were loaded and the site was prepared. This year saw another launch site being added to accommodate the growing number of balloons entered, a great sign that the event is growing and even more balloons for the public to admire!

A perfect slot had materialised on Friday evening, so an unofficial slot had been added to proceedings to take advantage of the great weather. I was flying an LBL 77A that I had, once again, been very generously loaned by Peter Ollivere. My team for this round was made up of second-generation pilot, Fiona Waite and a couple of Lorna Hankey’s friends, Hannah Griffiths and Alexandra Miller, both non-balloonists!

The first slot saw Fiona and I take off from Cae Glas Park and drift over to a farm near Pentrekendrick, where we greeted by a very friendly farmer and four very excited kids! After having help putting the envelope away from the enthusiastic group, we let the kids have a blast on the whisper burners, much to their delight. Thanks were made, cider dutifully handed over to the farmer and we headed back to refuel.

Saturday Morning saw similar conditions so, once again, Fiona and I took to the sky for an hour and five minute flight over the Shropshire countryside. Fiona spotted the perfect field, a grass field with bales, around twenty minutes before our descent. After a soft landing, joining Matt Wiltshire, we were joined by a further five balloons and, a delighted school caretaker, who looked after the field we were in. Cider once again in the landowners hands, we set off back to assist with refuelling.

Saturday evening looked quick on the met, and the briefing echoed this too. I made the decision to stay on the ground, a decision I later regretted, but this allowed me to assist others in getting away and also meant I didn’t have to rush back for the evening’s nightglow. Ultimately, those who flew reported a top speed of only eight knots, but I had to be happy with my decision.

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The evening’s nightglow was “The Greatest Showman” themed. However I, and the majority of the teams there, had not seen it! Regardless, we were excited to be entertaining the growing crowds in the park. The balloons stood up in position, we fell silent and dark, awaiting the music and instructor from our, now in full costume, ringmaster Lee Hooper. After a thirty minute show, the crowds erupted in applause and the balloons were packed away.
We headed back to Lindstrand HQ to refuel. We managed to get about twenty teams refuelled, but then we had an issue. The second bulk tank was feeding into the first at an incredibly slow rate, meaning that the tanks were also being filled in an extremely slow pace. We made the decision to ask the last few teams to leave their tanks with us at the factory to get some sleep whilst a solution was sought.

I stayed until Midnight, but the real heroes here are Ed Chapman and Lorna Hankey. They stayed until 5.15am trying to find a solution and refuelling the last tanks. Above and beyond the call of duty and one that should be applauded, even in the frustrating circumstances.

Sunday Morning saw another great slot, with the winds heading towards the border. I flew Hannah and Alexandra, my first time flying a non-pilot…! We had a cracking hour and twenty minute flight across the border to Llangollen, flying over the beautiful Welsh countryside and rolling hills and valleys.

A stand up landing was had in a grass field and we were greeted with the usual OBC landowner hospitality and delight. Hannah and Alexandra did a great job of pulling the balloon down and the cavalry arrived in the cider van. After a quick thank you and the handing over of cider, we loaded up and headed back to see what refuelling could be done.

Upon our arrival to Lindstrand, we saw a retro-fitted valve had appeared on the bottom of bulk tank number two, meaning that we could fill the teams cylinders. It was slow going, as the tanks were being filled by gravity, but by 3pm, we had all the teams refuelled and ready for the evening’s flight.

Sunday evening was a bit tasty for me, demonstrated by Ed taking off in the new Ricoh cube and swiftly leaving sight! This didn’t deter the hardy though, as we helped the remaining teams take off. The winds allowed an amazing box back over the launch site at height and to come back in at low level, demonstrated at just above tree-top height by Andrew Holly in the UK Balloon, flying right over the crowds for the second time in one flight!

As the dust settled on another year at the Oswestry balloon Carnival, the total raised by the weekend’s events had reached £30,000 for Nightingale Hospice. A tremendous achievement and a testament to the volunteers, organisers and teams that make this event a reality. Not only did we have 5 flyable slots and a massively attended nightglow, but we raised a lot of money for a great cause doing it.

I hope to see you all next year.

Written by: Matt Billing (Ascension Cider)

lhankey

About lhankey

Lindstrand Technologies Ltd is based in Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The Lindstrand team have been building lighter-than-air craft on the same site for over 25 years and has its designs certified in 48 countries.