Saturday, 28 May 2016

On the Beech: interviews and film taster by Kevin MacDonald

The team has completed a number of training/familiarisation flights in Gloucester and  Dunkeswell over the last few days and Betty is back in her current base at Staverton taking a 'rest' for the bank holiday weekend.

In the meantime across the Atlantic Kevin has worked intensively on editing his film taster for an 'On the Beech' documentary.

Grab a Gin and Tonic like we are doing right now, sit back and enjoy Kevin's lastest version:

Taster documentary film by Kevin MacDonald

Friday, 27 May 2016

Interview about the 'On the Beech' project by 'Made in Bristol' TV

The other day Phil and I were interviewed and filmed by a presenter from the local TV channel 'Made in Bristol' who created this nice trailer:

Fabulous photos of G-BKGM by Tom Balson

Enjoy those fantastic shots taken by Tom Balson as Betty flew into Bristol Airport this week!

'Bristol Airways' flying into Bristol Airport
Thank you Tom for those great photos!

Betty parked at the Bristol and Wessex flying school

starting the engines again for the next flight

Thursday, 26 May 2016

'Bristol Airways' inaugural flight to Bristol airport!

What a great flight- what a fantastic experience!

Worth all the long waiting, worries and hassle!

Roger anxiously watching Betty's engine start up

With chief pilot Andy Foan and co-pilot Ed Dablin at the controls, Betty started both of her engines in no time and after some run- up time Bristol Airways lifted off the ground from Gloucestershire Airport at 10.48am this morning.

What a great feeling to finally be up in the air again - this time sitting comfortably on our brand new leather seats (sadly without the gin and tonic table!) looking out of the window and enjoying the green scenery.

On board with us were Clive Bailey - commercial balloon pilot/operator and leading figure at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta - and Simon Wrighton, one of Bristol Airport’s own Air traffic controllers and also a balloonist.

We soon left Cheltenham and GCHQ behind us and the two Severn Bridges came into sight.

We then turned over Pill where Clive could wave to his wife Jo standing in the garden and our pilots approached Clifton and the famous Brunel Suspension bridge.

We swept to the left and I could see below, beyond Betty’s wings, we were turning at 1000ft over the bridge and completed a full circle before heading finally towards the airport.

What a fantastic experience and great view!

Then the landing: Andy and Ed handled the fairly brisk cross-wind and we touched down after 23mins of flight on runway 09 at Bristol Airport.

A short taxi to the GA side at the Bristol and Wessex flying school and we were there!

Andy refuelling the aeroplane

Greeted by friends and supporters we enjoyed a quick coffee and for the passengers a glass of fizz before Andy and Ed had to take off again to pick up our third pilot Bill Tollett who was left behind waiting at Gloucester due to a misunderstanding! Sorry Bill and thanks for being patient!
 At least this wasn’t yet Greenland!

interested airport ground staff watching Betty take off again

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Watch two great videos about this project!

There are now two lovely trailers about our balloon flights from Gloucester

The first one has been produced by BA captain and private film-maker Kevin MacDonald (Boston, US) who has put this lovely atmospheric trailer together catching unique shots from the ground as the two balloons lift off right next to the aeroplane at Staverton:

Click here: to view Kevin's film!

The second one has been filmed and edited by professional cameraman Mat Lingard from Quintessence films, Bristol/Stroud. Mat and his film partner Robin Toyne have been documenting our story right from the beginning.

Lifting off in the first balloon piloted by Nick Dunnington, Mat captures exciting close ups of the voyager balloon drifting over Betty and Staverton airport.  Enjoy viewing his trailer here:


Brilliant news: Betty is flying again!

Andy, our chief pilot and Roger, her engineer went on a pioneering test flight yesterday. They flew for over 2 hours and only a few minor quirks were discovered which can be fixed today.

All pilots will be meeting today (Tuesday the 24th) for their first training flights.

We are then planning to fly her via Bristol airport tomorrow lunch time down to Dunkeswell where she will be based for the next week for further training and engine run-in flights.

It will be great opportunity for you to see the aeroplane when she touches down for a short break tomorrow Wednesday the 25th at Bristol airport!

If you wish to come then please get in touch with me by either sending me an email to or texting 07776202731. I can then inform you of the details and timings.

We are still uncertain about our final departure date as we need to re-confirm pilots availabilities and solve a few organisational matters but we are hoping to leave the UK at around the 12th of June!

BE CALM and keep fingers crossed!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Interview for local TV 'Made in Bristol' - and Beech 18 memorabilia

Tuesday morning Phil and I had been invited to give a short interview to the local TV channel 'Made in Bristol'. 

We rigged the balloon in just over 5minutes (!) and explained how the system works. Watch out for the 'live' broadcast sometime in the next week.

This very interesting piece of a wooden picture frame still is a mystery to us: After Phil's mum had passed away and whilst we were contemplating buying the Beech 18, we cleared Barbara's loft - and out came this astonishing piece! 
We don't know where it had come from but I suspect that Phil had bought it many years ago and had completely forgotten about it...

Finding it on that day was so spooky that we went ahead with the purchase that very day!

