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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.