Balloon Repair Station

It’s a what exactly? Strange things in the workshop!

Amongst the leaking whisper burners and vapour valves, cylinders to be tested and holes various to mend we do get a fair few oddly type visitors. Generally speaking these are ‘I was wondering if’s..’ and ‘do you think that’s’. Thing is once someone reckons it can’t be mended we are on a challenge which, most times, becomes an after hours charity event! There is though a deep sense of satisfaction and amazement when we do get them sorted and even more so when they join a collection or get put to proper use in the skies.

One of our homebuilders uses an Aerostar burner for his plot. No idea why. I think it originally just came with the first homebuilt he bought. Anyway it catches fire and gets the envelope up to temperature and was cheap. This is a triangular shaped thing , yup even the coils. It tapers nearly to a point at the base making the fitting of the bits and pieces a tad cramped and not exactly easy to get to. Over the years it has popped back for a bit of a fettle. First was to fit a whisper valve which we did by sorting an adaptor, drilling it out to take Cameron type lever jobbie and fit it in line with the Rego blast valve. Worked well. This time it turned up on account the pilot lights were not really doing the job. Well one was, the next not so good and the last not. Yep boy, three pilot lights and not an igniter in sight, still, if its not there it can’t break. That’s American back up for you. Clearly there was grot in the jets so it meant taking it to bits. These burners are clearly not designed. Let me start again. These burners are not designed for simplicity or mending in a field. Whereas you have to marvel at the windings on the coils, they are an art form in their own right, the manifold system for the pilot light tubes and the fact that you can’t easily get anything apart once it has been assembled on account it is largely riveted together rather detracts. It is semi-technical Heath Robinson at it most enchanting. After a lot of head scratching the decision was taken to bin the original system and make up a new pilot light complete using an old T&C assembly. There was nothing remarkable in achieving that apart from working out how the old system came apart and quite where we could fit the new bits in! It is nothing if not creative. Vapour is fed through a valve to a circular manifold surrounding the liquid feed to the coil. Individual pilot tubes feed off the manifold and although they are bolted to the can they are held in place where they meet the manifold by…mastic. Lots of mastic. Its truly an amazing method of assembly. We once left a tube of ‘Sticks like S**t’ on the bench. Someone called in and asked what we used that for. “Repairing nomex panels,” we said with a smile, “Dead easy, just cut the damage out cut a bit to go over it, gob on the S**t and press down.” We got one of those long quizzical stares followed by, “That must save a lot of time but doesn’t it go brittle?” Now if I’d said we use it to assemble pilot light assemblies on Aerostar burners then they wouldn’t have believed me! Surely this was a bodge. We looked up the old maintenance manual and yup there it was complete with warnings about ensuring the air holes were orientated correctly and you didn’t fill them with mastic! It works (or in this case had worked) but, by jove, what a palaver. I never cease to be amazed by American burners.

We look after a couple of Head burners and they are made of so many bits its a wonder they don’t leak. I don’t think there is anything on them apart from the can and coils that doesn’t come from a gas fitters shop. They are a four sided version of the Aerostar with a raucous pilot light that does work well but no igniter (in the traditional American way). They come in pairs and have a rather parallelogram type of gimballing system that given half a chance will have a finger off. Also the hoses have a manifold and gauges built in and in the normal course of events are fitted to the basket making rigging and de-rigging easy (if you’ve worked out how to do it) or a real faff. Fair play they are light and you can probably buy bits from your local hardware store. As a result of numerous ninety degree fittings and connecting bits you do have to be very careful dismantling them as unless you support adjacent bits it is quite easy to unintentionally loosen a bit deeper in its guts. The annual inspection requires the pilot light filters and blast valve seals to be changed. The blast valves are the old Rego toggle type so no problem with seals for them but you need to be extremely careful other bits don’t get dislodged. There is a whisper valve on one side linked via an interesting spring to the main valve. To operate it you have to pull out the end of the handle which releases a locking pin. I have no idea why but I’m sure Mr Tarp Head will put me right. The filter on the burner pilot feed is a standard roll-up filter item, a Swan filter tip does it, and Jane uses them! Bracing myself now from a backlash from the States we’ll move on.

