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Ed Mahoney speaks exclusively to Epigram about Bristol’s Hot Air Ballooning Society.

Introduce yourself and tell us how you heard about BUHABS. Why did you join?
Hi Epigram, I’m Ed Mahoney, a Chemistry PhD student, and I’m the current president of Bristol University Hot Air Ballooning Society; BUHABS for short. I saw BUHABS at the society fair and in all honestly, I joined on a whim; a bit of a ‘Yes Man’ moment. I didn’t expect to fly, and I actually forgot I was a member of the society for six months, I never dreamt that I’d end up becoming president of such a great society. The members are friendly, the executive members and pilots are exceptional; an enthusiastic dream team.

How many times have you flown with BUHABS?
I flew twice last Sunday, but you don’t usually fly quite so often; I’ve flown four times over two years. We operate on a point basis prioritising members who have not flown with the society. The point system works as follows: by flying, you lose a point. By ‘crewing’, i.e. helping with the retrieve of the balloon or at an event, such as a thethering, you gain a point. Priority is given to members with more points, but as I mentioned, we prioritise first time flyers.

It’s completely up to you how much you want to get involved with the society; we get some members who just want to fly the once, and others, like myself, who end up living for the next balloon launch. Retrieval is very underrated, a lot of the fun comes from trying to navigate your way along the small country roads in the outskirts of Bath, while keeping an eye on which direction the balloon is going. After a successful retrieve we grab a self-congratulating breakfast / pint.

How often does BUHABS fly?
BUHABS flies whenever the weather permits us really. We’re flying weekends at the moment, but we’re excited to announce ‘Member’s Fortnight’, an initiative to fly every flyable AM and PM slot during the final week of exams and the first week after exams finish. If you are interested in flying with us, here’s your chance Epigram!

View of Clifton Suspension Bridge from Balloon.

We’ll see. Do you have to be a member of the society to fly?
You do require to be a registered member of the society to fly, but for £35 membership, you won’t find a cheaper alternative! If you’re around in the Summer, it’s a great way to get behind the scenes at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta! We also have an upcoming ballooning trip to France METZ, with sign ups still available!

You mentioned the International Balloon Fiesta that Bristol hosts each year, how did Bristol come to host such an event and how does BUHABS tie in?
Bristol’s International Balloon Fiesta is the biggest in Europe. It was first launched by Don Cameron, founder of Cameron Balloons and Honorary graduate of Bristol University, and his friends as part of an initiative to popularise balloooning. Bristol is not only home to one of the biggest manufacturers of hot air balloons in Europe, but by no coincidence the place where many important developments took place, including the invention of the modern hot air balloon envelope. Prior to Don Cameron’s novel invention, the envelope’s parachute, which allows hot air to be controllably released, many balloon pilots would fly and fatefully perish.

BUHABS was founded in 1986 by several students, amongst them was Dr Paul Spellward, now an enthusiastic local balloonist whose international reputation proceeds him. Since then, BUHABS has flown with 6 different envelopes, featured in the photograph below, and we’ve trained over 20 balloon pilots and flown several thousand students.

View of Clifton Suspension Bridge from a balloon

So we hear you have an exciting announcement to make?
Yes Epigram, that’s right! Next month, we intend to launch our 7th envelope with a brand new design! We’d like to thank The University of Bristol for funding this.

That’s exciting, can you tell us a bit about the design?
I’m afraid not Epigram, the design has been kept securely under wraps and will remain so until our launch event! All we can say is that we are incredibly excited and we encourage both members and non-members to come, the buzz will be incredible.

Is it too late to join in on the fun?
Absolutely not! The ballooning season has only just begun! Anyone joining now will be able to enjoy their membership right up until the end of September.

BUHABS 6 envelopes all inflated at once.

Finally, can you tell us about the awesomeness of BUHABS? Are there any entertaining stories you can share to entice our readers into join your society?
Absolutely! Where to start? Flying over Bristol / Bath in a hot air balloon with us is an incredibly unique opportunity with breath-taking scenic views. The silence of the skies is a peaceful bliss and the memories and photographs they create speak for themselves. As I mentioned, when I joined, I never expected to get involved; it was that first flight experience with BUHABS, which caught me hook-line and sinker. I have absolutely no regrets and that is part and parcel of why I am sharing my experiences with you.

BUHABS is passionate about introducing our student community to ballooning. Ignoring the cow pat landings, the endless stories of the trailer getting stuck in fields and down small country lanes, and if you overlook the funny noises that our van engine has been making ever since it drove past 30,000 miles, there are several entertaining stories about night glows going wrong resulting in scorch marks on the envelope, and others that involve holding up firework displays at some major European ballooning events. Not to mention that there have been some entertaining crash landings in order to avoid windmills, fancy dress flights recreating nineteenth century science experiments.

You can follow BUHABS online via Instagram (uob_balloon), twitter or facebook:

BUHABS looks forward to welcoming you on board!

Get in touch!

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