50 Years of Australian Ballooning

It’s been 50 years since the first manned hot air balloon flight in Australia lifted off in Parkes.

On July 4th 1964, Sydney University student Terry McCormack and some of his friends set out to make Australian aviation history. They travelled to Parkes in central west New South Wales with their self designed hot air balloon, set the burner alight and lifted into the sky from a local paddock.

It was only about four or five years since the first flight with an onboard heater had ever been undertaken in the world; it was done as part of a USA Air Force development program for low altitude atmospheric research The extent of the technical information available at the time was an article in the Reader’s Digest. Terry and his mates started out with virtually no information at all, only a dream.

Prior to 1964, hot air balloons were mainly found at country shows and not in the hands of ambitious university students. It was rumored there was a flight in the 1930s by a man who used a kerosene burner under a hot air balloon, but there doesn’t seem to be any documentary evidence of it.

Prior to 1967 Hot air balloon flights were fairground attractions where they’d put up a balloon over a fire and a man would go up either on a trapeze or on a parachute suspended underneath the balloon. Once he got high enough, he’d cut away and parachute back to the ground.

Terry McCormack’s hot air balloon was made of polyester film just 0.001 of one inch thick. A burner was used to inflate the balloon and make it fly, while a plank of wood, not a basket, was attached to the base. The balloon was about the same thickness as a crisps packet. It was taped together with strapping tape which was normally used to bundle steel together.

The amazing part about it was that the people who did it probably hadn’t done anything more technical than mow a lawn. They were very well educated, but they had no experience of making anything. They had to make it up as they went along; they found all the information they could, they got all the materials that were suitable and put it together, and they did it. And the results were outstanding and ground breaking.

Today you will find hot air balloons flying all across our country both in rural and city locations. The technology is developed with Australian manufacturers responsible for many of the latest designs and safety features. More of which will be revealed in future articles.

Are you ready to for balloon flight

Here are a few bits if advice for you people fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to take to the skies in a hot air balloon.

Firstly, the man at the controls is a qualified expert, highly trained with many years of experience to draw upon in any situation. Which leaves you with the simple task of relaxing and enjoying the experience.

In Australia nearly all passenger ride balloon flights take place at Sunrise. So get yourself to bed early and have a good nights sleep. Waking up feeling good and with plenty of time up your sleeve will also have you feeling excited about what’s to come.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance,
so spend a few minutes the day before getting clothes and all the others gear you want to take along with you ready. Your less likely to forget something and find you won’t be rushed to get out the door.

Know where you are flying.
How much of a fool are you going to look when you find out that the meet point for the balloon flight is an hours drive away when you thought it was just around the corner. And you miss the flight and lose your money. It happens, and way too often.

Read your Ticket
Cloud 9 supplies all passengers with paperwork explaining all they need to know about their flight. It is important that you take a few minutes to read through this literature. It will help you in preparations for your flight and prevent those embarrassing situations such as those already mentioned.

Why not share the experience with a friend.
Such a unique experience will be so much more memorable and special if you have someone close to you to share it with. Having someone to talk to on your journey can heighten the experience as you discuss what you can see and how you feel.

Dress down, appropriately
Hot air balloon rides can involve standing for a considerable period of time, so make sure you select a pair of comfortable shoes, so as not to dampen the experience with tired, achy feet. Don’t wear your good clothing. Your out and about in the countryside where there is dirt, dung, mud and all sorts of grubby stuff that won’t look or smell good attached to your Sunday best clothng.

Don’t look down
Many people find that keeping their attention focused straight ahead, as opposed to looking down, is beneficial at the start of the flight. This can help if you are not keen on heights. You will soon find that you relax, and enjoy the experience, possibly building on your confidence enough to look down as the journey progresses.

Smile, your on camera
You can see some amazing sites from a balloon, so don’t forget to pack your camera. It’s going to come in handy.  We take pictures as well which you can see on our Facebook page after the flight,

Ballooning in Winter

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that most people want to hot air balloon during the warmer seasons. It seems reasonable to assume that the air temperature drops as soon as you leave the ground, and who wants to freeze when you are supposed to be enjoying a new experience.

The reality is somewhat the opposite. Step aboard a balloon during the hot summer months and you will quickly realise why we call it Hot Air ballooning.  The combination of the warm ambient temperature, often 20oC with the fierce heat radiated by the balloon powerful burner often makes flying conditions uncomfortable for both passengers and flight crew.

Choose to fly in the cooler months and you will be rewarded with a combination of cool mornings and beautiful flying conditions. At this time of the year the air temperature increases as the balloon rises above the ground. So whilst you may need a jacket when on the ground often you will find yourself taking it off above 1000ft and soaking up the warmth of both the sun and the radiated heat from the balloons burner.

