Our pilots here at Virgin Balloon Flights don’t just fly for fun and to give passengers the ride of their lives. Following in the footsteps of our brand’s founder Sir Richard Branson, many of them have taken part in competitions all around the world, breaking and setting new world records. Here are a few of their previous titles and exploits:
Pilot Dave Sutcliffe has a particularly proud memory of winning the Great British Long Jump title in 2005 along with co-pilot Ian Swift. The pair set the record for the longest single flight in the UK with an impressive stretch of 168 miles from County Durham to Bedfordshire, meaning they were airborne for a total of 6 hours and 20 minutes! Not only did Dave and Ian win but they were awarded the Frog title, which is awarded to the outright winner. In 2004 he also took part in the World Gas Balloon Championships when he and his co-pilot flew the whole length of Poland.”We flew from south of Berlin all way up to Kaliningrad and I think it took us around 16 hours. It was a hell of an experience,” he says.
In 2008, pilot Mark Shemilt flew the small AX-02 balloon in Morzine, France where he hovered over the French Alps. This flight broke two world records, the first for duration as he flew for 7 hours, 26 minutes and 56 seconds and the second for distance, flying a total of 182.34km! in 2010, Mark broke another record for distance when he flew 120 miles from Leicestershire to the Suffolk coast.
Pilot Lindsay Muir is one of the most successful female pilots around holding many records and titles. In 1988 she became the first female pilot to become British Champion and once again won the championship in 1996. In 1990 she won the first Ladies World Cup, a title which she retained for the following two years and regained in 1996. Lindsay has set records including world women’s distance, altitude and several duration records. The most recent record was set in France on a flight lasting 19 hours, 7 minutes and 55 seconds back in 2000.
Lindsay recalls the challenging but exciting flight. It was an attempt to complete a 24 hour flight but an unexpected problem occurred; when it became dark the fuel consumption doubled meaning an early landing was essential. She ended up trying to land the balloon in pitch black at about 1.30 in the morning. Her crew called her to say the field below was clear for landing but she still couldn’t see the ground at all. After an intense descent, Lindsay managed to skilfully land the balloon in the field and even packed everything away before the heavens opened!
Mandy Dickinson also holds some fantastic records; Mandy broke the duration record for a 90,000 cubic feet balloon, having flown for 10 and a half hours straight! Not stopping there, she also won the Great British Long Jump competition in 2003 after flying 247 miles from Scotland to Kettering.
Not only breaking records but our pilots have also accomplished some other fantastic achievements. Another female pilot with us, Rebecca Cains achieved a balloon “long jump” of 192 miles from Fishguard to Peterborough around six years ago, and plans to break some ballooning records in the future.
Simon Redman took part in a major charity challenge to raise money for the Hospice in the Weald in Kent. Along with some other pilots, Simon launched from Kent in a small sports balloon and reached the French coast in just 55 minutes. He reflected on the flight:
“We flew at around 2,000ft above the water all the way across and from the moment I reached that altitude over the white cliffs of Dover I could see France clearly in the distance. The view was spectacular.” “I was enjoying it so much that I carried on for two and a half hours before eventually landing. There I was greeted by a really friendly local farmer and his family who gave me lunch while I waited for the retrieval crew to come across on the ferry and pick me up.”
Even though our pilots already hold some amazing world record titles, they never stop searching for an adventure and still continue to break and set new world records. So watch this space!