Virgin Balloon Flights Is 21 Today!

It’s official – today is our actual 21st birthday!

Although we’ve been marking this milestone year throughout September – because, come on, why just celebrate on one day when you can have a whole month of fun? - Virgin Balloon Flights was actually ‘born’ on Monday 19th September 1994.

Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Timecop were showing in cinemas, Wet Wet Wet Boys was still number one with ‘Love Is All Around’ and ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ were some of the most popular books of the year.

Virgin Balloon Flights launched (see what we did there?) hot on the heels of the ‘ballooning mania’ that followed Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and Swedish aeronaut Per Lindstrand’s world-record-breaking Transatlantic and Transpacific crossings.

In 2002 the company was placed in the hands of its chief pilot Kenneth Karlstrom - a highly experienced hot air balloon pilot with a host of competition wins under his belt - who has been at the helm ever since.

When Bigger Really Is Better

Over the past 21 years, we have flown almost one million passengers in our fleet of beautiful red balloons and remain incredibly proud to be the biggest commercial hot air balloon rides company in the UK.

We have more than 100 lovely launch sites for our passengers to choose from, meaning we’re the only one that can truly claim to have national coverage.

Here are some other memorable moments from the past 21 years of Virgin Balloon Flights.

A Gig In The Clouds

In 2008, we took eight of our hot air balloons to Gstaad in Switzerland, where we were joined by singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner at the height of his popularity.

He performed a fantastic acoustic set from a group of lucky competition winners in the basket of one of our balloons, 2,000 feet above The Alps. The gig was recorded for Virgin Radio and as far as memorable moments go, this has got to be one of the best.

More Musical Memories

Virgin Balloon Flights continued with the musical theme three years later, when British soul diva Beverley Knight wowed crowds at the 2011 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

Her session and interview were filmed for Red Room,’s online music show.

Record Breakers

We are very proud to have plenty of record-breakers among our squad of ace hot air balloon pilots.

Shropshire pilot Lindsay Muir set a world record in the female category for a duration flight in a class AX-10 balloon back in 2000 – a whopping 19 hours, seven minutes and 55 seconds. It is a record she still holds to this day.

Lindsay’s daughter, Chloe Hallett, was also the UK’s youngest hot air balloon pilot when she gained her licence on her 17th birthday in 2011.

The previous year the same accolade was held by Milli Karlstrom, daughter of our CEO and Chief Pilot Ken Karlstrom, who also collected her pilot's licence on her 17th birthday.

Our Berkshire and Hampshire pilot Mark Shemilt set two world records for distance and duration, including 150 miles in eight hours in a ‘cloudhopper’, which is a one-man balloon with no basket.

Yorkshire pilot Dave Sutcliffe won the Great Britain Long Jump title in 2005 with his co-pilot Ian Swift, at the same time setting the record for the longest single flight in the UK of 168 miles in six hours and 20 minutes.

Dave also counts this year’s Bristol International Balloon Fiesta as another of his most memorable moments – because he got to meet none other than the cheeky little piggy herself, Peppa Pig!

High Tea (Party)

We love to do things differently here at Virgin Balloon Flights, including putting our own twist on the traditional English afternoon tea.

Our tea party at 1,300 feet back in 2012 is believed to be the highest airborne open-air event of its kind, saw Twinings tea and sparkling wine poured alongside sandwiches and cakes served up to a group of lucky competition winners on proper china crockery.

You can watch a video of this unique event on our YouTube channel here.

Toasting The Future

Our 21st birthday is a huge milestone for us and one we are extremely proud of.

Not only are we one of the longest-running Virgin Group companies, but we’re also one of the longest-running commercial hot air balloon operators in the UK.

We can’t wait to see where the next 21 years take us (although we will more than likely have to sneak in a 30th and 40th birthday celebration before then).

While we’ve already had at least one literal ‘toast’ in a hot air balloon – check out this video of celebrity chef Gary Rhodes making novel use of our pilot Nobby’s burners during a 1996 episode of ‘Open Rhodes’ – today all of our pilots, crew and head office staff raise a toast to the future of Virgin Balloon Flights.

See you in the skies! #VBFTurns21