Record Breaking Hot Air Balloon Challenge
The RAF Halton Hot Air Balloon was amongst a record-breaking group of balloons that took flight across the English Channel on the 7th April 2011.
Fifty one hot air balloons from across the UK and Europe flew across the English Channel from Lydden Hill Race Circuit in Kent, creating a fantastic visual spectacle including a 61 foot tall, smoke breathing dragon shaped balloon together with the RAF Halton Balloon.
The Halton Balloon ably piloted by Flight Lieutenant Chris Fopp from RAF Marham, together with Wing Commander (Retired) Tony Attwood and Flight Sergeant Gareth Bufton of ACS RAF Halton, were in the basket taking off at 7.00am on the 7th April 2011 for the 1 hour 40 minute flight. Having successfully cleared the Channel the next objective was for all balloons to attempt to land as close to or on Calais Airfield. After an epic journey the RAF Halton balloon made a perfect approach to the airfield and finally came to rest adjacent to the Air Traffic Control building. The Halton team were welcomed to French soil by the airfields Manager and Firecrew who were somewhat bemused to have just five of the 50 balloons land within the airfield. Supporting the Halton Balloon in the retrieve vehicle were Brian Deans and Andy Laws (Associate Members) who having seen the RAF liveried Lindstrand balloon drift serenely away over the Kent countryside headed for Dover to catch the ferry to Calais.
The weather conditions were perfect, there was not a cloud in the sky and all the crews assembled at Lydden Hill pre dawn to start preparations were filled with a real sense of excitement. Tony Attwood (Pilot RAF Halton Balloon) commented that “To be part of this record attempt will live with me for a very long time”. Tony an accomplished balloonist and founder member of the RAF Halton Balloon Club has taken part in numerous events ranging from flying across London to flying at height in the Austrian Alps. Steve Richards event organiser described the take off ‘it went from peaceful still spring early morning daybreak to a cacophony of noise, action and colour’, as the balloons lifted off into the skies above the Kent countryside.
After the successful crossing balloonists were popping champagne corks at the prospect of setting a new record. Later on at the event presentation, Mr Richards confirmed the record had been verified by the ‘Guinness World Records’ organisation as a new record for the number of balloons crossing the channel – previous record 35 balloons – new record 50 balloons.
All members of the Halton team were feeling suitably proud to be one of potentially 300 people that have flown the channel in the oldest form of aviation and being part of the new record.
Written By: FS Gareth Bufton