MAB 2017, Chambley, France, 21-30 July 2017
Report by Peter and Kim Davison
This is now billed as the biggest hot-air balloon gathering in the world. Only Albuquerque, New Mexico comes close. Held every two years, this, the fifteenth such show in the Region of Grand Est, centred near Metz, birthplace of Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier, the world’s first aeronaut. This French region has four international borders and over sixteen nations were represented in mass ascents at 0630 and 1830 each day subject to suitable weather conditions.
Airshow news correspondents were present for the first four days during which five mass launches were achieved by around four hundred balloons ranging from giant bulk carriers with a small crowd of passengers to the single seat ‘cloudhoppers’ that, with no basket, just carry a pilot on a suspended chair. Some added novelty is provided by ‘special shape’ balloons that are deliberately positioned near the crowd line.
Chambley air base covers 486 hectares, built to house American airman in 1953 reverted to the French Ministry of Defence in 1967. The six kilometres of paved runways on an open plain provide a suitable launch-field if light winds are present. The long crowd-line set beside and between six modern hangars allows space and shelter for numerous trade outlets, catering, playgrounds and seating with the hangars holding numerous microlight aircraft, helicopters and gliders. During the day there are opportunities to sample light aviation at advantageous prices; the event itself is free to attend. Over 110 thousand visitors attended the opening weekend.
In addition to the mass hot-air balloon launches which see hundreds of colourful balloons drifting almost silently over the rolling agricultural landscape so typical of this tourist rich region, two of particular interest are worthy of acclaim. Unique is ‘La Grande Ligne’ where participants hold their balloons fully inflated in three parallel lines along the runways before a combined release; this year a world record 456 balloons, all lifting within an hour. The other is a ‘nightglow’; less balloons with no release but inflated after dark such that their propane burners illuminate the envelopes, often to music.
All ballooning events are subject to weather conditions so, by spreading potential launches over ten days, opportunities are maximised. Participants and organisers are to be congratulated on their professionalism and flexibility, one particular evening was almost called off as far too windy though with a prediction that there might be a ‘brief lull’ between 1930 and 2000 teams drove out, unpacked and merely waited. Hence; when it came, over a hundred flew within minutes and landed less than ten miles away before the weather changed again. How these committed enthusiasts stay awake, fed and watered is an achievement in itself. All this in a strict regime of safety and regulation.
As ever, sponsors and supporters enjoy hospitality and certainly, from a Press perspective the service provided was seamless and considerate. For anyone interested in lighter-than-air this is becoming an essential date in Europe’s aviation calendar.