Balloon liftoff proves a real buzz

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 28/03/2014
Balloons Over Waikato
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
LUCKY FIRST: The Hamilton balloon was the first to leave the ground for Balloons Over Waikato at Innes Common.

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Waikato weather made a bunch of balloonists very happy yesterday morning, and fans got the display they had been waiting for.

Almost 30 balloons lifted off from Innes Common, at Hamilton Lake, for the first time on day two of Balloons Over Waikato this year.

"If you go back to where we have our breakfast at Kingsgate, you'll see the biggest smiles in the world. The pilots will be on a buzz, they'll be high-fiving and all that . . . The thing is we've actually got to fly," flight director Martyn Stacey said.

"Balloonists are very passionate about what they do."

They had been grounded because of high winds on Wednesday and, yesterday morning, the airport-direction wind put paid to the Dawn Patrol.

But enthusiasts started arriving at 5.30am for the WEL Energy Trust Breakfast at Dawn and equipment appeared and burners flared around 7.30am.

The Hamilton balloon piloted by Mark Brown was first to leave the ground.

When the others followed suit, Mr Stacey had plenty to keep an eye on.

He set yesterday's challenge and was also the one in charge of the airspace.

The challenge was "like three-dimensional sailing" and required close monitoring of the wind and air currents to drop a marker or bring the balloon down to land on a marked cross.

"It's relying on what winds you have . . . It's a time factor. You have got to be able to judge when you can do what you try and do - and it's got to still be there when you come back."

Hamilton pilot Murray Shaw was watching where the other balloons headed while he planned the route for his craft, Whisky.

He had come out on top in the "very tricky" competition in the past.

"If you get brassed off then it makes it worse so you don't want to get too uptight," he said.

"You have to have a lot of luck in where you're sitting on the ground here and which way that wind is going to take you."

For Australian-based pilot Barbara Smith, it was a chance to do some city flying. She was used to flying over bush in New South Wales.

This time she was piloting a Kiwi friend's balloon - the Flytrap. Event manager Michele Connell said it was a "great relief"' to get the balloons in the air on a perfect morning.

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- Waikato Times

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