Europe's biggest balloon festival takes flight

12th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Europe's biggest balloon festival took off Thursday with weird and wonderful shapes filling the skies to mark the golden jubilee of modern hot air ballooning.

More than half a million people are expected to attend the four-day Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, held on a country estate in the city in southwest England, involving some 150 balloons from around the world.

This year's festival, one of Britain's largest outdoor events, marks the 50th anniversary of modern ballooning, and 100 years of Bristol's aviation industry, a major local employer.

In 1960, American Ed Yost first used a nylon balloon and propane gas on board for heating.

Before, balloons dating back to the Montgolfier brothers' pioneering manned flight in 1783 were heated by a ground fire.

Don Cameron built Europe's first modern balloon in 1967. The Bristol Belle, now worn with age and with too many holes in the thin nylon, was inflated again at this year's fiesta.

Cameron, now the world's biggest balloon manufacturer, is the event's flight director, and at 71 is still in love with their charm.

"It's gloriously obsolete, a vintage way of flying that's more than two centuries old," he told AFP.

"Fundamentally, it's about the principle of being lighter than air."

"There is a magic about flying in balloons because you are not rushing, you can drift along quite slowly, lean over the edge of the basket, and sometimes fly so low that you can chat to people on the ground."

A giant motorbike with a helmeted rider on top, a light bulb, a dog, a monster, a Jaguar car, squares, a huge wine box and a green dragon slowly emerged to fill the skyline.

The motorbike is one of the biggest special shapes ever built, while the dragon is Britain's only glass-bottomed balloon.

Its pilot Richard Turnbull told AFP: "It's a great view for passengers, though they do dwell on the fact that there's seemingly nothing between them and oblivion."

© 2010 AFP

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