Aerosaurus sponsored the first Tiverton Balloon Festival in 1988 on the same site as is currently used, when Tiverton hosted the BBAC National Championship. It was a great event although I’m not sure we ever found out who were competing and who were fiesta-ing! We came last without getting any penalty points but that is another story. Arthur Street and the Aerosaurus Team recommenced holding the event in Tiverton in 2011 and has held one there for the past four years. The Festival is now an all-encompassing Balloons & Music Festival held on the site of what is now the combined Tiverton High School & Petroc College campus. This year it ran from Friday 11th July to Sunday 13th July. Its a “not for profit” event with all income over costs going to charity. In the past 3 years the Festival has distributed over £25,500 to local clubs, organisations and major charities with the majority going to the Exeter Leukaemia Fund, Devon Air Ambulance and The Children’s Hospice South West. This year the two major charities were Devon Air Ambulance & Children’s Hospice South West and when the final figures are worked out it is anticipated to be in the region of £6-7,000. Including these contributions from the Festival, Aerosaurus Balloons reckons to have raised over £100,000 for charity in the past 15 years.
The Festival encourages involvement from pupils of both Tiverton High School & Petroc College and mainly takes the form of the Festival Event Management being modules which Event Management students work on during their middle & final terms leading up to the Festival. Design students work on interior design of stands & displays, health & beauty students create activities to showcase the school & college during the Festival, students doing a marketing course produce the promotional material and over 50 students act as Festival makers immediately prior to and during the festival. The input by the School and the College is toatl and valuable practical experience is gained by all those that contribute.
Both the School and The College see the Festival as a major event to get the public onto the campus and promote the school and the college’s activities. Much of the Festival infrastructure, including the main stage and steel framed stage building, sound & lighting, marquees, tower lights and the security fencing is installed four days prior to the Festival itself to allow pupils to put on performances using facilities never available in the normal course of school and college life. This year balloon team entries had to be closed at 45 teams which totalled over 200 pilots, crew & families. The Festival itself attracted over 10,000 visitors, 3,000 it is reckoned making a two and a half hour journey to be there. The campsite itself accommodated over 700 visitors this year and to keep all the crowds entertained over 50 bands performed on the two stages over the three day event. Its quite an undertaking and one that shouldn’t be missed. Steve Roake trucked off down there this year complete with his hopper. Here’s his take on the gathering:
Enchanting Tiverton by Steve Roake
Mid July found me travelling down the A303 towards Cider country, rolling hills and the Tiverton Balloon Festival run by Charlie and Arthur Street from Aerosaurus Ballooning. Weather was supposedly going to be okay and having had a discussion with Captain Fromage himself (Mark Stelling), we were both agreed that if we achieved two flying slots from the forecast weather we would be doing good.
It had been a few years since I had been at Tiverton and previously the festival was hosted at a site near a golf course, however the school grounds were perfect for our needs with decent facilities for those of us who had chosen tents for the weekend. Arriving at the school festival site around midday, I had plenty of time to unpack and erect the tented accommodation for the weekend. Immediately bumping into Matthew Hume from Twickenham I discovered that he tended to fly in the area rather than back home and had agreed to tether for Arthur later that afternoon. Knowing the wind was likely to be too quick for a Hopper flight I agreed to help my low housed friend in front of the local ITV television station who were going to have a live feed from the site. Winds were going to make this a challenge but between us we did a good job with G-CBEY, Matthews Cameron Concept 80.
The balloons around us rolled around and yet the Concept stayed relatively in shape and with serious tethering experience I managed the crown line alone, whilst others suffered at the winds challenge with multiple people hanging on. Aerosaurus had their Lindstrand 105 in the main location with the Concept next up and Peter Harding’s Ultramagic Tekno M56 package G-FWJR rolling around on the end . The weather definitely wasn’t good for free flying with a late drop out expected and that’s exactly what happened Nobody flew the slot because the drop was way too late for any serious flying but as darkness descended we set up for the Friday Nightglow. Teams from Doombar, Fairway, Loughborough University and CJ Hole joined the three originals and a spirited show was put on for the assembled public.
