Today heralds the first ever global Virgin Social Marathon, a groundbreaking event that takes place around the world bringing together digital Virgin types near and far all working together for a day-long event at Facebook’s office in London. Starting in Sydney, Australia, then handing over to the UK and ending in Los Angeles, California at Sir Richard Branson, Eve Branson and Virgin Unite’s event Rock the Kasbah, the social media marathon is a unique and exciting experience.

In celebration of the launch of the brilliant new Virgin Facebook app Virgin First Times, we asked some of our pilots to share their ballooning first times with us.

Martin Collinson

“My first balloon flight was in a crispy old blue balloon that had been flying for many years. I went along as a passenger with the infamous balloonist Kim Hull conducting a training flight with another chap. It was a beautiful morning floating across the fields and woods of north Hampshire, the dew still dripping from the leaves of the trees. Blissfully unaware of the concentration required to actually fly the balloon, I leant over the side admiring the scenery. It was a smooth and relaxing experience. In one word I’d describe it as serene. Some #FirstTimes for me recently; mobilised as a Military Observation and Liaison Officer to complete a 6-month operational tour on the United Nations Green Line in Cyprus.”

Dave Sutcliffe

Remembering his first times... “We were out on a Saturday night in a pub with a work pal and got asked what we were doing in the morning. So we got up at 7 am (a November morning) and were greeted with a hard frost. Headed to Escrick Park south of York in a pick-up truck to be greeted upon arrival by what looked like a hairy Viking (Hugh Wright) which was very appropriate as he was flying the Yorvik Viking Centre balloon. I got involved in getting the balloon ready, Hugh inflated it and Ian told me to get in. He had arranged for me to fly and he would follow and retrieve. I didn’t have any time to worry about it. The view was fantastic and after a little while we landed in a field. I was asked to swap places and can go and pick them up. So off they went and I tried to work out how to follow a balloon by myself. I set off then I got a shock as I heard Hugh talking to me in the truck. Worked out how it worked (years before mobiles) and was told which way to go. Found them in the end and went for breakfast. It was a great morning with lots of firsts that day. Pick-up truck ride. Balloon flight, towing a trailer and retrieving and making a friend for life.

Overall it was a, in three words, life changing experience.

More recently I have started cycling longish distances for the first time.”

Mark Simmons AKA “Nobby”

“My first flight was in April 1989 from the Thunder & Colt factory (now the Lindstrand factory) in Oswestry as a passenger in a new balloon's first flight. It was piloted by Lars Eric Moores (quite a well-known balloonist who started one of the first ride operations in Turkey). I was visiting the factory with Peter Mason whom I had just started working for as a full-time ground crew for his new Financial Times Special Shape balloon. I don't remember much about the flight as I hadn't given the possibility of becoming a pilot myself any thought. I do remember the feeling when we touched down of "This is what I want to do with my life". I loved it, although I did spend most of the 45 min flight looking through the lens of a video camera. My next flight a month later in Ireland was in a can shaped balloon which was very exciting! In three words ballooning is absolutely bl**dy brilliant! For the first time this year I met UK soul queen Beverly Knight at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. I also flew my 2000 hours!”

Neal Parry

“My first flight was back in 1993, in someone else’s balloon, in Jan 2006, in a bright striped balloon. I was flying 16 excited, happy pax, under the supervision of the chief pilot, as usual when gaining a new (Kenyan) licence. We inflated in the dark, to catch sunrise from the air, over the Mara River, with its wallowing hippos, and crocs, and then onto the plain, where wildebeest, giraffes, elephants, big cats, and scores of other species roam free.


Visit Virgin First Times to share your first times with us.