Europe’s very first modern hot air balloon, the Bristol Belle which was built in Bristol in 1967 celebrated its 50th anniversary over the weekend

To celebrate the anniversary, the pioneering Bristol Belle was inflated and tethered next to one of Don Cameron’s latest innovations, the world’s first hybrid-solar powered hot air balloon, the Bristol Energy Solar Balloon.

The Bristol Belle was the first hot air balloon of its kind to be seen outside of the US making its maiden flight 50 years ago on the 9th July 1967.

Bristol Belle

The revolutionary balloon was designed and built by a group including aeronautical engineer Don Cameron, the founder of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and Cameron Balloons, the largest and most innovative balloon manufacturer in the world.

With the help of Bill Malpas, Mark Westwood, Giles Bulmer, Malcolm Brighton and Tom Sage, the Bristol Belle was successfully launched and has since undertaken a number of significant flights, including a launch from the deck of the HMS Ark Royal, where it was used to deliver mail to Malta in 1970.

Following his first successful balloon creation, Don Cameron went on to form Cameron Balloons from the basement of his small flat based in Cotham, Bristol. Cameron has now received the gold, silver and bronze medals of the British Royal Aero Club for his ballooning achievements which include being the first man to cross the Sahara and the Alps by hot-air balloon, and making the first flight between the UK and the former USSR in 1990.

In 1979 Cameron came up with the novel idea of staging a small hot air balloon fiesta in Bristol. Staged by the Bristol Junior Chamber of Commerce & Shipping, just 27 air balloons took part in the spectacular free show for the general public.

The Bristol Belle was inflated next to the Bristol Energy Solar Balloon, the world’s first hybrid-solar powered hot air balloon developed by Cameron Balloons in 2015. Made of light weight polyurethane coated nylon, the black side of the balloon attracts heat from the sun to make the air inside of the balloon envelope much hotter than the ambient temperature – the silver side of the balloon then prevents that heat from escaping. The balloon is fitted with propane burners, just in case the sun disappears mid-flight, which is what makes it a solar-hybrid.

Now in its 39th year, the Fiesta has become one of Europe’s largest annual hot air balloon festivals, attracting over half a million locals and visitors alike. Over 130 hot air balloons have now entered the 2017 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta which will take place on the Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th August 2017 in partnership with Bristol Energy.

As ever, the Fiesta will open on Thursday at midday with hot air balloons tethering throughout the afternoon followed by the special shapes flight at 6pm, displaying an array of unique shaped balloons.

On Thursday and Saturday late night visitors to the festival can witness the famous Night Glows as the hot air balloons appear as giant light bulbs, a stunning sight of 30 balloons with burners roaring bright in time to the music as night falls.

For people planning on driving to the event, car parking must be booked in advance and runs on a tiered system, so the earlier it’s booked the cheaper the price and the closer the space is to the main showground. Premium, main and disabled car parking slots can still be bought here: bristolballoonfiesta.co.uk/tickets

To find out more about this year’s event follow @BristolBalloon on Instagram and Twitter, or facebook.com/bristolinternationalballoonfiesta.