Feature: Flying high in hot air balloons at heart of Canberra

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-14 11:54:22|Editor: Liangyu
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by Bai Xu, Pan Xiangyue, Zhou Zihan

CANBERRA, March 14 (Xinhua) -- It was only 6:00 a.m. in the morning and the sky was still dark, but the lawns of Old Parliament House at the heart of Australia's capital city Canberra was crowded with people.

In chilly wind, they awaited, some holding a cup of hot drink and some busy taking photos, as the pilots inflated their balloons and prepared to fly.

The Balloon Spectacular, started in 1986, runs from last Saturday to the coming Sunday this year, attracting visitors and pilots from across the world.

"It is the signature event in Canberra. The balloons are captivating and it is spectacular in the morning," said 59-year-old David Hine excitedly. "Canberra is a bush capital with a lot of space for the balloons to land."

Hine was born in Canberra and comes to the event almost every year ever since it started. Over the past decades, he saw changes of the festival.

"More variety of balloons, more amateurs coming," he said.

This observation was shared by Clare Szydlik, a senior public relations officer with Visit Canberra.

"It was started in 1986 with only five balloons," she told Xinhua in an interview. According to Szydlik, the festival was started by a ballooning company Balloon Aloft Canberra, who wanted to invite balloon pilots from other areas to come and fly in Canberra. "Every year it grows and grows and grows," she added.

"Originally there were just beautiful colored balloons," she said. "Now we are having more and more special shaped balloons, from birds to aliens to Darth Vader." This year, 33 balloons are taking part.

From the organizing body, Szydlik said each year she and her colleagues do a lot of work looking for balloons of different shapes and asking them if they would like to come to the festival.

That needs a lot of work from our team, finding balloons of different shapes and asking them if they would like to come.

Craig Farrell from Take Off Pty Ltd. started flying balloon in 1985, one year before the event was born. He plans to fly a purple unicorn next year. It was designed by a six-year-old girl.

He told Xinhua that flying such balloons is more difficult than the more efficient teardrop balloon, because balloons of unique shapes are heavier in weight but with less buoyant force, and are likely to twist in the sky.

But Farrell was an experienced pilot who had flown such balloons before. He showed Xinhua a photo in his mobile phone, in which a frog-shaped balloon flew against the back drop of the Parliament House, which he used last year at the Balloon Spectacular.

"This is what makes Canberra (Balloon Spectacular) unique," he said. "Flying above the seat of parliament, the seat of power."

"We are one of the only locations of the entire world where people could have this flight experience," said Szydlik. "The pilots love it because they don't usually get to take off so close to building. Now we are only a few meters from the Old Parliament House, the Parliament House on the hill, the Questacon, National Library, all these iconic buildings."

A regular balloon which, according to Farrell, can contain 77,000 basketballs, normally flies some 1,200 to 1,500 meters in Canberra.

Chen Changling who was the only Chinese pilot at the Balloon Spectacular this year brought with him his own balloon, a red, black and golden color one shining in sunny days.

The 55-year-old man started learning piloting hot air balloon in 2013. "I have always dreamed of flying high in the sky," he said.

He noted that in China with the rising of people's living standard, hot air balloons are attracting more and more people as a new sport activity. The Aero Sports Federation of China holds contests regularly.

"We love having international pilots from all over the world to come fly and go home to tell their friends how much they enjoyed this experience," said Szydlik, who added that they have had four or five Chinese pilots over the past several years.

On the other hand, Farrell, the veteran Australian pilot, is looking forward to bringing his unicorn balloon to China. He had been to several Chinese cities, including Chengdu, Shenzhen and Zhangjiajie. "A lovely country," he said, hoping that people there would love his new balloon.