A History of Hot Air

FULL ARTICLE

By Zoe Glascow, First Year Politics and International Relations

What began with a balloon company founded by an aeronautical engineer in his Cotham basement flat in 1971 and a discussion in a pub for a friendly balloon meet in 1978, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is now one of Bristol’s signature quirks, with over 130 hot air balloons gathering from across the globe to create a unique spectacle.

Don Cameron studied Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Glasgow, followed by postgraduate studies in the US at Cornell. A keen glider in his spare time, Cameron joined a local gliding club in the 1960s where he met seven other club members. One day they discussed the relatively new hobby of modern hot air ballooning.

The group decided to build their very own hot air balloon, called the Bristol Belle, which was flown for the first time in Oxfordshire on the 9th July 1967. The Bristol Belle has now gone down in history as the first modern hot air balloon.

This year, a ‘Fiesta Flypast’ was engineered to allow the people of Bristol to enjoy the iconic sights of the Bristol cityscape dotted with colourful vessels.

Having discovered his new passion after learning to ride a balloon with his friends in the Bristol Belle, Cameron abandoned his job and founded Cameron Balloons Ltd in 1971.

Cameron had constructed 10 balloons prior to this under the name Omega Balloons. 29 more balloons were built by Cameron Balloons in the first year alone, in the basement of Don Cameron’s house in Cotham. Production was then moved to an old church in 1972 and the company is currently located in Bedminster, where it has been since 1983.

The first Bristol Balloon Fiesta was in 1978 | Flickr / Alex Gooi

After a talk given one evening in 1978 by Cameron in a Bristol pub, the first Bristol Balloon Fiesta was arranged, to be held the following year. From 7-9 September 1979, over 100 balloon flights were held, largely thanks to optimal weather conditions. Ashton Court still holds the meet up, as the beautiful mansion grounds can cope with the large gatherings of people.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was cancelled. However, a ‘Fiesta Flypast’ was instead engineered to allow the people of Bristol to enjoy the iconic sights of the Bristol cityscape dotted with colourful vessels.

The Bristol Belle has now gone down in history as the first modern hot air balloon.

A virtual nightglow was also held on 8th August, supported by a soundtrack developed by BBC Radio Bristol in an attempt to ‘raise the spirits of the city.’ Emma Britton of BBC Radio Bristol explained that she was pleased to ‘bring a taste of the event to Bristolians.’

As well as the first modern hot air balloon, the Bristol Belle, another notable balloon that has showcased at the festival includes Aardman’s 2020 ‘Moon Rocket’ balloon, based off of Wallace and Gromit’s rocket in the inaugural film ‘A Grand Day Out.’

The balloon aimed to help raise more money for the Aardman charity ‘The Grand Appeal’, which has already acquired a staggering £70 million for Bristol Children’s Hospital since its foundation in 1995.


Featured image: Flickr / Adrian Scottow

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