Balloons took to the skies in record numbers on Friday, April 7, as 82 hot air balloons launched from Lydden Hill Race Circuit at 7 a.m., and traveled over the famous White Cliffs of Dover to Calais, France, etching a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The event was organized by Exclusive Ballooning and sponsored by recruitment processing outsourcing specialists Datum RPO.
“It is fantastic to be able to organize an event which includes so many European pilots and helps to raise the profile of ballooning around the world,” Louise Moore, Operations Manager for Exclusive Ballooning, tells The Balloon Journal. “Ballooning has a wonderful community ethos and can be a family oriented hobby or a highly competitive sport. We are very proud to be able to introduce people to ballooning and encourage and inspire new pilots.”
The previous record, coincidentally set six years earlier to the day, involved 49 balloons completing the flight.
The Datum RPO bespoke hot air balloon led the pack over the 35km distance of water and was piloted by company director James Strickland.
“What a fantastic flight in perfect weather conditions,” Strickland says. “Having flown across the Channel in 2011, this time was truly amazing to break the Guinness Book of Record attempt. Of all the flights I have ever done, this has to be number one.”
Exclusive Ballooning’s Director Andrew Holly flew alongside Strickland in the official Lord Mayor’s Appeal hot air balloon, which was enjoying its maiden flight, having been unveiled for the first time on the launch site that day.
“Thank you to all the pilots and crews who travelled so far to make this truly an international and unforgettable flight,” Holly says. “The 2011 flight was my favorite of all time and we were thrilled to be able to give so many pilots from all over Europe the opportunity to have the same experience. It has been a fantastic day and I think this morning’s flight is now top of my list.”
Pilots from 10 different countries took part in the event and plans for the flight have been in the works for months. The flight was on standby since March 5, with Exclusive Ballooning eventually landing on a perfect date with optimal flying conditions.
“The weather conditions needed for this flight are very specific and the conditions on Friday were near perfect,” Moore says. “The 2011 flight was on standby for six months before a suitable slot appeared. We have been on standby for only five weeks for this flight. It must have been fate though as the 2011 flight was on April 7, too.”
Alan Turner, a Cotswolds pilot of the Joinerysoft Balloon, took part in the flight with his wife Kirsten, while his teenage sons, Robert and Matthew, acted as the balloon’s crew.
“It was a true family adventure,” he says. “The weather conditions were perfect. There was a decent amount of steerage at different heights where the winds were in a slightly different direction, this meant that we could choose whether to stay within the center of the pack or go it alone at the edge. We chose to stay in the center.”
Overall, the Joinerysoft was in the air for 2 hours and 30 minutes, more than half over the water.
“The most disconcerting thing was not being able to see the French Coast due to the haze,” Turner says. “We flew over the White Cliffs of Dover and could only see an expanse of sea as far as the eye could see. Land appeared through the haze when we were only five miles away from the French Coast.”
Turner notes that being able to fly across an expanse of water such as the English Channel is pretty remarkable in its own right, but the fact that it was an attempt to break a world record made the flight even more special.
“It’s only thanks to the hard work and efforts of organizers Exclusive Ballooning that a flight of this magnitude becomes possible,” he says. “Such a prestigious event introduces hot air ballooning to a new audience. It would be great if hot air ballooning as a hobby became more accessible to young people.”
Nick Langley, managing director of Airship & Balloon Company Ltd., flew Prison Stuart, one of the characters from the forthcoming movie, Despicable Me 3. He was joined on the day by his co-pilot, Susan Carden, and ground crew, Robin and Graham.
“I have been a balloon pilot for 30 years and have always dreamed of flying across the English Channel, but have not had the opportunity as the very specific weather requirements for a safe crossing are very rare,” he says. “The excitement on Friday was amazing and the trip went very smoothly, so we were able to enjoy every minute. To be part of a World Record is a very important part of my ballooning career.”
According to Langley, the balloonists took off from just outside Dover and landed south of Calais at 8:23 in absolutely ideal weather conditions.
“The distance covered was 32 miles and our average speed was 14 mph, although we did reach 22 mph at one point in the flight,” he says. “We cruised at 1,000 feet above sea level, but did climb to 3,200 feet for a short time. The view was extraordinary and we could still see Dover, half way across the Channel, but France was very hazy. We landed safely in a large grass field, just a few miles inland from the coast and met a couple of very friendly local people, including the farmer. We gave him a bottle of whisky as a thank you and then our ground crew arrived and we packed up the balloon and returned to the UK.”
Other key supporters had their own bespoke balloons flying including Omega Resource Group, Aberdeen Asset Management, Keltbray, Longleat, Hospital Records, Silverline, Renishaw and Ricoh.
“We are hugely proud of our achievement and are still looking through the hundreds of photos of the flight and receiving dozens of thank you messages,” Moore says. “Social media has played a big role in allowing this flight to be shared globally and in particular within the ballooning community.”