This is an article sent in by Jon Francis of their group's flight to the Isle of Wight.
It makes enjoyable reading – If you have anything similar suitable for the website please feel free to send it in.
There is link at the bottom of the text to the excellent photos
Isle of Wight flight – 11/4/12
Our group , Firefly Balloon Team , go to the Exbury Village Fair every August .It’s held at the Exbury Club & the manager , John , has kindly allowed us to practice inflations etc .We knew that with airspace & other restrictions if you took off you could only fly South .
We had flown from Andover on Sat 10/4 , Sun looked good but the wind direction was wrong .Then the penny dropped, why not try for the Island.
The forecast surface wind was 020 deg which was marginal –if you got another 10 deg at height you would reach the Island with only 3km to the right of you . This would mean landing asp , the terrain in front being hilly & covered in housing .
At the club a christening party was in progress & we provided some of the entertainment .
The wind was from the South but the forecast hadn’t mentioned a sea breeze .We watched the helium being blown inland ( Southampton CTR is 3km to the North ) & then doubling back & heading South . We rigged up , sent up another helium & went for a coffee in the clubhouse . A very careful look at the map showed this was a tricky one . We tied 2 heliums together & sent them up – no change .The problem was that as they rose above the sea breeze & turned South , they didn’t pass over us but to the West so that our final bearing on them could not be their actual track .
With this element of uncertainty we had a final briefing .I told our PUT’s that I was going to take off but only because 1)we had 1km in which to land before reaching the Solent & 2) if we had any problems over the Solent we would drop into the sea breeze & return . If we didn’t clear the sea breeze before reaching the CTR we would land & would have to stay below 2000 ft when travelling South because of the CTA .
Four of us flew .Dave Sillence ( PUT ) inflated & flew the balloon from launch to landing , I didn’t touch the controls once . Wendy Smith was our photographer & did a brilliant job .Adam Bundy ( 17 yrs ) another PUT came to assist & for the experience . Dave Chant drove our retrieve & Paul Ridout ( PUT ) navigated .
We took off & went North climbing rapidly . It wasn’t until we reached 1700ft that we cleared the sea breeze & started South . We were moving very slowly but fortunately as we approached the shore we were travelling parallel to a track which showed us the direction was ok . For future reference that 1km between the field & shore is not a practical safety margin .
As we crossed the coast we were heading for the estuary of the Newtown river . This really stood out & throughout the flight we didn’t deviate much , our track being 190 – 200 deg .Visibility was superb & the Solent was alive with every kind of craft . We saw 2 aircraft over the water, both about 1000ft below .
We had perfect views of the western Solent & Portsmouth , to the East the end of the Island & Hurst Castle & in front a panoramic view of the whole of the Island .Our GPS was steady on 4.5kts & we were over water for 4nm , taking an hour to cross.
On approaching the shore we descended to get as close to the water as possible. At 750ft we were going backwards faster than we had been going forwards & after enjoying the sensation climbed back to 1700ft to continue. On reaching the Newtown river estuary a Coastguard helicopter flew about 1000ft below us heading North .
The estuary is striking from the air but there is alot of water & mud & a nature reserve & we had to travel another 2km before thinking of landing .
Dave had remarked on the lack of animals but passing Newbridge every field contained them .We were getting close to the high ground that forms a spine in that part of the island .We considered landing on it but not for long . Flying over it & trying to land on the 1km of land left before the coast , with it’s houses , roads & woods was also rejected .If the sea breeze was still blowing we could drop into it , reverse our course & land before the estuary . If not we would land asp . Alleluia , it was . We flewback on the reciprocal , Dave used a turning vent & we looked for a place to land .The buggeration factor kicked in with a vengeance . No animals but wires in abundance . The estuary was drawing closer & there was silence in the basket. Wires every where but we eventually landed about 2km from the estuary near Shalfleet , the flight lasting 1hr 30mins .
Two men & their wives came to help .We had recently bought our envelope – G-OUMC ( the Uphill balloon – this was our second flight ) & one of the men had raced with the original owner .Small world . The woman who owned the land was absolutely brilliant , what a way to end a very memorable flight .
I have flown to the Island twice before from Southampton Balloon Fiesta in 1997 .The 3 landings were between northings 90 – 88 & this one was only 3km from one of the others – at Vittlefields farm .
Paul & Dave took the ferry from Lymington & as we were only 7km from Yarmouth were soon with us .The £155.00 charged by Wightlink for the crossing was a shock .
This flight really rammed home to the PUT’s the vital importance of thorough planning – considering every possible outcome & what action to take before leaving the ground .It was a splendid team effort & we are going to remember it for a long time .
To see the adventure depicted in some excellent photos click >Here<