This is by far the largest gathering of Hot Air Balloons outside the USA and this year enjoyed record temperatures though, of the 19 available launch windows, at 0630 and 1830 each day, only 10 sessions were successful. 983 different balloons participated with over 1200 pilots attending from 49 nations.
A world record launch of over 400 balloons in a single lift was achieved and a continuous line of inflated balloons ran down doth sides of the runway on one memorable occasion.
During the day, whilst the exhausted balloon crews recover both their envelopes and themselves there are activities on the airfield though no static display as such. The public do not arrive en masse until mid to late afternoon. Pilot briefings are scheduled for 0600 and 1800 when the meteorologists deliver a verdict on wind, cloudbase and thunderous activity; all of which effect the launch possibilities. In general the morning lift is prompt and the evening around 2000 hours as the airfield is fairly exposed. The public numbers are considerably reduced in the early morning.
The airfield plays host to a large number of ultralights and some fixed wing and helicopter operators and most are happy to receive visitors or sell air-experience flights. There were few ‘special shape’ balloons which was a shame, but the variety of nations attending and the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere made up for that. Top attendees of the countries present were the French and British and potentially the rarer examples were from Thailand, Morocco and the Russian Federation.
Held every two years on the last week of July I can certainly recommend it to ‘balloonatics’ everywhere.