A fleet of hot air balloons took to the skies above the nation’s capital today for the start of the annual Balloon Spectacular, celebrating Canberra’s 109th birthday.
The festival features balloons from around Australia and overseas, with this year’s likely favorite being Tico the Sloth, who charmed adults and children alike.
Local balloon pilot Craig Farrell flew Tico today in Canberra, and said he had taken the sloth all around the world.
“The sloth is one of five shapes owned by my good friends in Upstate New York, Todd and Scott Monahan, and they’ve allowed me the privilege to fly their aircraft all over the world.”
Mr Farrell said Canberra was one of his top spots for hot air ballooning, and it was a unique experience to fly over a nation’s capital city.
“Every location has got it’s own advantages and disadvantages,” he said.
“The massive advantage of Canberra is the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin, but at the same time it’s a massive area on which we can’t land.
“It’s very unusual to get to fly over a capital city anywhere in the world, let alone have an event like this from so many private, commercial pilots.
“That’s one of the reasons I rate Canberra in the top three, if not number one, but it’s a hard act when you’re comparing so many different ones – India, Mexico, China, Saudi Arabia.”
Australia’s first female hot air balloon pilot, Ruth Wilson, who has been flying for 47 years, is an official at the event and was helping organize the balloons on the ground this morning.
To her, Canberra is the best place in Australia to fly.
“I lived her and worked at ANU for six, seven years and flew every weekend here with friends,” she said.
“It offers the lake, the Brindabellas, the city, and also beautiful Parliament House.
“As a pilot in this country, Canberra’s my favorite place to fly.”
Ms Wilson said she was thrilled to see more women taking up hot air ballooning after being a forerunner for the sport for so long.
“I was the first [woman]and the first national champion and I then went on the world stage, being the only woman [among] 99 men, around the world,” she said.
“I never saw the gender because the passion was so strong and I was born to fly balloons, but I’ve loved to see how more recently women are starting to get involved in the sport.”
Ms Wilson said today’s turnout was the largest she had seen in the Balloon Spectacular’s history.
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen on the first day of the festival since we started it, [and] I was one of the early people that started it — in ’88 I think it was,” she said.
“It’s wonderful to see everyone come out, and I guess after COVID people just want to be out and be free.