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Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris Third Dinosaur Derby

By Garth Calitz

The hot air balloon is widely accepted as the oldest technology used to carry humans in flight, with the first successful manned flight in 1783. Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris home in the Skeerpoort Valley was adorned with colourful balloons from yesteryear on Saturday evening.

The hot air balloon was developed by two French brothers, Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, in France's Annonay region. It was publicly demonstrated for the first time in a flight that lasted for 10 minutes and has been celebrated by the hot air ballooning community worldwide ever since.

A hot air balloon has two main components: an envelope used to contain the hot air and a wicker basket where passengers and the means of creating hot air are usually carried. However, the ballooning community is not always conformist, as was seen on a recent Saturday evening when some iconic balloons were unpacked after many years. Unfortunately, many of these balloons had to be grounded due to liquor advertising that was banned in South Africa years ago, while others were simply at the end of their safe life or brand logos changes.

In 2022 Dale de Klerk CEO and his team 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. The name stuck although the date changed due to unpredictable weather in November.

Many of the balloons on display were designed and built by the late 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 designed and built over 50 balloons over the years. 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 had ballooned the length and breadth of South Africa and is a legend in international ballooning circles. Sadly, Terry passed away in December 2023 He did however attend the first two Dinosaur Derbys.

Before the sun set completely on the tranquil Skeerpoort Valley all the guests were treated to a display of radio-controlled aircraft and even radio-controlled skydivers. Jason Beamish, Gareth Gill and Charles Urban made a turn on their way to the GF for a bit of formation aerobatics practice, they noticed the activity on the ground and circled around to see what was happening.

The first balloon action stuck to the radio-control theme with the launching of a rather small remote-controlled balloon. This scale model is equipped with a burner and gas supply and is "steered" exactly the same way as its full-size counterparts, by climbing and descending to find the wind blowing in the direction needed.

As darkness crept over the Skeerpoort fifteen odd full-size balloons were unloaded and inflated for the evening spectacle. The envelopes are first inflated with cold air using a powerful petrol-driven fan once the massive structures are close to fully inflated the burners are lit and the air is warmed. The baskets are slowly lifted upright and the full size and majesty of the balloons can be admired. One balloon that is pretty sentimental to me is the PG Autoglass Van which I remember seeing floating around the sky when I was a young man, let's just say that was a long time ago.

Once all the Balloons were inflated and hovering inches above the ground the nightglow started at first the balloons were randomly lit up but later with the help of the MC the glows were more coordinated creating a wonderful spectacle for all the visitors. The bulk of the visitors were neighbours invited by Bill Harrops Original Balloon Safaris as a thank-you for allowing them to land on their properties during their normal daily operations.

Very special thanks must go to Dale de Klerk and his team for once again putting together a wonderfully entertaining evening, NG Kerk Skeerpoort for supplying the tasty food for anyone who may have been a bit hungry and of course the pilots and crews that brought their balloons for the guests to enjoy.

Daleen Terblanche, Jacquie Pastor, Dale De Klerk and Felicity Clegg



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