There are other bonuses with flying during the cool months. With less humidity trapped in the air you can both further and it’s clearer. Winds are generally a little stronger as well so the distances travelled are usually greater. But the best part is that with sunrise being later we get to spend more time snuggled up in bed before we embark on our airborne adventure.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard.

No Steering Wheel, No Engine, No Problem

What! No engine or steering wheel on this thing.

Maybe it’s this very fact that makes balloon flight so appealing. In this age of the Nanny State where your every movement is monitored, scrutinized and criticized it comes as pleasant relief to just climb into a wicker basket, fire up the burner, heat the balloon up to boiling point and go Up Up and Away from it all.

These days there are very few activities that allow this sort of freedom. Back in the good old days you would have tried motorcycling, water skiing or un protected sex to stimulate the senses and get the blood rushing. But regulations, insurance and STD’s took some of the ‘fun’ out of that fun.

Now I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said there are no rules & regulations concerning hot air ballooning. There are sections in Libraries full of books of the boring stuff and agencies overflowing with people administrating the thing. But it’s really all smoke and mirrors because you can’t write laws telling Mother Nature and her friend the Weather what to do.

And this is why ballooning gives people that sense of freedom. Who doesn’t just want to bugger off one day in no particular direction and see what you see and see who you meet. I do and that’s why I’m still doing it after 28 years.

A Balloon Poem from a passenger

One Sunday morning 16 bleary eyed passengers gather to join aeronauts for an experience.

A 4 wheeled beast drives off into the darkness in search of a beginning.

Destination found and the activity starts, cold under foot, gentle chatter, nervous movement, crew direct us.

Bust of noise, a puff of wind, dragons breath, and bright colours appear.

All aboard, a rage of fire, we levitate and the world looks smaller.

Way up high, it is so silent, gravity seems to be defiant.

Mind wanders of greater things, Oh to be a bird is the way, lets not deny it!

Time rushes by, the world gets big, reality creeps in, and we are at an end.

Thanks John and crew for a lifetime memory.”

 

Brett Walker

Viewing the 2015 Vintage from a Balloon

There is no better time to take to the skies in a hot air balloon over the Hunter Valley’s wine growing region than during picking time.

The Hunter Valley is abuzz as the unmistakeable sights, sounds and smells harvesting of the 2014 Vintage, hand pickers and mechanical harvesters toil the vineyards, while winemakers bark orders over their treasured grapes.

The grape press buzzes as it works on overdrive, and the aroma of crushed grapes fills the air, which leave no doubt in our minds that it is Vintage time.

Hermitage Road and Broke vineyards were amongst the first to be picked, highlighting the micro climates of the local wine industry.

2014 is shaping up as an excellent Vintage for both Hunter Valley reds and whites.  The unseasonably hot August gave us an early Budburst, but this was then balanced out by a cooler September and October, and then some good rains in November.”

“December has been perfect, lots of sunshine without being too hot, which gives us perfect ripening conditions. Semillon and Chardonnay grapes are coming in now and looking really good, and we’ll see the first Shiraz grapes in before the end of January.”

Like us balloonist anxious vignerons as always have their eyes constantly on the weather forecast, and even that seems to be in the Hunter Valley’s favour with no rain on the horizon.

The first 2014 Hunter Valley Semillon and Verdelho will be bottled and available from around April, as the Chardonnays and Shiraz serve their time maturing in oak barrels.

But don’t wait that long to enjoy a sunrise balloon ride over this beautiful wine region.

High above the Hawkesbury

It’s funny how people believe that you have to travel vast distances from home before you find something worthwhile or different. When something rather special is just down the road.

The Hawkesbury is on such place. A mere 60km from Sydney’s Harbour bridge the region extends from Palm Beach through the Blue Mountains. So get everyone in the car we’re going for a day trip and explore what this area has to offer.

Lets start at Mooney Mooney bridge on the M1 heading north to Newcastle. But on this adventure your best to travel up the Pacific Hwy to get there. A pleasant windy road popular with motor cyclists. It’s well worth dropping in at the Road Warriors Cafe where the bikers stop for some good food and coffee and a perve at the bikes.

From here continue up to Peats Ridge where you can stop at Glenworth Valley and do a whole bunch of outdoor activities but today we want to drive Mangrove Mountain through Spencer along the northerns side of the Hawkesbury to St Albans for lunch. Good food and beer to be had at this old English style pub but you may find the staff a bit well, Fawlty Towers.

From there we continue to loop around to Wisemans Ferry. If you liked views along the drive so far you will love this stretch of road. If you fancy yourself as driver you will love it even more. And at the end of it you get to ride on a ferry.

