Bill Harrop's Balloon Safaris Host 2nd Dinosaur Derby
Night Glow of Historic Balloons
By Russell Dixon - Paver
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Simba was one of those balloons that drove all the dogs in town crazy in early May 2000. At the annual winter farmer's show in Newcastle in the first week of May 2000, a number of balloons were "guests" as an attraction during the week leading up to the main weekend show days. Some time was taken off work to chase the balloons around Newcastle in the early mornings, as we were very starved of any major aviation events. Tracy Robb was one of the balloon pilots.
And then on a beautiful Sunday afternoon out in Skeerpoort... we get to experience the unique set-up and night-glow of some 14 balloons mostly vintage balloons in the 2nd Dinosaur Derby and Night Glow at Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris launch field. Most of these balloons are no longer certified to fly and so all the afternoon and evening activity is tethered.
Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safari's has been operating since 1981, and attracts many international and local guests for special balloon experiences. There are various plans for extending the versatility of the facilities, including on-site self-catering accommodation and runways for fixed wing aircraft.
We were welcomed, registered and name-tagged by Jacquie Pastor, Jenna and Karmen.
Karl Jensen arrived by car for the first time ever, and was providing commentary, interesting anecdotes and interviewing various people from the aviation community. Only some interviewed are mentioned in particular here.
Karl interviews Sema, who is a qualified balloon pilot.
Balloon pilots do nothing by half-measure - lemon meringue pies were almost instantaneously bruleed and the children were invited and assisted to toast marshmallows on balloon gas burners!
Karl interviews Linda Sollars, who built and flew her Sling High Wing in South Africa and then flew it to OshKosh AirVenture 2022 EAA Convention. She is back for more African aviation adventure and flew Kevin Hopper's Orion Cub the previous day.
Karl also Interviewed Michael Maja, who handles Reservations and Marketing at Bill Harrop's, having begun at age 16, helping out, graduated via the kitchen and now has his ballooning PPL!
As the sun started to lower in the beautiful afternoon sky, burners were checked and tested - Karl called it "mag checks" for balloons - and then the balloons started to be laid out and the baskets attached.
Balloons are opened up and first inflated with cold air by petrol-powered fans, to provide shape and space, so the hot air generated by the burners for lift does no toast the fabric.
Here Tracy Robb gets her small one-man/woman balloon lifting the balloon from the ground to vertical and all the way to lift-off. Tracy is the Chief Pilot and Maintenance Engineer at Bill Harrop's, having been involved since the 1980's.
Ballooning is very much a "hands-on" category of aviation, and Dale de Klerk, CEO at Bill Harrop's since September 2021, is seen assisting Tracy and anchoring the tether, so she does not escape.
As the late afternoon sun began to produce warmer light, most of the balloons were inflated and the burners could be heard adding hot lifting air into the balloons to keep them inflated.
Simba took some time to be fully inflated, but with plenty of blasts from the burners, this was accomplished, under watchful eyes.
Bill Harrop's launching field and facilities fulfilling the purpose of the Dinosaur Derby. Smoke from the braai-fires over on the left. A very relaxed atmosphere was enjoyed by all guests.
Tracy in excited and then contemplative moods.
One of a few countdowns to burn, had all the balloons producing the anticipated Night Glow to whoops of delight and clapping from the guests.
Simba basking in the stunning "golden hour" light. The pilot of the newest balloon was 'over the moon'.
Some balloons slowly start to deflate as their hot inflation air begins to cool, with ambient air temperature dropping sharply as the sun set. Some were kept inflated longer than others.
But wait! Last opportunity for a solo balloon pilotÖ
Newest balloon on the field "hangs-out" with old Simba.
Some pilots have a final blast, while others start the meticulous work of deflating and packing away.
So begins the careful packing away of the balloons so they can be safely stored. Ballooning is a very hands-on aviation experience, and clearly hard physical work.
Well done to Dale and his team of well-trained specialists - everyone obviously knew exactly what to do and they functioned like a well-oiled machine to provide a fantastic and unique experience. They had been busy since 4AM to put on this magnificent 2nd Dinosaur Derby and Night Glow, but we are sure they could all sleep well, having wowed the guests.
Pilots Post was again honoured to attend this unique and most colourful event.