This year’s seventh (yes seven!) annual Ultramagic UK Grass Roots Balloon Meet got off to a great start when we were able to call it on the first scheduled weekend. The forecast was kind and the synoptic situation leading to the weekend of 5-7 September kept improving.
Tim Wilkinson and family at Sackville were kindly hosting the event again, and again Richard Penney and Paul Dickinson at Ultramagic UK were again generously providing sponsorship. The NFU sponsored marquee duly arrived and with over 100 balloon teams expected all was looking good. Along with Tim, the lads from the Chiltern Region had kindly helped prepare the site, Tim had ordered the gas and Barry Newman was once again organising the bar which included some proper keg ales. The core team were Tim, Barry, Peter Gray and myself.
The campsite started to fill as folks arrived from Friday morning. We held an informal briefing for the Friday evening slot which resulted in 47 balloons taking flight. The winds were very light and variable with most balloons just managing to clear the far side of Thurleigh Airfield.
Back at Sackville the bar was open and with a change to tradition Tim had invited Kielder Meats down from Northumberland to sell their organically reared food. This was a brilliant move in that the food was fantastic and reasonably priced and gave Tim’s wife Angie and the girls a well deserved break as they would still cooking our breakfasts at silly o’clock each morning.
All four slots were flown over the weekend in very light winds. At times it was a tad misty, and we had a shower late on Saturday afternoon which soon cleared for 66 balloons to fly the slot.
The landowner relations element was as positive as ever. Tim had already invited all the local farmers as usual, many of whom flew in the balloons. Some farmers even came back to help crew on the next slot. As a result of the event some sensitive areas will be deleted. On the Saturday evening slot a load of balloons landed in Eileen Wallis’s farm at Riseley. She was so pleased with our conduct and her bottles of wine that she came to Sackville that evening to thank everyone. As a gesture of good will from us, one landowner who had many balloons on their property asked rather than bottles we made a modest contribution to the Beds & Cambs Rural Support Group, for which we were delighted to oblige.
Flight training and getting new people involved in ballooning is one of the most important aspects of the meet. I am pleased that a record five successful checkout flights took place, so congratulations to the new pilots Simon Hornsby, Bob Gower, Alina Nikiel, Brian Mead and Robert Lovell who flew successful exam flights with Chris Dunkley, Dave Court and Kevin Meehan.
Another highlight for me was Mike Gunston flying to the meet in his light aircraft from Fairoaks on Saturday afternoon, this being his first balloon meet attendance since his terrible car accident from which he is clearly recovering.
Another surprise on Saturday evening was the debut attendance of Don and Maggie Cameron who flew the slot and stayed on to socialise.
Richard at Ultramagic UK set some light-hearted competitions, the winners of which were awarded with some excellent Ultramagic-themed prizes. The winners included:
Long Distance Award: Ian Chadwick for getting to Old Warden, on their biggest show of the year:).
Altitude Award: to William Wood (10,082ft) and Andy Collett (10,000ft).
Dave Court was awarded the coveted Biggleswade Trophy for all his excellent work on the EASA legislation.
At the prize giving on Sunday morning all new pilots and competition winners were recognised. Also recognised, and through this article I would like to say a big thank you to all of the following:
Tim for running the show!
Ultramagic UK for their continued sponsorship. They have agreed to sponsor the 2015 event!
Easy Balloons for their continued support
Kielder Meats for the excellent and reasonably priced food
Angie and the girls for breakfasts etc.
Barry and the bar staff
Chiltern lads for site set up and general running around
NFU for the marquee
Farmers for their support
Sackville Flying club for putting up with us
We were also delighted to receive the following messages:
“What can I say – an absolutely massive thank you to everyone involved in organising Grass Roots for a fantastic weekend! I’m so glad that I was able to finally make it this year and although the weather could have been better, to fly every slot as we did was brilliant and it really has reinvigorated my enthusiasm!!!!! It was also great to meet so many ‘old faces’ who I haven’t seen for years, as well as meet new people and put faces to names I’ve read and heard about over the years. Our Tekno kit certainly sparked a lot of interest and was a great ‘ice breaker’ for meeting new people. Please pass on mine and my teams thanks to Barry, Peter and everyone else involved – you all deserve a decent rest now! I look forward to hopefully attending again next year for more great flying. We just don’t get to do that low level fun flying down here. With every best wish and warm regards from a sunny Devon”. Peter Harding.
“Very many thanks for your successful efforts on my behalf towards my licence. I'm very relieved that those efforts were rewarded with a successful result. I'm already looking forward to coming next year as a P1”. Simon Hornsby.
“Many thanks for organising the balloon event. I came with both my sons this morning, neither of whom had been up in a balloon before. Tremendous spectacle to see such an event taking place, although the visibility was not good, the experience was wonderful, and something which my boys have been looking forward to for some time. The tranquility of gradually ballooning across the Bedfordshire countryside, was a great morning. Thanks so much for laying it on”. Gavin Hunter, Farmer.
“I had my first hands on at Grass Roots 2013 and I was overjoyed to check out and solo at this year’s event. The gas, the book, the "plonk" and the certificate really were the icing on the cake, how very kind, thank you. I will be sending my paperwork off the CAA this week! See you next year, I'm looking forward to flying a farmer”. Brian Mead.
“Thank you for organising a fantastic and very successful meet and I already look forward to attending next year! After my successful flight up to and slightly over 10,000ft at the weekend I thought I may as well submit this to the BBAC to start my Silver Badge Scheme. I have attached evidence from my GPS and photographic evidence, which was shown to Peter at the weekend, along with a copy of my application which I was hoping you would be able to certify the flight after ‘accepting indirect evidence of the flight’ as quoted from the application”. William Wood.
“First time I have attended Grass Roots and must say a great big thanks to all of you. A really great meet, just as ballooning should be. Many congratulations and look forward to next year”. Geoff Down.
“Yet again, please would you pass Team Johnson’s thanks to Team Sackville for another wonderful event. I cannot believe that it has been going for 7 years – still a great event and one we would not want to miss. The new catering arrangements were really good and all our team and guests made use of them, so I hope they will find it worthwhile doing the same next year. It must take a great strain off Tim and family”. Dave & Sue Johnson.
“Wonderful weekend again. Thanks to you and your team again for a great event. Flyable all day every day more or less! I got 4 lovely flights in and made some great new farming friends. Where else do you land on someone in the morning, fly them that evening with their girlfriend and next morning they ask if they can do the retrieve! (which they did perfectly). Brilliant”. Rob Bayly
Please note that next year’s event is scheduled for 11th – 13th September to avoid clashing with Chatsworth the week before.
Below is a list of the pilots and balloons flown. Please click on the image to enlarge it.