This was written for the BBC Bristol website in 2002 when I was 16. I had been involved in ballooning for a few years and was asked to write this whilst I was at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. I have added bits to this and updated at the end to keep it up to date.
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
I live in Ashton in Bristol and when I was about six years old I used to watch the hot air balloons come right over my house when the fiesta was on. After getting bored of watching stunt planes from my bedroom window occasionally shoot up from behind a row of houses, my parents took me to the fiesta for the first time.
I enjoyed every part of the fiesta, the trade stands, the music, and of course the balloons! Ever since that first visit to the Fiesta, I have gone every year to enjoy more of the fun that the organisers had planned.
As I got older I started looking at ballooning websites where I found lots of interesting things like photos from previous fiestas, links to other balloon websites and general balloon information. This gave me the idea to make my own website that gave similar information which was quick and easy to use.
I started the website in 1997 but it changed to the .co.uk we know now in February 2000 and 18 months later it already had over 18,000 visitors (As of July 2011 the website is seeing over 300,000 hits per month with August each year seeing a whopping 700,000 hits!!). When I started the website, I was contacted by a Bristol pilot, Lee Hooper (no relation!). He introduced me to ballooning and I eventually became part of his crew. He took me to France as part of his balloon team for my first week of work experience at school!
My Balloon G-BOOB
For my second week, I went to Cameron Balloons in Bedminster, Bristol. From this I learnt how much work actually goes into making a hot air balloon and how much ballooning means to the people of Bristol.
After being involed with many balloon crews in Bristol and Bath I joined up to the Bristol University Hot Air Ballooning Society (BUHABS) as Lee was one of the main pilots at the time. I flew many times and it made me want to try it for myself with the thought of getting my licence in the future.
The BUHABS team went off to Mondial Air Ballon (Metz Balloon Fiesta) in 2005 and I had my first experience of training. The conditions were excellent and I managed to get my first couple of hours training with Paul Spellward. I continued to do some training within Bristol and Bath, but it was slow progress and I had almost a year of not doing any flying.
I decided it was time to buy my own hot air balloon, this way everything would be down to me and I was in control of my training. I looked on the Zebedee List and saw an envelope for sale that had the registration G-BOOB, for this reason alone I enquired about it! I was given the chance to borrow the envelope and tether it to make sure everything was ok before I made my mind up.
The balloon was perfect, so I bought it! I managed to get the rest of the kit together through friends and other items from Zebedee as well.
I first flew it at the Tavistock Balloon Fiesta in 2007 with Richard Allen and it was great! I then continued on with my training, taking my written exams and then flying lots! My exams ran out in April 2009 so around October 2008 there was a rush to get the flight examinations out of the way before April came around! I flew before going to work in the mornings, after work in the evenings and weekends too, every chance there was of flying then I was out flying!
I finally took my flight examination with Don Cameron in March from Keynsham. He passed me with flying colours, which meant it was time to do my solo flight. I did this a few days later from Keynsham again and landed less than a mile away at a school in an hour!
In my first year of flying I have managed to achieve over 40 flying hours, have taken part in many fiestas and meets and of course my dream came true when I flew as a pilot at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in 2009!