Lifes’s An Adventure

Lifes an adventure, it can be exciting and different like a hot air balloon flight, you take off into the skies not really knowing where you’re going to land or thats what we would like you to think. Its all part of a finally tuned  plan, knowing the winds, knowing the geography and finally knowing the landowners where we land.
So what does a balloonist, an adventurous person like our pilot John do when he goes on holidays? He joins about 200 other crazy motorbike fanatics and ride across across Australia from Perth to Byron Bay. Personally I love both places but not the expanse in between. The first week is the worst, a lot of sandunes, towns that are not worth stopping as there maybe no fuel, even less hospitality.
All riders have been advised to take it easy as helicopters cannot carry enough fuel to get to a certain point in the middle so no accidents thanks folks.
Thankfully there’s a “sweep” crew, other bikes and a 6 wheel drive to pick you up along the way and bring you to next town if you or your bike is broken. Each rider carries a Spot tracker device which allows the sweep crew as well as any anxious/amused wives the ability to watch their progress.
John should finish, he’s an experienced rider, riding a lightweight enduro bike, once everyone arrives at the Finke races in Central Australia, a rest day or two, then the final trek to Byron is alot easier.
I hope they all finish, odds are not all will, but if you love an adventure and riding a motorbike is your thing how could you miss it.
John will be back flying on the 15th June, but while its cold, the air is clear, visibility is at its best and we’re looking forward to some spectacular winter flying.


Burn Baby Burn

We expect rapid change in all aspects of our lives these days.

Buy the latest wiz bang thing one day and you find its obsolete the next. Not so in ballooning though. Change is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Man first took to the skies in a hot air balloon 230 years ago. (21st Nov 1783) and it was a scary experience. The balloon was made from paper and silk and the burner was just pretty much just a fire built from anything that would burn. What they had invented, was an aircraft that had an engine that could not be controlled and a shell that had a tendency to catch fire way too easily.

Pilots were brave people back in those days, but not stupid, when someone invented the gas balloon which was both safer and could be controlled the hot air balloon become a thing of the past. A memory.

And so it remained until a bunch of Yankie Hipsters in the sexy 1960′s cobbled together some synthetic fabric and an invention called a propane fueled burner, and so you had a flying machine that was safe, fun and affordable. The modern balloon had arrived.

So what’s different today? Being a Hipster is back in fashion and just like the new Hipsters the balloon is the same but a little different, but better.  Fabric technology and build methods mean they last longer; are safer and can be made larger. New deflation systems means that you can stop the balloon once it’s back on the ground. And burners have got hotter and much more powerful.

For a Pilot operating a burner is like stomping on the gas peddle of an automobile. If the power unit is gutless it just isn’t fun.

Luckily for those power sick pilots two manufacturers, Cameron & Kavanagh balloons have recently introduced new power units onto the market that should keep us pilots grinning for the next century or two.

The Crossfire and Safire burners are pretty impressive pieces of kit. Rather than being an upgrade of an old burner the designers and engineers threw away the old motor (burner) sat down and produced a modern high tech engine for a balloon.

These fiery beasts now put out up to 70% more power but at the same time are both quieter and more fuel efficient. The flame is now up to 8 metres long perfect for heating up the large passenger balloons you see in the skies today. They operate much more efficiently with the rubbish fuel (propane) found in some regions. They are light weight, reliable and pretty much maintenance free. They are even expected to last up to 20 years. If you ‘re a short Hipster (like me) you can adjust the height as well. The controls are easy to use and they look HOT.

They are so good we just brought one, the Crossfire. Might just have to take it out for a ‘burn’ around the neighborhood. Come and join us.

You don’t have to be a Hipster.

burners_Crossfire Kavanagh Crosfire BurnerBurner Balloon






Are you a Basket case?

If you do a balloon flight you will be standing for up to an hour in what looks like an oversized picnic basket.

