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Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris Celebrates 239 Years of Manned Balloon Flight

By Garth Calitz


The hot air balloon is the oldest form of flight technology used for carrying humans, following the first manned flight in 1783. The home of Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris was awash with colour on Saturday evening to celebrate this historic achievement. Two French brothers, Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier developed a hot air balloon in France’s Annonay area. It was demonstrated to the public, making a flight that lasted for 10 minutes and has been celebrated by the world hot air ballooning community ever since.

The arrearage hot air balloon consists of an envelope, which is used to contain the hot air and a wicker basket, where passengers and a means of creating hot air are typically housed. But that being said the ballooning community are not always happy to be conformists, this was very evident on Saturday evening when some iconic balloons were unpacked for the first time in many years. Many of these balloons had to be grounded as they were donned with liquor advertising that was banned in South Africa many years ago others just reached the end of their safe life.

Dale de Klerk CEO and accountable person and Tracy Robb Chief Pilot decided to gander through the storage area at Bill Harrop's Balloon Safaris and came across these iconic balloons that had been forgotten about. They decided that they would use Montgolfier Day to showcase these masterpieces under the banner of the Great Dinosaur Balloon Derby. Sadly, founder Bill and his wife Mary Harrop were taken from us by Covid-19 in 2020, I’m sure they would have loved to witness this spectacle.

Many of the balloons were designed and built by Terry Adams, regarded as the father of hot air ballooning in South Africa. Terry first began ballooning in England in 1972, emigrated to South Africa in 1976 and started Flamboyant Balloons. In so doing, he got ballooning off the ground in South Africa he has built over 50 balloons. Amongst his most memorable achievements was launching his balloon from the Ark Royal – a British Navy aircraft carrier – and landing in Malta in the mid-1970s. Terry has ballooned the length and breadth of South Africa and is a legend in international ballooning circles.

Balloon pilots from as far back as the ‘80s were invited to join the celebrations and of course, Terry himself was there the pride on his face was more than evident as the balloons were inflated and took life for the first time in some cases over thirty years.

Tracy Robb, who is by far the most experienced balloon pilot in South Africa with well over 4000 hours, decided to try out one of the treasures found in the storeroom. The contraption is known as a hopper and is a single-person balloon. The pilot is strapped to the gas cylinder and burner by a harness system that would be at home in a WWII fighter aircraft. Once the rather small balloon was inflated Tracy slowly drifted off the ground, she was tethered as the balloon is no longer classed as airworthy. Once she landed a few other brave pilots took the opportunity to fly this small piece of ballooning history.

Before the sun set completely on the tranquil Skeerpoort Valley all the guests were treated to a delicious dinner, a testament once again to the wonderful catering offered at Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris. Guests that visit for a morning flight will get a taste of the after their exhilarating aerial experience.

Once night fell the real visual treat started with the fourteen balloons all fully inflated and tied down treated the visitors to a night glow demonstration that will not be rivalled for many years. Terry stood on the balcony staring at all the balloons with pride, proudly wearing his green and gold “Springbok” colours that he achieved many times over during his amazing career.

Big thanks must go to Dale, Tarcy and their team at Bill Harrop's for a wonderful nostalgic evening, that transported many a balloon pilot back to the heyday of ballooning in South Africa.

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