Its rare that we ever get the chance to recount a story passed to us over the sewing floor. Hippocratic Oath Rules apply in our workshop but this time our guest and his balloon was more than happy to recount the tale. Fair play to him.
Graham Holtam and his intrepid fellow aviator Dave Ling had escaped to Europe for a bit of Winter Flying. They took Graham’s new Ultramagic M-120, G-HPEN, bought especially for adventurous Alpine flying, and headed off to the wet and waterlogged continent where they had a jolly fine time, finally sorted the Tomtit and headed for Filzmoos in Austria, a very popular meet where Alpine flights are on the doorstep.
The flight that resulted in the early morning phone call from somewhere on the side of a mountain in a fine field requesting some needle time started very well and in lovely conditions. Master Lingy and Graham shared the flying and with a couple of passengers aboard took in the full splendour of their Alpine surroundings. Lifting off they decided that they’d head for the lake better known as Bad Aussie where they made a somewhat wetter than planned ‘splash and dash’. With shoes and socks and troos up to knees starting to freeze solid they wobbled somewhat uncertainly towards the shoreline and the valley beyond however they now ran into problems. Balloons around them were slowly meandering about and grabbing the first thing that came under them and it was becoming increasingly clear that with the increasing warmth of the sunshine that did little for their chilly calves thermic conditions were creeping in and with very variable winds developing the valley was seriously no longer on the agenda. I nearly spelt that with a ‘dj’ horror upon horror. This left only one option and that was climb to 14,000 foot to find some wind clear the mountains and pop it down somewhere else.
Now remember that they had done a splash and dash and had wet feet with icicles forming from exposed kneecaps? Well the water, recalled Graham, was extremely cold, in fact it was really truly freezing and now at a portly 14,000 feet things were not improving. Hardy souls that they are they chewed on some leather tank straps and after a very long time they finally cleared the mountain tops and found themselves above Hinterstroder, the prefix ‘hinter’ being the main point here. Problem was that there were woods everywhere but eventually, through patience and skill, they gently settled down into a small boulder-strewn clearing a mere and very commendable 50 metres from a track with 20 litres of fuel left. Phew! Everybody was in fine spirits and not a scratch between them and at last cold feet were now warming in the sun (sort of). Mucho professional. Downside was that where they were on the track was 10 kilometres up a mountainside drive. Fortunately, or rather, with mixed blessings, their apparent plight had been made known to the local police who were soon on the scene. As it turned out they couldn’t have been more helpful but Graham had to admit the paperwork was rather prolonged.
So why the damage? The balloon is all hyperlast and as such slid nicely off the trees seemingly unharmed. It was then sausaged and strapped before being packed away. It was, as it turned out, the straps that saved the old girl from even more damage but we’ll get to that in a moment. They were on a slope with the track below. With the envelope all tucked away in its bag it made sense then to roll the whole shebang down, and down it went, arriving with a fair degree of accuracy on the track caught neatly by the Polizei. Told you they were very helpful. Anyway, long story short, the paperwork was all checked, forms filled out and counter-signatures counter-signed and Team Holtam headed back towards Filzmoos, happy bunnies with a fine tale to tell. The morning dawned fair and lovely and once more (just, as it turned out) out of the bag came the envelope…..and rocks. Quite a few rocks as it happened. This wasn’t good and a panel by panel inspection along with the removal of even more rocks showed a few panels, especially around one turning vent, were rather peppered with holes. Thus it became clear that unknowingly packing rocks in a balloon envelope then rolling bag and all down a mountain is not to be recommended, explained Graham. Strapping them in did help though as it prevented them creeping about and doing more damage but, as Graham said with a smile, it is probably best not to pack them in the bag in the first place.