Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bi-Planes and Balloons

Very early on Saturday morning, my friend Barb and I set off for Bealeton's Flying Circus, only an hour and 20 minutes from my house. We got there about 6:20am and arrived in heavy fog but were greeted with lots of smiling faces. There weren't too many people here apart from serious photographers but everyone was cheerful and chatty. As ragtime music played, we roamed around the field inspecting 1940s bi-planes, nosing around hangers and watching hot air balloons being unfurled on the damp grass.

Although the balloon above looks enormous in its photo, this was actually a small remote controlled balloon that kept the crowds amused until the sun burnt off the fog. It flew for over an hour and only used about $2 of gas.

As the fog lifted, more balloons were rolled out in the field and quickly filled with gas. As the fans filled out this balloon on the ground, small children were allowed to explore inside. Lucky things!

A couple of HDR images.

This guy went up in a lawn chair instead of a basket!

We met Bonnie & Lee who were celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary with a ride in a bi-plane and a tethered balloon. We all agreed this was a wonderful venue, like stepping back in time in the deep south; the atmosphere was so welcoming and all the staff so cheerful and polite.

This gentleman celebrated his 77th birthday with a ride in a hot air balloon and even climbed in and out of the basket with little help. A gem of gossip - one of the pilot's friends took Michael Jackson up in a balloon 6 months ago in Middleburg, only 30 minutes from my house.

This is a 1941 Boeing Stearman, PT-17 which belongs to a pilot called Dave Brown and I went up with him for the first acrobatic flight of the day. We climbed to about 3000ft and then the fun started. We looped the loop a couple of times, did a screw roll and he generally just threw the plane all over the place. It was marvellous! I tried very hard to get some video footage and a running commentary but the wind whisked all my words away so all that can be heard on the video are strong gusts. The video starts about halfway through the flight and I had to fight at times to keep the camera above my head. I had to chop the video into 2 parts and the links are here, part 1 and part 2.

This is Dave after the flight as I climbed down from the wing. He told me that I had had the best flight of the day since we'd been fortunate enough to share the sky with so many balloons.

I was grinning like a cheshire cat afterwards. A parachute had to be worn since the plane was tilting more than 60 degrees and I was casually shown which ring to pull if we tipped out, and no waiver was signed! This place is awesome, nothing like rude frigid northern Virginia.

The air show comprised of all older planes which performed acrobatics. This guy, Kirk Wicker flew in his plane up to 4300ft, cut the engine, looped the looped, screwed down to earth and then landed smoothly to coast up to the wildly clapping audience without turning the engine back on. Amazing.

I was sad to leave the airshow and it's wonderful atmosphere with smiling staff, but cheered to realize that it isn't too far from home and has a full summer schedule so I may well be back before the shows finish for the year. The website is worth looking at and gives you a feel of the place. I sincerely hope this wonderful step back in time never becomes commercialized.

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