When it comes to taking AvantiGas above and beyond, nobody flies higher than engineer and record-breaking amateur balloonist Steve Chatfield, who will be displaying an AvantiGas banner on his new balloon as he soars over the crowds at Longleat’s Sky Safari on September 15-17. And AvantiGas engineers and apprentices were also in action on home territory in Derbyshire last weekend, near our national HQ, fuelling the 130 hot air balloons taking part in the annual Chatsworth Country Fair.
When it comes to taking AvantiGas above and beyond, nobody flies higher than engineer and record-breaking amateur balloonist Steve Chatfield, who will be displaying an AvantiGas banner on his new balloon as he soars over the crowds at Longleat’s Sky Safari on September 15-17.
And AvantiGas engineers and apprentices were also in action on home territory in Derbyshire last weekend, near our national HQ, fuelling the 50 hot air balloons taking part in the annual Chatsworth Country Fair.
Steve was not in action at Chatsworth, but just how high are we talking about? “I know I get a bit queasy at 16,000 feet,” laughs Steve, who is a member of the British Balloon and Airship Club. He travels not only to ballooning events in the UK but also to France and further afield, including an annual event in the Philippines.
Steve, who lives near Guildford, has been a balloonist for 18 years and, having joined AvantiGas five months ago, saw an opportunity to promote the company at events around the UK.
He will be serving up the LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) that heats the air to lift the hot air balloons as well as consuming some of it himself: “We’re supplying the LPG for the Longleat balloon meet, that’s a done deal. We’re going to be there filling all the balloon tanks with gas at what is now the biggest balloon festival in the country with 130 balloons registered to appear.
“I’ve done five or six UK events this year and I go abroad as well if I have the opportunity. I go to France every two years as they have a massive event, the biggest in Europe, in Metz. It’s called Mondial Air Ballons and they have 400-500 balloons for that.”
Steve also has ambitions to take his balloon to the USA for the AlbuquerqueInternational Balloon Fiesta: “That’s massive, the biggest in world. I’ve never been to that one but I’d love to go there.”
He and his balloon were even involved in a successful attempt earlier this year to break the Guinness World Record for the number of hot air balloons making a simultaneous crossing of the English Channel: “We took off from Dover on 7 April – 82 balloons – which was just fantastic.” The previous record was 49.
But it’s an expensive hobby. Steve had to save for four years to buy his latest balloon or ‘envelope’ as enthusiasts call them, and has gradually acquired essential equipment such as his basket, tanks and burners over the years.
“I’m a pilot, this is my hobby, I love doing it and I fly as often as I can, so if I can promote my company at the same time that’s even better isn’t it?” As well as displaying the AvantiGas banner, plans are afoot to add a further banner promoting one of the charities supported by AvantiGas.
Engineering, Applications and HSSE Manager Stephen Hallett said: “It’s good for marketing, it gets the AvantiGas name out there, and the second banner will raise the profile of the charity we choose.” To assist Steve in return, Stephen has authorised a year’s sponsorship to help meet Steve’s fuel costs for flying at events such as the Longleat meet.
Pilot Steve first became hooked on his hobby at the age of 14. His father, who was also a gas engineer, had a friend who was a balloonist.
“I was just amazed by it, and when I was 18 and I had my driving licence I went around to his house and I said ‘When you go ballooning, can I go out with you?’” Steve volunteered to help retrieve the balloon after flights, for the next eight years: “In return I learned how to put it all together and eventually fly it. I did all my exams and that’s how I became a pilot.”
He has been retrieved from some unusual landing spots himself, including the helipad of the former home of footballer Ashley Cole and his then wife Cheryl, as well as landing in the garden of Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans about 10 years ago:
“He became a good friend of mine… I landed in his garden, and managed to take off from there. This was when he was still married to Billie Piper.”
All the planned flights at Longleat depend on perfect weather over the weekend: “With ballooning you can’t just fly any time you want. The weather has to be just right – the wind has to be light and the weather has to be stable. There’s a lot to take into account.”
Fingers crossed for the maiden flights of the AvantiGas-branded balloon with engineer Steve at the helm.
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