Despite what can only be described as a moderate summer, as far as the weather was concerned, we are pleased to announce that we
Wickers World was formed back in the late eighties by current directors, Andy Rawson and Jon Rudoni. Already flying balloons commercially (most notably the National Garden Festival and Maltesers balloons), Andy and Jon identified a growing interest in the pleasure flights market. Says Jon, “wherever we landed, people would come out to see the balloons, and the first question on everybody’s lips was ‘how can I get a ride?’ So we soon realised that there was a market for commercial pleasure flights, but what we didn’t expect was just how popular they would become!”
After qualifying as unrestricted group B commercial pilots, Andy and Jon were able to expand the business into the public transport category, where previously they had only been involved with flying advertising balloons. Demand soon outstripped supply, and the company’s fleet of balloons began to grow, along with the fleet of recovery vehicles, staff, pilots and premises!
Andy Rawson, still the company Chief Pilot recalls, ‘this was one of the few occasions when we had managed to get on the band-wagon as it set off! Balloon flights were a rapidly growing industry, and we were in at the beginning. I was asked to become a director of our newly formed trade body, the British Association of Balloon Operators, and our business was growing at an extraordinary rate….’
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority, who control all non-military aviation in the UK, were also on a steep learning curve as far as ballooning was concerned. Not quite sure of how to handle this small but determined group of aviators, the CAA quickly took control and set extremely high standards for both pilots and operating companies. As a result, our commercial pilots are treated in much the same way as any other airline pilot, with regular flying tests, CAA aircrew medical examinations, flight time limitations (restricting the hours flown in a given period, thus ensuring that the pilot is ‘fit’ to fly), type ratings on specific balloon sizes, and all manner of other hoops to jump through!
Hot Air Ballooning was was the earliest form of manned flight. In essence it has changed little in over 200 years, with the same principles of lift still derived from a big envelope of hot air. Obviously, safety and materials have improved a thousand-fold, with modern hot air ballooning now proving to be a very popular pastime and sport for tens of thousands of people. Its safety record is unmatched in any other form of aviation.
The first balloons were made of paper, and the heat was provided by burning straw and paper in an open fire beneath the balloon. You can imagine the hazards of sparks flying up into the paper envelope! Many early pioneers were lost to accidents of this nature, but modern fabrics and burners have all but eliminated such risks today. Modern balloons are manufactured from nylon and flame retardant fabrics, whilst the heat is provided by highly efficient and safe propane burners.
One aspect of construction that has changed the least, is the continued use of wickers and cane in the construction of the baskets. Although modern day baskets are built around a stainless steel frame, the space within the frame is still filled with woven cane panels. Immensely strong, flexible and light, it is a tribute to these natural materials that they can still satisfy modern demands for strength, durability and appearance.
Timeline of ballooning history:
1783, November 21st. First manned flight, Paris, France. Brothers Joeseph and Etienne Montgolfier.
1785, first crossing of the English Channel. Pilots, Jean Pierre Blanchard (FR) & John Jefferies (USA).
1793, first flight in USA. Pilot Jean Pierre Blanchard flew in front of George Washington.
1932, Auguste Piccard flies to Stratosphere, reaching 52498 feet.
1960, Joe Kittinger reaches 102000 feet, then parachutes to Earth, falling at speed of sound!
1978, Double Eagle II becomes the first balloon to cross the Atlantic – no it wasn’t Richard Branson!
1981, Double Eagle V crosses Pacific – no it still wasn’t Mr B! He comes along much later!
1987, Per Linstrand & Richard Branson cross Atlantic in a hot air balloon.
1999, Brian Jones & Bertrand Piccard (grandson of Auguste) fly round the world in 22 days!
Well, it’s that time of year again and we’ve already had our first frosty morning!
We’ve always been excited by Christmas, and for many years have put together a range of special customer offers to help with this expensive time of year. This year is better than ever, so please read on….
For this Christmas we are pleased to be able to offer all customers a discount of up to
Shugborough Hall is the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield. Today it is managed by the National Trust and offers a fascinating visitor experience for adults and children alike. Much more than a house full of dusty old relics, the estate comprises several different sites including the Hall Farm, the County Museum, the Victorian Kitchens, and of course the Mansion House itself. All of this is set in 900 acres of landscaped gardens and meadows – the perfect backdrop for a balloon flight!
Many of you may remember Lord Lichfield (better known as Patrick Lichfield, the photographer). After his untimely death in 2005, his son, Lord Thomas, has now taken residence in the Mansion. We were fortunate enough to have flown Patrick Lichfield on several occasions over the years, and he even used our balloons in a couple of his photographic projects – most memorably for the Range Rover brochure and also for the British Tourist Authority.
On a trip to New York several years ago, our chief pilot was astonished to find a huge illuminated picture of one of our balloons, flying above Shugborough, in the airport concourse at JFK! It was all part of the advertising campaign orchestrated by the British Tourist Authority.
Shugborough also hosts many special events such as concerts, firework displays (not just on November 5th!), gardeners weekends, craft shows, gamekeepers fayres, Hallowe’en spooktaculars and Christmas by Candlelight evenings – there really is something for everyone.
For most customers, buying a balloon flight voucher is not an everyday experience! Naturally, you have many questions, and need some answers!
Here is a brief list of the most popular questions and their answers:
1. Do I need to choose a date? – No, most customers buy a voucher without choosing a particular date for the flight. This is usually because the voucher is a gift for somebody else, and is often a surprise (maybe for a Birthday or Christmas), and so it’s not possible to ask the recipient in advance about when they’d like to take their balloon flight!!