Once off the ferry the pub is worth a visit particularly on a weekend when they have music playing. But don’t drink too much because the best of the drive is ahead of you. Where you came off the ferry turn right and follow the River Rd through Lower Portland to the Sackville ferry to Windsor. If your not enjoying yourself by now and are not blown away by the views check that you have a heart beat.

The drive so far would have taken a relaxing 4- 5 hours so it’s wirth taking some time to stretch the legs around the historical Townships or Windsor and Richmond. There are still a few old historical places standing from the old days but it really is the natural features of this area that stand out.

 

From here it is less than a hour back to Sydney CBD but for those wanting more why not stay the night and enjoy some of the activities the area has to offer.

Hot air ballooning is just one of them. This area is something special viewed from the air. More English than Australian some say with the blend of river, mountain, farms, forest and countryside that makes it unique. But if flying isn’t your thing here are some other things to try;

Southern Cross Kayaking

Action Paintball

Trees Adventure

Indy 800 Kart Track

Farm Gate Trail

Tizzana Winery

Tobruk Sheep Station

Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens

Australian Pioneer Village

Artist Trail

 

 

Balloon flight, ‘Weather’ or not to Fly

Balloon Aloft over Hawkesbury & Hunter Valley

Balloon Aloft over Hawkesbury & Hunter Valley

‘Who would want to be a weather forecaster? Better still, Who’d be a balloonist that relies on the Weather Forecaster?

I think everybody accepts that it’s a combination of years of study; on the job experience and some educated guesswork that goes into making up a weather forecast. But with the web and instant access to weather forecasts, suddenly every man and his dog now has a second job, as a weather forecaster. And it sometimes makes a balloon pilot’s life a misery.

For the last 28 years about 2 hours prior to our meet time I have raised my sleepy head off the pillow and gone through the same procedure to check if the forecast is correct. Because with the weather you just never know. Mostly its the timing of weather events that the forecasters get wrong and a few hours either way can make the difference in whether we fly or not.

Aside from a quick chat to the Aviation Meteorologist a look at the radar and wind meters, it’s the walk outside the door of my house which tells me the most. Most days the decision is easy. If it’s wet or windy cancel and go back to bed. But it’s the marginal days that the years of knowledge a good pilot has built up tells him if it’s good, safe ballooning conditions.

This is where the problem of everyone’s second job as a forecaster becomes a problem. Having calls from disappointed passengers who have decided that the weather was suitable for flying can make my job very difficult.

But the reality is that there isn’t much we can do about it. Balloons like all aircraft types have performance limitations. Too much wind which makes it impossible to inflate the balloon or land safely is usually the main reason we cancel. After that it’s rain and fog. With rain comes unstable conditions and with fog there is no view to take in.

Now the whole idea of taking a flight in a hot air balloon is to try something new and adventurous, have some fun doing it, and above all do it safely. Take off in the wrong conditions and the chances of enjoying the flight and going home safely aren’t good.

Cloud 9 Balloon Flights has over 30 years ballooning experience and your Pilot, John Allen has a faultless safety record. 4500 flights, 30,000 passengers flown. No crashes, Injuries. With this record why wouldn’t you trust his decision. So it’s ok to be disappointed just don’t take it out on us. We just want you to have the best experience and remember it for all the good reasons.

Fly Cloud 9 Balloon Flights, fly safely.

Cloud 9 Balloon Flights turns 20

Twenty years ago Cloud 9 Balloon Flights flew its very first flight as a registered hot air balloon company. We met at Camden Airport, took off in our first balloon VH- XDF from Narrellan and landed at Mt Hunter, it was 14th February 1994 so we had 6 lovebirds on board, a couple of successful engagements and a beautiful morning. Pilot and crew (John & I) were truly on “Cloud 9.”

Previous to that John had spent 8 years flying between Australia and the UK, flying mainly advertising sport balloons, but also larger balloons for fare paying passengers, which was starting to become extremely popular in the 80’s, particularly in Australia.

But we didn’t last long flying in Camden as Greater Sydney looked more exciting and gave us great views of the entire Sydney basin. The Hunter Valley flights we offered gave passengers a choice of city and countryside flights, not to mention an opportunity to sample and buy some wine on the way home!

We flew from Paramatta Park for 15 years over Greater Sydney occasionally drifting into the beautiful Hawkesbury Valley, which gave us a sense of what was to become when all the green areas over Greater Sydney made hot air ballooning too difficult for commercial operations.

You never know exactly where you’re going in a balloon, who you’re going to meet and what will happen during the journey, but it will be different every flight. That’s why the journey is so much fun, it’s a blast which is why we’re still flying balloons.

Here’s to life’s adventures.

John & Clare
Directors/Balloonists