By the time you are reading this Tim Wilkinson of Grass Roots fame will have most likely finished his third envelope having rebuilt G-BLCH an eight gore T&C thing and a couple of all new Airtours the company originally set up by Bob Poole and Carol and Bob Howes. Anyway down a few hundred yards of material here is a bit a of a backtrack on the story as it was, so’ to speak!
Like all things in life experience tends to set your future. In my case its a farming background, manufacturing special sheep equipment, contracting, flying aircraft very various, repairing aircraft regularly and a general engineering background. After being made redundant from the airline I had been working for last year it meant that this coming summertime would be free to do what I wanted to do (family permitting of course!!). Not wanting to buy a brand new envelope I decided that I’d have a crack at making one, then two seemed like a reasonable proposition and I finally settled on three. Typically it seems that four is the order of the day now. First off would be a ’65 rebuild and with luck the re-creation of three Airtour balloons a ‘31, ‘56, and a ’77.
During the winter my sheep scanning business and hours spent travelling gave me the time to plan my summer build-a-balloon project. Some would say I’m lucky having the time but I say you make a lot of your own luck by hard work. First off I had to make some serious space in the workshop. Whilst up north I came across a load of large (very large and heavy) Formica sheets which I immediately recognised as being ideal as a cutting table so first off we built a table with a nice smooth surface 24 foot long and 5 foot wide to cut the fabric. It needed extra support and hunting round the scrapheap turned up a couple of old ironing boards which did the job splendidly. A little bit of inch box was welded up to make a support at one end for the rolls of fabric and all was ready. Next, where to purchase a twin stitch sewing machine? Phoning round everyone I knew in ballooning one eventually turned up that John Till was selling, an old machine from Thunder Balloon days. Dave Such sorted that one for me.
The show stopper was going to be the Fabric. Ebay had some for sale in bits and pieces at high prices and questionable quality and origin. Chris Dunkley said America was the best place especially if I wanted lightweight but being a bit of a patriot I thought the old rag trade in the UK must still be producing ripstop. It took about six months to purchase 1400 metres of fabric comprising 400 metres of hyperlast that would do for the top, 300 metres of purple and just recently 700 metres of royal blue which was certainly enough to start. Then Dave Such found 1700 metres more quality orange which posed a bit of a dilemma. Buy the lot at a cheap price or a little at a higher market price? The decision was made and now it looks like all my balloons are going to be orange with a little blue spiral to break up the orange. It had taken me until the BBAC AGM to get myself organised.
Pete Bish at Zebedee Balloons sorted me out an old and tired Annex II balloon which I soon picked up from Hungerford. Pete told me that it would be a good rebuild project to learn on! In hindsight maybe a new balloon would have been easier which decided me that the next one would an Airtour as Pete Bish has patterns for them. An Airtour 56 balloon would be a nice one and now Bob and Carol Howes who used to make them have offered to help and as they only live five miles away that will be great.
So, how far have we got? I say ‘we’ as others have come along and helped from time to time but now the curiosity has died down it seems to be mainly just myself and Barry Newman. The ‘65 has now been completed and after a very thorough inspection by John the Stitch, along with how to adjust the parachute, all the little problems have been sorted. Its now been hoped across the airfield and the other day it went on its first proper flight. The first Airtour, as I’m going to build three, is now coming along. All the panels are cut and the gores going together. Its getting easier and being all new including the tapes seems to be a quicker job. Watch out for the skies being full of mainly orange balloons! More later. Sackville.