My First Long Jump
Dominic Bareford and Abi Bridge
Let’s do a long jump, I thought to myself. All the other young pilots are giving it a go. Tom Hook and Chloe Hallett had mentioned it as an idea and formed a partnership, Stephanie Bareford and Will Wood had grouped together to combine Will’s extensive knowledge of long distance flying from the Gordon Bennett whilst also getting Steph to steal the 105 I had thought to use, sneaky. Peter Gregory had also announced some intention to participate despite having one free day all October and then Alex Court would probably make an attempt in an upside down plastic carrier bag if he couldn’t find anything else…
I was also encouraged by Tom Hilditch’s and Abi Bridge’s success in their first attempt last year (the latter was now somehow my girlfriend and offering to co-pilot and use the same balloon for our attempt, marvellous!), however I still targeted a total of 200+ miles to beat a few of the long jump veterans.
If I’m honest though the time I actually finally decided I was entering the long jump was about late afternoon on Wednesday 31st September, about 12 hours before my take-off time! I had looked at the forecast for the 1st October over a few days and it looked pretty good, a fairly strong easterly would involve driving out to Norfolk somewhere and flying back to Wales hopefully. On Wednesday the weather looked good enough – I am young and eager so why not do it on the first day of the month! I contacted crew and Gareth Bufton and faithful Bareford crewman John Braddick were both available and eager for some cross England chasing. Somewhat well-known balloonist David Bareford also made himself free and came along, he even lent me some of his tanks which was much appreciated but sadly the balloon I had hoped to borrow from him had already been given to another Bareford. No matter, a quick confirmation with Ian Bridge that we were OK to use his envelope and basket and a few more tanks and everything was set.
We set out for Norfolk at 2.00am on the morning of the 1st and arrived at the google maps-pre-approved launch site near Acle, around 10 miles to the east of Norwich at 5.30am. The site was a cut field off a track with no farmhouse in sight in the pitch black. We had called Norwich Radar the previous evening telling them of our plans and they told us that it shouldn’t be a problem, ‘give us a call when we open at 5.30am’ they said. Fine, phone them at 5.45am, no response. Typical. Time to start setting up the balloon soon anyway, sunrise was 6.55am but I wanted to be up as soon as possible as the wind was forecast to gradually decrease over the day. We rigged the basket up, throwing in three V30’s, two Titanium 55l’s and one Worthington 35l, with three 35l and one 44l tank on the outside and one last Worthington to inflate off. We rigged up the rest of the balloon and inflated and gave Norwich another call, this time they answered and gave us clearance to 2500ft, brilliant. Abi hopped in, electronics set up (one laptop with two spare batteries) and we set off at 06.35am, ‘See you in Wales!’ I shouted back to the team. We had a lovely view back over the Norfolk Broads and the sea as the sun rose.
In total 484 litres of propane at 1liter per minute should last 8 hours, but I was hoping for a little more than that in a flight of full sun for the most part. Norwich were very co-operative (and not really very busy at 7.00am) and gave me clearance to 4000ft and then to 6000ft, where the speed increased to 21knots and then to 25knots, with a good direction too, the ultimate goal being Carmarthen in South-West Wales which would give us a straight line distance of 260miles. As we exited Norwich airspace we climbed through to 11,000ft and picked up to 28knots; however there was the same speed at 8000ft so we descended to save fuel. If we could hold this speed we could be in Carmarthen by 3.00pm, perfect as this was about as long as our fuel would last and I was looking forward to flying over Will Wood and waving down to him, but that was a long way away.
The next few hours passed rather uneventfully, Abi and I shared the flying. On our first climb to 11,000ft Abi had the good idea to write down the speed and directions at different altitudes, this was particularly useful to confer when looking for a different direction with good speed. At 8.45am I made the decision to climb to 11,000ft as I noticed at that height we had the same speed at 28knots but slightly more left which would help us stay further south of major Birmingham airspace, although missing it altogether was not an option if we wanted a good distance into Wales, we would either have to fly under it at a low speed or get clearance to fly through slightly higher. At 9.00am we flew just to the north of the Lakeside Lodge centre in Pidley where several UK national championships have been held. At 10.00am I made the mistake of contacting Northampton and informing them of my position even though I was at 10,000ft. Why was this a mistake? It later came back to give us away on Facebook as Jeff Bell had our registration! Thanks Ian Chadwick!
Next we started our descent to get below Daventry airspace, down below 4500ft we went and spending 1 hour and 30 minutes at the altitude would cost us time and precious fuel to climb up again. Birmingham airspace was very cooperative despite being very busy and allowed us to pass through their two southern stubs at 4500ft as long as they were kept updated on our position. Unfortunately the speed at this height was still only 22knots which was the same as at 2500ft but with a worse direction. So we descended to 2500ft to turn left and surrounded by scattered cloud we watched the ETA on the laptop to Carmarthen increase from 3.00pm to 4.00pm to 5.00pm, it was unlikely we would reach that far now with my earlier duration estimate of 8 hours seeming quite accurate.
