The AvantiGas team fuelling last weekend’s ‘Sky Safari’ at Longleat in Wiltshire helped provide a wonderful display for the public, as well as being garlanded with praise by the balloon pilots taking part in a flight that broke UK records.
More than 170 balloons took off simultaneously last Saturday morning, breaking the UK record for the highest number of balloons taking off in one place at the same time. The total number of balloons at the meet reached 230, making the Sky Safari the biggest-ever British ballooning event.
“It was absolutely awesome,” said AvantiGas engineer and qualified balloon pilot Steve Chatfield. Steve flew his own AvantiGas-sponsored balloon over the weekend and Mark Thomas, who is training as a pilot himself, led the engineering team on the ground, supported by Steve Barrett and Jack Hood.
Steve Chatfield also lent a hand though flying the balloon was his main task. Steve is now a qualified professional pilot but while pursuing his hobby for nearly 20 years he has had occasional scrapes, including an unplanned landing in the garden of radio DJ Chris Evans and another landing on the home helipad of soccer star Ashley Cole. Presumably he was keen to avoid any unplanned descent while flying over the lions of Longleat?
“Well they did say in the pilot briefing notes ‘Don’t land in the lions’ area or you may get a vets’ bill for picking human remains out of their teeth,’ laughs Steve. “But we fly the first hour of the morning and the last hour before evening, and they put the big animals away, so if we were to land in there it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The lions wouldn’t be out roaming around.”
The public event ran from Friday to Sunday (September 14-16) but AvantiGas engineers and drivers were there from the Thursday to re-fuel the burners that provide the hot air for lift-off, starting with overseas entrants.
High winds limited the number of flights on the Friday and no flying was possible on the Sunday when the winds resumed, but Saturday was a spectacular success.
Area Sales Manager Oliver Blackmore, who also attended, said: “We had some great feedback from the pilots. The comments included ‘Quickest re-fuelling I have ever had at an event’ and ‘You are the most dedicated team of workers – thank you!’
Oliver also praised the contribution by the drivers on site and the planners back at head office who had arranged for the tanker trucks carrying the gas to Longleat.
The engineering team’s enthusiasm and efficiency was also praised to the skies (literally) at the balloonists’ final dinner by Andrew Holly, founder of event organisers Exclusive Ballooning. Refuelling so many balloons speedily and safely was a challenge which the AvantiGas engineers clearly relished.
Says Steve: “Before he announced the results and awarded the prizes, Andrew Holly said how efficient the AvantiGas team were and that the pilots couldn’t believe how quickly we were filling their cylinders. There were no queues. We fuelled over 170 balloons on the Saturday, but they were pulling up and were out of there within five minutes. It was a very good moment. We got a massive round of applause and nothing but positive feedback. It was brilliant.”
As well as fuelling all the flights, AvantiGas LPG also powered the ‘Night Glows’ where balloons fire up their burners to a musical soundtrack for a spectacular ground-based display.
Supplying LPG for balloon events has become a growing niche for AvantiGas and other events supplied this year include the recent Chatsworth Country Fair at the Derbyshire stately home.