The Basket or Gondola is the bottom part of the hot air balloon which carries passengers, flight crew and fuel supplies. They come in a variety of sizes. Small 1m x 1m baskets suitable for sport balloons carrying 1-3 persons up the large passenger joy flight baskets 5m x 1.5m carrying 25 persons.

The basket is constructed by weaving Kooboo or Palambang cane through a stainless steal frame. Wire cables run through the cane and plywood floor and attach to the balloon envelope with carabineers. Plywood or cane can be used for the partitions. Most balloons now padding on both the floor and walls for passenger comfort. Rope handles are woven into the basket side for passengers to hold during landings.

There a two types of baskets, Open or T – partitioned. Open baskets are generally used on smaller balloons, up to 6 persons with all passengers, crew, fuel occupying the same open space.  When numbers increase above 6 persons the basket is both increased in size and partitioned off to separate flight crew and fuel from the passengers.

The T-partition’s advantage over the open baskets are numerous. The load is more evenly distributed over the length of the basket. The pilot cannot be obstructed by passengers. Fuel and control lines are separated from passengers and the design is much safer for passengers when landing as no person can fall upon another.

Open basket Open Basket

Single T-partitionSingle T- Partition Basket

Double t - Partition Double T-Partition Basket

Death of Ballooning

Born, 21st November 1783 – Dead 2020

After some 231 years the aircraft that enabled man to take to the heavens is dying. It will be a slow drawn out process bringing pain and frustrations to all the flight crews and spectators that love seeing these beautiful aircraft sail in the winds overhead.

So what is it that brings about it’s demise. It’s not that it’s not popular. Every fine day you will see balloons full of happy punters rise with the Sun in many regions around Australia. Technology hasn’t rendered it obsolete. In fact new burners, baskets and fabrics have made ballooning both safer and more fun.

So what is it that is killing it off? It’s the one thing that balloonist rely on the most, landing sites. And the frustrating thing is that there is not much the balloonist can do about it. The main problem confronting us hasn’t arisen through any fault of the pilot and crew. It is a rare occasion where a balloon causes property or livestock damage that will give cause to upset a landowner.

It’s death is coming about through two things. The first is Occupational Health & Safety (OHS). Every business is subject to OHS regulations and it’s been a good thing. There are many more healthy people strolling around thanks to it. But more and more we come across landowners that just get freaked out about it. Everything is suddenly seen as a possible claim which will close down there business and have them sued out of house and home. Of course it’s rubbish but no amount of talking or letters from our Insurers stating that they will never be held liable will change their minds.

The second problem we see more and more of is plain god awful people. Now you can sort of understand a landowner being concerned that as a result of your balloon landing gently in his grass paddock he may somehow lay claim to all worldly possession’s and his beautiful daughters but there is really no excuse for some of the receptions a friendly bunch of aeronauts receive far to often these days.

Why is all this happening? Well the OHS problem has come about through government regulation and we all know that bureaucrats have a knack of making the simplest things impossible, expensive and unworkable. Is there a way for us balloonist to get around it, I very much doubt it. Fear has been used very effectively to both prosecute and regulate Health & Safety to the detriment of common sense. If you spend all your time seeing danger, that’s all you will see. As a result many landowners just tell us not to use their land.

The problem of confronting grumpy, sometime aggressive landowners isn’t anything new. Not everyone is happy about you dropping in on them unannounced. But it’s the nature of this beast which relies on the wind for it’s speed and direction. We are always meeting new people but these days we are meeting a higher percentage of the, not so nice variety.

It doesn’t seem to be a phenomenon unique to ballooning. Everywhere you go on this big island and no matter what your doing you seem to meet more and more people who have the shits.

And for what reason! Best ask an expert that one. My guess is that after years of listening to doom & gloom from our leaders and the media people just aren’t that happy anymore no matter what good their situation is. So snap out of it Australia and lets get back to being the happy country we used to be. At least if these guys are happy I’ll still have a few places to land.

Ballooning used to take me and my passengers away from all the worries in the world. These days it seems to take us to them.


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.