My story about becoming a balloon pilot:
Little did I know that as a child when my Mother suggested to me to join the scouting movement as an activity that it may eventually lead to hot air ballooning however the scouting system encourages self development, leadership skills, community assistance and the pursuit of outdoor activities and if one desires a system of award achievement.
This system taught me to define a goal , research the goal and then set about achieving the goal. This system eventually led me to achieving the highest youth scouting award possible being “ a queen scout” The award comes in the form of a presentation by the governor general of Australia at Government house and is called a Queen scout award due to the patronage and signing of the award by the Queen of England.
So moving on from scouting I started working life as a plumber, worked extremely hard and long hours however always looked to learn more and explore new activities that included such things as Scuba diving and Hang Gliding and in 2004 stumbled across the strange pursuit of Hot air ballooning via the media sources that were being generated from the 2004 worlds in Mildura. So in 2005 I joined the Balloon Association of Victoria and attempted to learn to fly a balloon. Access to balloons and instruction was very difficult however the purchase of a balloon seemed to fix the problem and 3 months later I had a licence. After having fun flying for a few years I competed in some competitions with good placings and then decided to attempt an Australian record.
My earlier teachings assisted me to plan and prepare and on the 10/7/2011 I flew my small Thunder and Colt 42 balloon from Warracknabeal to Pyramid hill in Victoria a distance of 168.7km in around 2.5 hrs.
This was exciting and a great learning curve for me with low level turbulence , a missed approached or two and a final landing in a large locked farm having hit one of the fences on the way in. I was lucky enough to have great crew who arranged access with the next door neighbour and everything was fine.
This excitement stayed within me and now that I am winding down the business that I spent so many years building I find I have more time to work on areas of my life that will bring peace , happiness and fulfilment . So in 2017 I planned another record that was set in 1980 – the distance record was to fly for more than 355 km in a 56 balloon. This was not going to be an easy record to break and setting records involves a huge amount of research and planning, not one single factor can achieve a result, it is normally multiple tiny gains that all add up and this needs to be coupled with just the right mix of weather conditions to make it all work.
So with this in mind I set about making some gains that involved purchasing a new Kavanagh 56 envelope and building a custom lightweight bottom end and having it approved by CASA in an effort to save weight and be able to carry more gas. My first attempt from Renmark South Australia to Wycheproof Victoria saw me fly 315 km , not quite enough distance and a very fast and bumpy landing made me question my own sanity however I had learnt enough for what I thought I needed to achieve this record. I was assisted by Harry Fraser as crew and observer Wendy Mannix.
Attempt 2 on 19/7/18 with help from crew Belinda Vella and observer Kiff Saunders in his larger balloon I Launched from Merbein Victoria and landed in Jerilderie New South Wales achieved a distance of 378.8 km thus breaking the 38 year old record. The landing was very fast, about 36km/h however nice and smooth and the excited farmer insisted In having lunch and coffee with him before departing the farm.
Now I am on a roll, two distance records smashed and time to look at some duration records. A duration record aims to stay in the air for as long as possible and employs different techniques and strategies than the earlier distance records . On 24/8/18 with a basket packed full of gas and near zero temperatures I Launched from Ballarat Victoria in my 56 and 6 hrs 28 min later landed at Laanecoorie Victoria with crew Davin Richardson , observer Wendy Mannix and a lovely young farming family waiting for me in the paddock.
Above 56 duration record – targeting an intersection just for fun !
Now well and truly having a taste of what is possible just a week later presented the right weather conditions to attempt another duration record in a different size balloon , this time in my Kavanagh 77. On 29/8/18 I Launched from Ballarat Victoria with the temperature at a very chilly minus 2 , and landed at Mortlake Victoria 9 hrs and 3 min later. This was by far the most scenic, peaceful and relaxing record flight to date having flown over some extinct volcanoes , some lakes and just generally the best weather conditions to make the whole thing quite interesting. With 3 distinctly different weather changes presenting themselves during the day I did not have an exact location where I would fly to and just simply enjoyed the scenery for what it was at that point in time. I was able to land in a paddock where the farmer was working on his fences and was quite excited to see a balloon and hear all about the adventure. Assisted by Belinda Vella as crew once again and observer Wendy Mannix made for a quick and easy retrieve. My only mistake of the day was that I made some salad rolls to eat along the way and i left them in the fridge at home ! lucky I had some other snacks and a note to myself for next time to add lunch to the checklist.
Above 77 duration record
The records were never about fame or fortune, just simply an indulgent exercise in self fulfilment and satisfaction that was made possible by defining goals, research, preparation and pushing some boundaries. The help and support of others around me also helped achieve the records. I am truly grateful for this help and support. I also hope that my story inspires others to strive towards greater results in their life.
So whats next ?
I think that I can extend the 9 hrs and 3 min to a greater time however that will be breaking my own record so there is probably no great rush on that one.
Read more about Ronald Kent here
by Ronald Kent