While the focus of the world is on London and the 2012 Olympic games, Bristol and the ballooning community once again came together at Ashton Court for their annual gathering. Michael Buckle attended the sun-blessed event for AeroResource.

Now in its 34th year and with good weather progressively moving in over the days leading up to the show, optimism was high amongst the balloonist community for a very successful balloon fiesta.

The show began on Thursday, bringing over 150,000 people to Ashton Court waiting in suspense for the special shape mass ascent. Memories were rekindled for many as Action Man, Babybell, Choc Dip and Wonder Fuel special shape balloons inflated in the arena. Action Man was purchased from the Virgin Balloon Company in 2009 and preserved before being taken up by a German balloonist in 2010, with a similar path for Babybell in 2007.  Both shapes now have current CofA (Certificate of Airworthiness) and managed to perform flights during the show.

As the sun set below the trees, the ballooning crews began laying out their envelopes for the nightglow – one of the undoubted highlights of the event. The Thursday nightglow was a special one, celebrating the ‘Best of British’ – most appropriate, with 2012 bringing the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. The display was as remarkable as ever, with Peter Dickson (or as he’s more commonly known “X Factor voice-over man”) introducing the display and various comedy snippets throughout. This year, to celebrate the significant year ahead, Lindstrand Balloons produced a patriotic LBL-77A in Union Flag livery, which inflated just before the firework finale – becoming the centerpiece of the show. Alongside Lindstrand’s patriotic contribution was “G-GOGB” celebrating Team GB for the Olympics, another perfect participant for the fiesta.

Saturdays nightglow brought record attendance numbers, with a total of 300,000 people flocking to Ashton Court’s grounds. Sadly, there was much disappointment when it was announced that the evening launch was not possible due to high winds, both at altitude and on the ground. This was the first and sadly not the only ‘no launch’ of the show. Sunday morning had similar issues, coupled with rain and thunderstorms; meaning any hope of flying was swiftly quashed. Thankfully the wind did settle in time for the Saturday nightglow to go ahead, albeit with very short three-point tethers, securing the aircraft firmly to the ground.

Both Saturday morning and Sunday evening launches were attempted but both wind direction and strength limited the number of balloonists able to fly. It was great to see the determination of some of the more experienced pilots to please the crowds which had gathered to watch.

With the much-loved Royal Air Force Red Arrows currently performing in Russia for the Russian Air Force Centenary Show, it was down to the BIBF team to find a suitable replacement and that they did. Firstly the IlluminAir display by the SWIP (Scottish Widows Investment Partnership) team brightened up the dusk sky above Bristol with their two Silence Twister aircraft. The single seat planes flew breathtaking formation aerobatics with pyrotechnics attached to their wings. Although quite a high display, the addition of smoke and firework trail makes the display very effective, and one which will surely be welcomed back.

In addition to the IlluminAir display the Blades aerobatic team made an appearance, performing in the Red Arrows timeslot on Sunday afternoon. Once again due to the geography of the area (Ashton Court being essentially in a ditch!) the display can appear to be very high, with such small and few aircraft. But with the unique aerobatic characteristics of the Extra 300 aircraft, it brings new manoeuvres to the crowd of Bristol.

For 2012, with a little luck and a lot of hard work by the team and balloonists, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta was a great success (despite the best efforts of the weather), breaking their attendance record and cramming in plenty of flying.