Saturday morning dawned oh, too early, and at the briefing we got the news we had expected. This was the banker slot of the weekend. Surface winds of 300 degrees , 4-5 knots and upper winds of 310/5knots at 500ft, 300/11knots at 1000ft and 270/6-7 at 2000ft all confirmed a nice pleasant flight with an easterly track over the town and out towards the M5 motorway and loads of grassy fields . Taking my time to assemble the Hopper I watched two others fly out , firstly Geoff Downs in G-BZNV his Lindstrand 31A and then Colin Butter in the ex Pauline Baker Lindstrand G-CIET. Being one of the last five off the launchfield gave me a great chance to check where the others had flown to and the variation in wind direction with height. Approximately 39 flew the morning flight, with our resident photographic experts Sandy Mitchell and Martin Freeston there to capture it all digitally.
However directly in front of me as I climbed to 1000ft was a school playing field and so an approach into this was the first order of the day. Rounding out at about three foot and about 3knots I rejoined the mass where the upper winds were around 12 knots. It was easy to catch up others who were loitering low level and I flew about 45 mins before I decided I ought to start looking at potential landing spots. The winds were very fickle this morning with nothing below about 400 feet literally leaving you with zero knots and a direct descent. No steerage was possible and when you required a small left to put you into your chosen landing spot, it just wasn’t there. First choice was binned, and then a potential landing spot looked populated by a few teams so I chose to fly on. Reaching the town of Collumpton a third desirable spot seemed on the cards employing a big dump towards the target field but once again it got away .
I was now becalmed over a housing estate and upon checking the fuel status I realised that the diptube was now reading. Telling myself not to get worked up and just fly the bloody balloon I manoeuvred towards the motorway at about 5 knots just above the inversion. Things were (to my mind), beginning to get serious. I decided that as soon as I was clear of the houses I would look intensely for a landing spot initially binning a derelict scrap metal yard and flew on looking for something softer to land on. I had now reached the motorway and whilst it is hard to tell yourself to relax , I thought I just needed to be patient and an opportunity would appear. I was now on track for an industrial estate, a DIY store, a Garden Centre and then finally a field that appeared grassy .
The approach entailed staying high for as long as possible and some pseudo alpine type flying of getting it right into the middle of the field and then dumping the balloon positively into the chosen place . This did (Luckily) as previous attempts and came down vertically and with good access I gratefully took my field . The flight had travelled 6.6 nm in one hour 25mins and I actually had used 42 of my 60 available litres of fuel.
Lovely people turned out to see me bringing their kids , mostly amazed at how rapidly I had dropped from the sky . To me this was just a controlled descent but you have to remember from other perspectives it could have looked more dramatic. Crew were there ready to help pack away and so we adjourned to Collumpton where a relieved pilot brought breakfast for all .
Returning to the launch field I noticed a few teams had got their envelopes wet and were cold inflating to dry them out .luckily for me this wasn’t necessary.
Next “action” was around 11am where John Viner, myself, a Pilot under Training from Loughborough University and Virgin’s Celia were going to do a live spot on BBC Radio Devon. The funny thing with this was that at the proposed live feed time, they were all outside as the fire alarm had gone off. Luckily the delay wasn’t too long and the flannel was done and over. Later in the afternoon we had some public interaction and I assembled the hopper for folks to try the seat out , and no less than six people recognised me from the radio interview. Fame at last.
Saturday evening arrived and with it more spirited winds, allegedly, six knots on the surface but gradually increasing upstairs from 260/10knots at 500feet to 270/18knots at 2000 feet. Having had a lovely hop I declined the desire to go again but some did, staying low over the town and enjoying another flight. Captain Big Cheese was instructing Joel Down in Line pad a Lindstrand 120 with some new crew, a certain Mike and Barbara Webb ( not sure if they have a future in the sport- lol ). Joel needed some faster landings so off they went. I’d guess all in about 15 flew, with no problems encountered.
The Night glow wasn’t quite up to the Friday night one with only four balloons taking part . However it was well received and some of us decided that local Cider was the order of the day with one registering 7.8% proof. Going to bed and having seen all six of the balloons I wanted to from the entry list and not the most favourable weather forecast for the Sunday morning , I was amazed when once again some hardy souls flew . Once again surface winds were predicted to be 6-12 knots with upper winds of 22 knots at 2000ft but those who chose to fly stayed low once again and for the organisers , three flyable slots was very commendable. Definitely not a hopper morning!
Summing up. Nice event, no hassles, easy flying if you kept your head in check, no land owner problems and a lot of fun. I think if invited I will return .
Photos by Rebecca MacEllis, Sandy Mitchell and Martin Freeston.