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Zen master of experimental flying machines returns to fiesta

Zen master of experimental lighter-than-air flying machines returns for fiesta fun

A whacky, world record breaking, internationally renowned experimental balloon builder, a massive flying house and a gargantuan space shuttle are set to steal the show next week when New Zealand’s premier hot air balloon competition has lift-off.

Colourful American Brian Boland flies on the edge; the experimental edge. His feats over 43 years in designing, building and flying experimental and homebuilt balloons, blimps and all kinds of lighter-than-air craft has his seen his name entered in a raft of record books.

Based in Vermont at his sprawling Post Mills Airport property, complete with a museum packed with “all kinds of rusty, dusty and old lighter-than-air stuff.” you are most likely to find Brian flying under some crazy contraption or creating one.

So part of his life are his balloons, that he’s been seen using one to fly his dinghy to a favorite fishing hole, or to cut the top of a pine tree and fly it home to adorn with Christmas decorations.

He never started out to be a balloonist, he says. In 1970, as an art student at New York's Pratt Institute, he was in need of a creative thesis project when he read a magazine article about balloons. So, based purely on the photo he had seen, Brian built his first balloon as an inflatable piece of sculpture.

The soon-to-be teaching graduate didn’t build it intending to fly, but the inventor-tester in him couldn’t resist and the Phoenix and Brian successfully tethered in a parking lot. His first free flight followed one winter’s night when powerful new burners saw the Phoenix break away from its tether line, and soar skywards.

Thirty seven years on; close to 200 balloons and airship creations behind him and now considered the guru of the homebuilt/experimentalist crowd in ballooning, Brian’s desire to create hasn’t waned.

"I tell people it goes back to my days as an artist. If you are an illustrator or a painter rarely are you satisfied with just one drawing or painting. Whether it is a step forward or backwards, it doesn't matter; what is important is the need to keep creating.

The scene is already set for big and fabulous displays in the skies over the Wairarapa Valley, when more than 20 balloons lift-off, along with two special shapes, a seven-storied high flying house and a 54-metre tall Space Shuttle replica, both making their first ever appearance at a New Zealand balloon fiesta.

And from launch date on March 13, it promises to be crowd-pleasing spectacles by the cream of New Zealand ballooning, as New Zealand’s best pilots battle it out in a series of competitions.

For the pilots, the event is about showcasing their incredible skills in reading winds and conditions to fly their balloons directly over competition targets. There’s a lot at stake for them being named the top points scoring pilot of the Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta.

This year, young South Islander Nicolas Oakley, who was taking home competition accolades from age 14, will be gunning for reigning champ Scott Cursons, and intends knocking him out of the top spot. Wairarapa Balloon Society chairman Jonathan Hooker said the event wouldn’t be what it was without the unwavering support of the balloonists and the support of sponsors.

“The goodwill of the pilots in taking time off work and showing just how talented they are is what makes this event. We just couldn’t do it without their support and the support of businesses which have come on board to help us get off the ground.”

This year, even Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta veterans will have something to look forward to over the four days of the fiesta from March 13 to 16.

The highlight of the fiesta is always the weekend family focused Trust House Night Glow. The ‘glow’ is the jewel in the crown of the fiesta, where tethered balloons glow like light bulbs and brighten the night sky in a dazzling show choreographed to music.

The finale is the popular Henley Lake challenge. All events are weather dependent and may be brought forward, postponed, shifted or cancelled on the day if conditions are unsafe for flying or inflation of the balloons.

A full programme of events over the four days is available on Like Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta on Facebook for up to the minute news and information.


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