Together with a load of old spares and documents we found this wonderful aluminium logbook of CF-SUQ - as she was registered then. 
The logbook dates back to the early 80ies and records her survey flights around Algeria. It's a fascinating piece of history.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Still more to do on Betty

photo by Kevin MacDonald

Another day passed and Roger and his team were working very hard on various parts of the aeroplane. Sadly we also heard that a particular item cannot be sourced in this country and has to be shipped from the States which means certainly no test flying for the next couple of days.

video with courtesy of Kevin MacDonald and following photos as well

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Airborne at last - by balloon!

A beautiful morning flight from Gloucester Airport

After having carefully plotted a master plan for days, an unexpected locked gate nearly destroyed a beautiful morning flight from Gloucester Airport.

Thanks to the airport manager Darren Lewington’s dog, who woke him at the crack of dawn,  two balloon- and film teams could enter the site and set up next to ‘Betty the Beech’ in front of her hangar.

Shortly after 7am the first balloon with pilot Nick Dunnington (Phil’s son and also a commercial pilot) took off with his own son Cameron Dunnington, Phil and cameraman Mat.  

A few minutes later myself and Beeches RGV engineer Roger Shepherd took off in the Cameron V-65 ‘Silver Lining’ – the balloon which will go aboard the aeroplane on its long journey.

Calm winds allowed both balloons to hover over for some time over 'Betty' and the airfield...

.....before stronger winds aloft took them up onto the Cotswold escarpment flying appropriately over the ‘Air Balloon’ pub.

The new ‘minimus’ basket (designed by Don Cameron performed very well) and we survived a speedy 8kt tip over landing in a tight grass field after a beautiful 1.15mins flight.

I think I can say that Roger enjoyed his first ballooning experience and might be prepared to do it again! Correct Roger?

It turned out that today was also Roger’s birthday so a subsequent ‘German style’ baptism ceremony was inevitable! (shame only for the wasted drops of Champagne and sorry for your burnt hair!)

Thanks to all our friends and family – Nick and Cameron Dunnington, Steve Richards, Kyla Rhind, Linda Hamblyn, Trevor Henegan, Kevin MacDonald - for their great support and help to make this a truly special event!

And now I am going to shoot anything ‘Apple’ as their new OS operating system has buggered up my entire computer, photos and I had to re-write this over again….

photo credits to:
Phil Dunnington, Trevor Henegan, Steve Richards, Kevin MacDonald and myself

Friday the 13th

Well, you might already have noticed that there was a prolonged silence in updating my blog. For two reasons:

1. Friday the 13th disappointingly has come up with its reputation as Roger found more problems with getting the left engine started. The planned first test flight therefore didn't happen but resulted instead of deep discussions about further plans.

See my first test of a video recording (will improve the sound quality during the next interviews) and a trial of using Apple's i-video editing system which has cost me now numerous grievances!

2. The weather finally was finally suitable for ballooning and I have done two challenging and exciting flights over the last 24 hours. (see more in the next blog about those).

As you also might have gathered: we are still here and haven't yet (sadly - for the better!) left for the Orkneys and the Arctic. This though has left the team in quite difficult circumstances as everybody has to re-arrange schedules and plans.

We are meeting again this coming Wednesday afternoon for further discussions at Staverton.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Keep fingers crossed!

Good news finally from the base at Staverton:

Roger and Stuart have worked their socks off over the last days and weekends to get the aeroplane sorted. Hopes are up that she is now ready for her first test flight tomorrow morning!

Keep fingers crossed and I hope to be able to post a few nice shots of Betty in the air by this time tomorrow evening!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Endless problems with the new engine

A rainy day and spirits slightly low.

Still no good news from the hangar at Staverton - more issues with the new engine meaning we have no clue when the Beech can finally be test flown.

Ah but just had another phone call saying that they think they can fix it!

Photo above: G-BGKM at the Duxford airshow in 2015 flying formation with the Catalina

Hopes are still up for Friday the 13th - autsch! Is that a good day?

Well, it was Barbara's (see previous post about her) lucky day and since she is the 'good spirit' for this entire adventure, I hope that things will move in the right direction and we can see our bird flying again!

 In the meantime enjoy those photos taken by Jimmy Guthrie of CF-SUQ - as she was registered in 1981 - flying into the UK.

The final departure for the Trans-Atlantic trip is still under discussion as pilot availability and organisational issues have to be re-considered and planned.

So in the meantime, let's dream on and retreat to a nice pub for a decent gin tonic. Cheers!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


Great news: the engine has finally started!!!

We are getting very excited! Hopefully looking at a first test flight this Friday! Keep fingers crossed!

Monday, 9 May 2016

A tribute to Phil's mum Barbara Dunnington - a great lady who made this trip possible for us!

Barbara Dunnington

grew up in Lancashire and Yorkshire and, days before his departure to fight in Burma in WWII, committed to marry John Dunnington, a schoolmaster. 

They were separated for nearly six years, he injured in a Japanese air attack (for which he earned medals for bravery) and she a nurse in the WRNS volunteer force at Haslar near Portsmouth. 

After her husband spent a year with British occupation forces in north Germany they were reunited in Torquay in 1946. Phil was born in 1947!

John taught maths & English in Pickering, Yorkshire and later in Windsor whilst Barbara became deeply involved in PTA (Parent/Teachers) activity at Phil's Windsor Grammar School, moving to Bath in retirement in the 80s. 

She died in September 2014 after a short illness. It is due to both her spirit and her legacy that 'On The Beech' has been made possible.