2. Is there any age limit? – No, there is no legal age limit, although we do not recommend taking children younger than about 8 years of age. This is because young children may behave in an unpredictable manner, and it would be a shame for everybody, if, for example, the child wanted to land soon after we’d taken off! Also, the side of the basket is about 3’10″ high, preventing small children from seeing over the side. It’s simply not practical to hold young children up, so that they can see over the edge – think about Michael Jackson dangling his baby over the hotel balcony a few years back! At the other end of the age scale, we have no issue with our more mature passengers, and fly hundreds in their seventies, eighties or even nineties. We’re still looking for our first centenarian passenger! Just keep in mind that a small degree of agility may be required, and that the balloon may land in a field that requires passengers walking a short distance across a bumpy terrain – nothing unusual, but just regular rural stuff! Finally, whether young or old, remember that balloon baskets do not have seats, and so passengers need to be able to stand for an hour or so. This is not as strenuous as it may sound, because passengers tend to lean on the side of the basket, and move about in their compartments, shifting their weight and position to be comfortable – imagine leaning on a field gate as a good analogy.
3. Does the price include everything? – Yes, there’s nothing else to pay. Our prices include VAT, insurance, a flight voucher that’s valid for a whole year, return transport from wherever we land back to the launch site, and free access for a many spectators as you wish to bring! Balloon launches are a spectacular and exciting occasion, so bring the family – kids love it!
4. What kind of weather does ballooning need? – We need clear, calm, and dry conditions. More specifically, we cannot fly if the visibility is below 3000 metres, or if the surface wind is stronger than about 8mph. Rain is usually accompanied by fresher winds and poor visibility, and of course thunderstorms are the most violent phenomena of all! To get the best weather for ballooning, we fly either early in the morning, or last thing at the other end of the day – basically within the first and last few hours of daylight each day! Of course, if the weather causes your flight to be postponed, you simply rebook for another date.
As Winter approaches, it’s all too easy to assume that balloon flights become a Summer memory. Well, I’m pleased to say that this is not the case! As we press on into Autumn the colours of the countryside take on their finest hues, and the landscape adopts a more relaxed composure now that the harvests are safely in!
In my view, there is no finer time to fly than on a frosty Winter’s morning. The hard, blue, cloudless sky contrasts with the white fields and hedgerows. The landscape takes on an almost monochromatic colour scheme, and the air is as clear as gin! Visibility is not hampered by the heat haze of Summer, nor is the pollen or dust of harvest set to impede the clarity of the atmosphere – in fact the Winter visibility can often be measured at over 100 miles.
“Surely it must be cold up there” I hear you ask! Well, no, again this is a misconception. The temperature in the air, on a frosty Winter’s day, is usually a few degrees warmer than on the ground! This is because the air near the Earth’s surface is chilled by being in close proximity to the very cold ground. Coupled with the warmth from the burner, this makes for a very pleaseant flying experience. The only time when we might feel the chill again is after landing!
So don’t forget us in the Winter. You might be missing the most spectacular time to fly!
On a personal note, I can honestly say that my best balloon flights have all been in the Winter, in Switzerland, flying in the coldest of conditions, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Whilst we cannot promise the same scenery, the prospect of Winter balloon flights in the UK is still something to relish!
Passengers on our balloon flights are welcome to bring as many spectators to the launch site as they wish. There’s no charge for spectating, but we do require all spectators, friends and family to carefully follow any instructions issued by the balloon crew or other Wickers World staff. The inflation of the balloon is a spectacular sight, not to be missed, and everyone is welcome to join in with preparing the balloon by helping to spread the fabric on the ground.
Safety is our paramount concern, and we need to ensure that everybody has an enjoyable day out.
Once airborne, the balloons are followed by our ground crew driving Land Rovers. Friends and family then have the choice of either staying at the launch site to await our return, or jumping into their cars to follow the ground crew vehicles. Following can be great fun! Kids especially love following the balloon as it meanders across the countryside, leading the cars on a merry chase through country lanes!
Often, the ground crew are close to the balloon as it comes down, allowing the followers an opportunity to see the landing as well as the launch of the balloon! Passengers who have been followed by friends or relatives then have the choice of either returning to the launch site with our crew, or leaving from the landing spot with their followers – no doubt for a trip to the nearest hostelry to celebrate!
When purchasing a balloon flight voucher, you do not need to specify a flight date. Most customers prefer to leave the date “open ended” so that the recipient can make their own arrangements. However, if you have a preferred date, then this can be requested at the time of purchase.
We schedule flights twice each day (dawn and dusk), throughout the entire year. Whether it be a weekday, weekend or even Bank holiday, it makes no difference to us!
To get an idea of availability over the next 40 days, take a look at our Dates page. Through the Dates page, customers can book or re-book flights date to suit themselves – and of course being internet based this can be done 24hrs a day, at any time to suit the customer.
Of course, if you prefer, you can always speak to our office staff on 01889 882222, and they will be pleased to help select a date. The office is always open from Monday – Friday (9am – 5pm), and sometimes at weekends as well.
When compared to any other form of recreational aviation, hot air ballooning has an enviable safety record. This is no doubt due, in some large part, to the relatively slow speeds at which we travel, but is also a reflection upon the high safety standards across our industry. Every commercial balloon operating company in the UK must be granted an Air Operator’s Certificate by the Civil Aviation Authority before carrying fare-paying passengers. In addition, pilots of such companies need to hold an unrestricted commercial pilot’s licence (rated on balloons), and the balloons themselves are designed and maintained as public transport category aircraft – just like a commercial airliner!
The pilots are required to take an annual flight exam, and regular medicals by a CAA appointed medical examiner. In addition, company chief pilots regularly observe company aircrew performance, and help to maintain high standards of safety and competence.
So, as you can begin to appreciate, there is a wealth of training and preparation before we even consider launching ourselves into the sky! Take a look at our flights page to see our chief pilot, Andy Rawson, in action!