When clearing the last Daventry airspace over Redditch it felt like leaving the pit lane in a formula one car, straight up to 10,000ft but the speed from earlier in the day had already decreased and we averaged 25 knots despite climbing up to 13,500ft at one point, a personal height record for myself and Abi. I had revised my target destination to Llangadog but even this seemed optimistic, it also required avoiding the large Senny Bridge danger area if we didn’t want to be shot down by multiple anti-air missiles. At 12,000ft there was a good direction that took us over Worcester and towards Hereford, taking us just to the south of the danger area. The next few hours passed by smoothly, taking turns to fly and the other to sit in the bottom of the basket and rest their head against the tanks (we had been awake since 1.30am).
For the last two hours of the flight we were met by the beauty of the Welsh countryside, the Black mountains and the Brecon Beacons, even with broken cloud it was impressive and a welcome change from earlier scenery. With wind speed slowly decreasing and fuel running low I revised my intended landing position again to Senny Bridge, with the target of beating Debby Day’s and Mike Scholes distance from last year. This we managed and with 30 litres of propane left I decided it was time to descend from 10,000ft, I even managed to get Espiritu to fall at 1,300fpm at one point with no distortion! Maybe I was in a thermal or maybe I need to consider changing envelopes for competitions…
Now it was time to land, I flew at low level for while a braced myself for a tricky landing, the wind speed on the ground was only 5knots gusting 10, but the time 2.55pm and I expected thermic conditions on the ground. As we descended over Trecastle Abi reminded me, ‘Remember Dom this won’t stop going down as quickly as a racer’, ‘I know that’ I thought to myself, just before a combination of a thermal and some very conservative burning by me plunged us into a tree right in the centre of the town, WHACK! Plenty of landing witnesses at least… But this wasn’t our final landing, I put some more heat in and skilfully managed to collide with another tree, this time slightly less spectacularly, and we climbed out of the town, with most of our landing fuel allowance used and with the basket suitably camouflaged in foliage. We had to land, I thought, somewhere; anywhere! A field was ahead and there was a gap we could make just before some power wires, but with no RDS it was going to have to be a sharp stop. I used a tree before the field to slow me down (this time deliberately) and hit the ground with some force and pulled the red line like never before, the balloon stopped with room to spare before the wires. Abi took most of the impact (thank you Abi) but we were both OK and glad to be safe on the ground after 8 hours and 20 minutes airborne The retrieve team was remarkably with us in minutes of our landing, thank you to all three of you, John Braddick, Gareth Bufton and Dad, to Abi Bridge for her help in flight and to Ian Bridge for use of his balloon and basket. One gold badge for duration and another for distance: 225 miles covered (362km). I was happy as I had achieved my target of over 200 miles but kind of wishing I had increased my duration by seeking out a lightweight basket or using some more titaniums instead of Worthingtons, but these are things for next year’s attempt.
My…Second Long Jump Abigail Bridge
Over the 3 years that I’ve been learning to fly I have totted up 70hours. In there are two Long Jumps; one of 9 hours, and one of 8 hours and 20minutes. That’s 25% of my hours coming from Jumping the Length of Britain; 17hours and 20minutes of brilliant memories and breath taking views.
One of the things I love about the Great British Long Jump is that it gives you a totally different experience. With a normal morning/evening flight, you find new things and views to be amazed by; but the extent of the variety you get with a long distance flight is one you don’t get with a typical one; the clouds, the sunrise, the sunset (if you’re good and have enough gas!), the coast and flying area. You get it all! For me, I found the take-off, climbing quickly, absolutely astonishing – I’ve not seen the sea from a balloon before and as we flew on and left it behind, beautiful wispy cirrus cloud covered the sun as it rose.
I like clouds. I like how not one of them is the same as another. I like that they are predictable to a certain extent and yet we never know exactly how they will turn out. In this flight, we got to see them all. Okay, well luckily not them all, we were sensible enough to avoid any Cu-Nims, my meteorology tells me they aren’t so fun to fly in.
As we toyed around with different heights, we found that it was useful that I had noted down the best altitudes for the optimum speed and direction that would get us as far as possible, and to avoid airspace.
The highest I have ever flown is 13,500ft, and that was on this Long Jump. Dom and I were joking at 12,000ft that the books say you can get symptoms of hyperventilation at that level; we reckoned that it’s probably just because, when people get that high and realise there’s only a wicker basket, some hot air and a whole lot of flammable gas that is keeping you from falling to your imminent death, it probably makes them a little short of breath. However, keeping an eye on each other just in case, we climbed just a little higher to try and max our speed. And I thought I wasn’t competitive.
The thing I have found with the Long Jump is that there is always something to do, and I really admire people who have managed to do it solo, because there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. You have to constantly be on the ball, and once you have found a good speed and direction you want to keep it, fly level – but then – what if there’s a better one that’s just a little higher? There’s also the navigation – you have to know your location in order to make sure you’re avoiding airspace, obviously. Oh, and manage the fuel in a bit more of an elaborate way than you would a normal flight – pink sticky tabs were my way of making sure we knew which tanks were used up and which weren’t. And then of course we had the Worthington’s with the bent dip tubes fastened to the outside of the basket that we pulled inside so we could lie them down and get the last remaining gas from them. And if you’re serious about it and end up flying dawn to dusk, you’d have seriously funny feeling arms by the end of it! Imagine doing all this on your own? But then if you fly on your own you can get an extra tank worth of gas, more space in the basket, more available lift, and for some pilots, their concentration is maxed.
I think I’ll have a companion for next year though – by then I’ll be Mr Boss man, P1, I’m hoping.
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