All eyes will be on the skies when Scotland’s Airshow returns to the National Museum of Flight for the 16th year.
Crowds of over 11,000 are expected to attend the popular family event on July 27, where one of the star attractions will be a talk from real life Phileas Fogg, Brian Jones, who completed the first uninterrupted circumnavigation of the earth by balloon in 1999.
Jones, now 66, completed the feat – which at 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes was also the longest flight within the earth’s atmosphere in any form of flying machine – alongside Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist Bertrand Piccard.
And the men have apparently not tired of each other’s company, despite spending nearly three weeks alone together in a tiny capsule under some rather stressful circumstances.
“We’re still good friends and we make a point of seeing each other two or three times a year,” says Jones. “We actually get together every year on the anniversary of the launch of our trip. We meet up in the Alps and fly a smaller replica of the balloon we took round the world, which our sponsors are kind enough to provide for us.”
The men certainly had plenty of opportunity to bond on their 45,755 kilometre flight, which had ended in failure on two previous attempts.
“I’d actually initially been brought into the project as an advisor as my military background meant that I had survival experience,” Jones explains. “I spent the first two attempts on the ground and at one point I suggested to the organisers that there should be a back-up pilot – that ended up being me! I never expected to actually take part myself, but when I was offered the chance to be directly involved in the third attempt I jumped at it. Though we were obviously very hopeful when we set off, we really never expected to actually complete it.”
Jones, who has also written a book about the epic journey, will be presenting an interactive talk in the museum’s Concorde hangar, showing pictures of some of the magnificent scenes he witnessed in his flying machine, which was among the biggest balloon’s ever constructed.
“The sunrises we saw over the Sahara Desert were absolutely breathtaking, you really can’t describe it. Very few people get to see something like that in their lifetime so I feel very honoured,” he says.
Though he does admit there were occasions on the journey when his and Bertrand’s lifetimes were nearly cut drastically short during the challenge.
“There were points in the trip where we could very easily have died. I don’t want to give too much away before the talk itself, but one point was when we were travelling over the Pacific Ocean and could see a massive thunderstorm up ahead of us. If you go into a thunderstorm in a hot air balloon, you will not come out of it, that’s the bottom line, and the balloons are very difficult to steer,” he says. “The storm was about 100 miles ahead of us and during the day it wasn’t so bad because we could see it, but at night, in the darkness, we had no real idea whether we were near it or not. We were 3000 miles out to sea and even if we had survived a crash into the ocean, it would have been three weeks before anyone was able to reach us.”
Jones will also be discussing the work he does for the charity Help for Heroes, teaching paraplegics and quadriplegics how to fly hot air balloons.
Another ballooning expert who will also be on hand at the airshow – which is celebrating 230 years since the Montgolfier brothers gave the first recorded public demonstration of a balloon carrying human passengers – is Graeme Houston, one of Scotland’s leading balloon pilots, who will be showcasing his Muller Wiseman balloon.
Steve McLean, general manager at the National Museum of Flight, says: “To have a true aviation pioneer as well as one of Scotland’s most respected hot-air balloon pilots at this year’s airshow is a real coup. I’m sure our visitors will be impressed with the size and elegance of the Muller Wiseman balloon and transfixed by Brian’s heroic tales of world-wide circumnavigation. Our Fantastic Flight gallery contains a hands-on, interactive exhibit that demonstrates the principles of balloon flight so we’re delighted visitors will be able to see a full-sized balloon on the day and hear about the impressive capabilities of these fascinating aircraft.”
But there’s more to the airshow than just hot air.
“It’s a really family-friendly event and our biggest day of the year,” Steve says. “People can enjoy some spectacular air displays including a low fly over from RAF’s supersonic Typhoon, which can reach speeds of 1500mph. They do often fly over this area, but usually at a far greater height, so this gives the public the chance to have a real, close-up look. There will also be flights from a Second World War Swordfish torpedo bomber biplane, a Spitfire and Hurricane, the Breitling Wingwalkers, the Trig Aerobatic team, and one that I personally am rather excited about as we’ve never had one before, an F86 Sabre.”
The North American F86 Sabre, aka the Sabrejet, is considered to be one of the most important fighter aircraft of the Korean War, and also compares well against fighters of later eras.
“There’s plenty to do on the ground too, with the opportunity to get up close and personal with some fantastic machines in our hangars, including a Spitfire you can have your picture taken in,” he adds.
“Plus, there’s a lot to keep the kids occupied with quad-biking, bouncy castles, face-painting and a fairground. We have a lot of loyal supporters who come back every year, year after year, but I would really encourage people who’ve never been to give it a go, it really is a great day out.”
n Scotland’s Airshow at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune takes place on Saturday, July 27, from 10am. Call 0300 123 6789 or visit www.nms.ac.uk.