ARTHUR Street is the Operations Director of Aerosaurus Balloons, the event management company managing the balloons at Northern Ireland's first international Hot Air Balloon Festival which takes place in Moira this weekend from August 27 - 29. The event will host up to 30 hot air balloons which will put on a number of impressive colourful displays (weather dependent) morning and evening over the course of the three day event as well as day-time activities. This inaugural event is being funded by Lisburn City Council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB). Arthur worked as Commercial Pilot before taking up his current role. He first started flying when he was at school and after a hot air flight experience decided to move sideways and become a commercial balloon pilot and took up a position with Aerosaurus, which organises balloon events all over the world.
During an event like this the team will gather at 6am on site. Since a hot air balloon has no direct means of steerage or control the weather is an all important factor when deciding whether or not to fly.
Prior to each flight the Event Director will communicate with the Met office and other meteorological service providers to get the most up to date and accurate weather reports for the period intending to be airborne. As a guide the conditions a pilot looks for are good visibility, stable air and gentle winds on the surface and up to 2000ft (the gradient wind).
The best time these winds exist are just after sunrise and just before sunset. As a result that's why we schedule our balloon flights at these times, when the temperature is cooler and the weather is at its most stable period of the day. A briefing will be held for the pilots at about 6.30am followed by a Mass Ascent between 7 and 8 am subject to suitable weather. All equipment is checked regularly and automatically before and after each flight. All our hot air balloons are factory inspected once a year just to make sure we're not missing anything.
The balloons will take off and then competitions will take place. There will be a hare balloon which the others have to try and follow and land as close to as possible. When the pilot lands they have to get the farmer's permission for their retrieve vehicle to enter tae landing field and exchange contact details prior to returning to Moira.
The farmer's details are then filed with the event organisers prior to the balloon being allowed to refuel for the next flight. The teams will then rest when they return by road to Moira at about 9am. At 2pm the teams return to the site where the balloons will be laid out. The public will be invited to wander around them asking the teams questions and getting a chance to learn about the equipment and get involved as well as have their photos taken, It really is a great family day. With suitable weather some balloons will be inflated and tether, others will participate in competitions will be held where the public have to inflate and deflate the balloons with the guidance of the pilots and there will be prizes for the winners. Normally at 5.30pm there's another Pilots' briefing and weather update before a mass take off of balloons between 6.30pm - 8pm.
While the hot air balloons are in the skies there will be a variety of activities on the ground to occupy the interests of visitors from all age groups.
In addition to the colourful display of hot air balloons during daylight hours, on Saturday and Sunday evenings at approximately 9.00pm a 'Fire and Light Show' will take place. During these stunning shows up to 15 balloon pilots will ignite burners and transform the night sky to the sound of music in a dramatic display of colour, light and sound.
Once all the balloons have returned and the equipment is sorted out, the teams head for some well deserved sleep.
In a nutshell our task is to make sure the event is safe and attractive to the public. We try to make ballooning as accessible as possible for the public to get involved in and I really do hope people will support the event as it will be a great experience.