Zebedee Bishy often turns up with something gloriously Old & Rusty with a quizzical look on his face. Naturally his stuff is almost always a serious challenge value 10. Over the years we have got some serious pre-historic burners (not always a wise move) running again in a slightly safer way. The latest Bishy Burner we have in at the moment and, under the present Corrie virus situation, will be a guest for a while is what appears to be a Cameron Mk4 single but look closely and you’ll see that whilst the can and valving is almost certainly Cameron Mk4 the coils most definitely are not. They are rather exquisitely formed parallel four siders with four feeds from the bottom and up the sides. Whoever bent up these and formed them into a cohesive coil was seriously skilled. Quite how well they work we haven’t yet tried as when they arrived fuel came out of everywhere except where it needed so they have had a bit of a rebuild! It was mooted that they may have been experimental Cameron ones but the coils have a distinct American look. I’m looking forward to trying this out as I reckon it will be pretty efficient but parallel coils don’t as a rule last that long as the heating effect is not very even. Early Sky burners suffered badly from that, the later ones with the tapered coils will probably go on forever. Having said that this burner has eight jets and a whisper valve, albeit the old screw type but that may be changed. It would be great for a homebuild. Contact Pete Bish at Zebedee Balloon Services for details but bear in mind that under the present circumstances it may not be available for a while!

Occasionally we find history under tank jackets or around the top of the cylinder. Here is a good old ‘Love your Worthington’ cylinder that came as a set of four. They had been acquired from a sale and had the registration, G-BEFE, and the name of the original balloon they went with, ‘Shadowfax’, painted quite professionally on them. In the old-fashioned days all balloons worth their salt were given names even if they were commercial balloons. Budweiser, for example was always known as ‘Bloodweiser’ after Mr Batchelor fell out of it and it ended up in a graveyard. Good story for another time. The CAA G-INFO ‘tells all’ site, to this day, has a section ‘popular name’ but is very seldom filled in. Ian Ashpoles’ T&C ‘180 was G-BONK but there was no entry in that particular field. The old IR4 release to service note even had a bit for the name and nothing for the model. There’s a thing. Names were quite cosmic sometimes like Serendipity, Eight of Herts, Shy-Tot, Henry the Eighth, Renatus Cartesius, Halcyon and Ignis Volens. Shadowfax I, G-BEFE, was the first production Cameron N-77, serial number 252 built in 1976 and owned by Stuart and Ian Bridge from Nottingham. This one had 32 gores but after a rethink later models had 28 then finally 24 with 12 flying wires making them a bit easier to rig but still one of the heaviest for their size and the most expensive to repair if you torch the nomex! The registration was cancelled in February 1986. It was donated to the British Balloon & Airship Museum by Stuart in 2003 and appears at the BBM&L Inflation Day from time to time. There was a Shadowfax II, G-BHHK, same design but predominately yellow, built in 1976 and in which Daniella Bridge achieved the British Altitude Female record on the 13th August 1983 for AX7-AX15, with an altitude of 16,695ft. Ian Bridge piloted G-BHHK to win the British Nationals in 1981 and 1982. It too resides in the BBM&L collection. Ian is still flying, now mainly in Shropshire, providing instructional flights and offering professional services providing platforms for aerial photography, film and video.

Currently we have a couple of projects in. One is to sort out a very early Cameron burner and re-commission and make a bit safer to use which will go under something rusty in Bishy’s shed and an old tar burner that has languished on the shelf for a while on account we are wondering if it is even safe to get it working again but now we have a bit of time we’ll give it a go. Fire extinguisher at the ready. Watch this space.

For greater detail click on the picture and it should get bigger.