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Tuesday, 18 December 2018 02:01 am

Women fly and run Wairarapa Balloon Festival

Pauline Hickey saw a hot air balloon floating over the house. She threw clothes on her baby and tried to chase it but lost it.

Pauline Hickey, left, firing the burner to inflate her balloon, Sunrise

“The next time I saw one, I grabbed the baby and just ran as fast as I could, found the landing site and the crew, and the rest is history,” she said.

Many years later, Pauline is one of three women balloon pilots involved in this year’s Wairarapa Balloon Festival.

Women pilots Kelly Redshaw, flying Fusion, Gail Dryland, flying Lollipop and Pauline Hickey flying Sunrise are all from Hamilton.

Kelly, aged 26, is the youngest woman in New Zealand to hold a commercial hot air pilot’s licence and is the only woman to currently hold it.

Kelly had her first flight at 13, began her training at 16 and completed her first solo flight at 17.

Kelly Redshaw, centre back, explains to a group of boys the controls in her basket

Kelly says it feels like home when she’s in the air.

“I’m afraid of heights and when I fly, I’m facing my fear.”

Both Pauline Hickey and Gail Dryland say they love the balloon festivals.

The two women are in their 60’s. Both crewed for several years before getting their licences and their own balloons.

Pauline was the first woman pilot from New Zealand to compete at world level.

She holds the record for reaching the highest altitude for a woman balloonist in New Zealand – 11,409ft.

Pauline’s daughters both fly as well, but they weren’t at this year’s festival.

She says balloon festival are so full on that often she doesn’t have enough time to eat properly.

Gail Dryland, centre, preparing for lift off on the first day of the Festival

Gail tells a similar story to Pauline’s of her introduction to ballooning. She saw balloons flying over her farm and made some enquiries which led her to Pauline Hickey.

She crewed for Pauline for a number of years before sitting her licence 10 years ago and getting her first balloon, Phoenix, which was retired last year. She now flies Lollipop.

Gail Dryland, flying Lollipop, came second in this year’s competition.

The event was also run by a woman – Robyn Cherry-Campbell, who with her husband Mick came to the Wairarapa about eight years ago.

“We’d visited family in the area and just loved it. When we were thinking about leaving Australia, my husband suggested Carterton as our new base,” she says.

They set up their event management company Storm Productions in 2012 and have been involved in organising other Wairarapa events such as Gladstonebury, The Oversew Fashion Awards and The Kokomai Creative Festival between 2011 and 2013.

Event Manager, Robyn Cherry-Campbell.

Robyn has been involved in organising the balloon festival for two years.

“The balloon festival used to be organised by a committee and prior to the 2017 festival they decided to settle on one organiser,” she says.

“Bob Francis (former mayor of Masterton) asked me to take on the role of organising the event.”

Last year’s festival was ruined by a cyclone so her highlights come from this year’s event.

“We’ve had two successful morning ascensions and two great burner parades. There was a pop-up event on Good Friday afternoon in Masterton,” she said in the middle of the festival.

Every morning Robyn tells the crowds gathered to watch the ascensions that the pilots have no control over where they fly.

“They can only control up and down,” she says.

Robyn says she’d been up in a balloon a couple of times, once with Carterton based pilot, Peter King and once with Howard Watson from Wellington.

“It’s so peaceful; it feels like you’re just hanging, and not moving at all.”

 

Up and away over Wairarapa

Gail invited NewsWire to join her ground crew, explaining pre and post flight procedures.

While Gail Dryland waits for the all clear to fly, her crew weight her basket down.

The crew consists of Elizabeth Morine and Kate Jones and co-pilot Barry Jones. Often extra crew are found at the festivals.

The crew unroll the envelope onto the ground, checking as they go for sharp objects or anything that could damage it.

It is carefully spread out as flat as possible.

Either Kate or Elizabeth start unpacking the hoses, and cables for Gail or Barry to attach to the basket and the burner.

Barry tethers the basket to the crew vehicle.

Gail checks every cable, carabiner, gas tank, the burners and the gas connections and hoses, and the basket.

Once Gail and her co-pilot are satisfied with all the connections, the cold air fan is started to inflate the envelope. The crew holds open the envelope until it is inflated enough for the heat from the burners to lift it.

At this point the crew weighs the basket down while the pilot, now in the basket, continues to fire the burners to keep the balloon upright.

Pilot Gail Dryland and co-pilot Barry Jones checking cables before inflation

Once the pilot gives the all clear the tether straps are removed and the crew lets the balloon go. Gail fires the burners constantly to achieve the lift.

The crew maintains radio contact with the pilot throughout the flight.

“This helps the crew know which direction to travel in when they’re road chasing the balloon,” Gail says.

When the balloon lands, it’s the reverse process. The basket is unhooked, the tanks disconnected, the gas is discharged from the burners, cables carefully coiled and put away.

One crew member gathers up the balloon at the open end and holds it between arm and body, fairly tightly. When the crew member at the top end, usually Barry, calls out, they slowly start walking to the top, squashing more air out. It’s a stop-start process.

Other crew members walk alongside with ties which are looped around the envelope to keep it tidy and compacted. It is surprisingly heavy.

The envelope is coiled into a large canvas bag. Crew members sit on the bag and rock a bit to squash more air out and then it is stashed in the trailer, alongside the gas tanks and the basket, taking up space no bigger than a small kitchen table.

 

Everything Gail Dryland takes in the air with her fits into this little trailer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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