Little (and Large) Solo Meet 2014 is a HUGE Success…
By Dave Such, Event Director
The idea behind the first Little (and Large) Solo Meet was conceived while I was attending the Ultramagic UK Grass Roots Balloon Meet last September at Sackville Lodge with my Ultramagic H-42 G-OOCH that I fly with a Thunder & Colt Skychariot MKII bottom end.
I am relatively new to the one person ballooning – having previously owned Colt 42A G-SEAT flown with a small basket and Cameron H-34 G-BZBT flown with the Skychariot bottom end I now use with G-OOCH – since becoming completely hooked in 2008. Solo balloons tend to have envelopes 42,000 cubic feet or less and are usually flown over cloudhopper, skychariot, airchair or a small basket. They are incredibly responsive and can be operated usually with the pilot and just one member of crew. Due to their physical size, solo balloons can often be landed in locations too tight for their larger rivals.
Having attended Phil Dunnington’s One Man Meet in 2012 which usually is held in the autumn, I thought that an early summer solo meet might be a winner with some people and having flown at Sackville Lodge on several occasions and seen what facilities are there, decided to ask Tim Wilkinson if he would consider hosting a small event specifically for solo balloons up to and including 56,000 cubic feet. Tim was keen to host the event but as Sackville Lodge is open to anyone who wants to fly his or her balloon – irrespective of size all year round – was not keen on having an envelope size restriction put on entry to the event. We agreed that entrants could fly any size balloon they wanted to from the meet on the condition it was flown SOLO and within the minimum landing mass specified by their balloon’s manufacturer. Chris Dunkley who is an avid cloudhopper pilot suggested the brilliant event name Little (and Large) Solo Meet.
By October, I had put together an event flyer containing information about the event and that was emailed to over 60 pilots known to own or fly solo balloons as well as advertising the event though the BBAC’s Pilots Circular, Forum and Aerostat publication as well as Easy Balloons website, Steve Roake’s Cloudhoppers newsletter and Facebook page and created the events own Facebook page. Slowly the applications started to come in and by the event’s closing date in mid-May had over 20 balloons registered. For me, it was never about attracting huge numbers but organising an a solo meet where like-minded people could come to a private well-organised event and have fun.
The days leading up to the event were wet. In fact they were VERY WET with 36 hours of pretty much constant rainfall and by midday on the Thursday, the ground at Sackville Lodge was completely saturated. Although we were pretty confident that a high pressure would be with us by mid-Friday I had visions of the camping area at Sackville Lodge resembling the Glastonbury’s Festival’s infamous mud but a quick call to Tim sorted that when he agreed to clear debris from an unused concrete apron area for cars to park away from the camping area. A last minute email to pilots attending including an updated map showing the hard standing for cars and a plea to unload caravans or tents and vacate the camping field.
I arrived on Thursday evening and water was running off the camping field onto the concrete driveway. Locating our caravan and awning as Balloon Control and Landing Card Drop Off Point in a corner nearest to the driveway we set up and crossed our fingers for a halt on the rainfall with sunshine and wind, lots of wind before the first briefing on Friday evening. I had intentionally not looked at the weather for the coming weekend as knew it was completely out of my control. My buddy John Tyrrell was providing the MET information for the event and he’d sort great weather for us I was sure! I had done everything I could think of to organise the event in advance to try and make it a success and now it was time to take a chill pill – well down a couple of glasses of hubby Mark’s homebrew – and relax. Bliss.
While having breakfast in the caravan on Friday morning watching BBC News, the weather came on and the high I had hoped for was here. Light winds were forecast for the evening flight with lots of sunshine, no rain and that was set to continue until Monday. I felt a sense of jubilation and also relief that this event might actually prove to be flyable. To everyone’s amazement, by midday just before people started to arrive the ground did not at all resemble how it had been just 12 hours previously and continued to dry out.
Over the weekend, we were blessed with perfect conditions with all four flying slots flown and 55 flights taking place over the weekend by 20 different balloons using cloudhopper, skyhopper, skychariot and basket bottom ends. A number of solo balloons also tethered, and we must of course not forget the wonderful sight of the model balloons inflated, tethered and free flown during the meet.
Huge thanks must also go to our sponsors for the Prize Giving Ceremony – Cameron Balloons, Easy Balloons, Lindstrand Balloons, Ultramagic Balloons, Zebedee Balloon Service and of course Derry Moore for the event trophy – whose generosity in donating the prizes is greatly appreciated.
I also want to particularly thank Tim and Angie Wilkinson for hosting the event, providing the catering and gas supply etc, Peter Gray for providing guidance and support where needed, John Tyrrell for providing MET and NOTAM information, Ian and Adam Crouch for landowner relations updates and information and last (but not least) my wonderful husband Mark Tomlin for his support and help that enabled me to put the event together – you’re the best buddy!
I am extremely proud that to the best of my knowledge, all pilots and crews did a marvelous job with their flying and retrieves and no new sensitive areas were created. Yes the weather we had helped but it was down to the support, friendship and conduct of those people who attended the Little (and Large) Solo Meet that made this work. No matter how much planning and preparation was done throughout the months and weeks leading up to the event, individual’s input and the weather conditions we experienced were always going to make or break the event and on both counts we experienced a win-win situation.
As a result, I am pleased to announce that I have decided to organise the Little (and Large) Solo Meet again in 2015 and further information will be published later this autumn.
Balloons free-flown or tethered at the Little (and Large) Solo Meet were: Thunder AX3 Sky Chariot G-BKBD, Thunder AX3 Sky Chariot G-BKFG, Colt 56A G-BJYF, Cameron V-20 G-BOYO, Colt 21A G-BSIG, Cameron N-31 G-BVFB, LBL 31A G-BXIZ, Cameron C-60 G-BXJZ, Cameron H-34 G-BZBT, LBL 25A G-CBZJ, LBL 25A G-CDAD, Jacobs V35 Airchair G-CEWF, Cameron H-34 G-EROS, LBL 31A G-FFFT, LBL 31A G-LELE, LBL 35A G-NLCH, LBL 31A G-ONCB, Ultramagic H-42 G-OOCH, Colt 77A G-READ, Cameron Z-77 G-TIPJ and Ultramagic H-31 G-UHOP.
Prizes and awards at the Prize Giving Ceremony were awarded to: Adrian Brown – The Derry Moore Trophy for Most Recently Qualified Pilot to Fly at the Event, Tony Brown – Hare and Hounds Competition Flight Saturday am, Steve Roake – Hare and Hounds Competition Flight Saturday pm, Derry Moore – Oldest Pilot to Fly at the Event, Tom Hilditch – Youngest Pilot to Fly at the Event, Peter Lawman – Most Recent Pilot undertaking Their First ‘Hopper’ Free Flight in Balloon They Own and Oliver and Harrison Knight – Youngest Crew Members to Assist a Pilot in Need of Help at Event.