Meet the high flyers of the global hot air ballooning scene

For nine days in March Canberrans wake up to a surreal scene, a sun rise dotted with flurries of colour as hot air balloons float across the city. Hours before the break of dawn, while most of the city is still slumbering, a dedicated group of hot air balloon enthusiasts are busy preparing for their early morning flights.

Accents from around the world float through the air at the daily pilot briefing. Over 30 hot air balloon teams travel from far flung locations to the heart of Canberra to take part in the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, one of the largest and longest running hot air balloon festivals in the southern hemisphere. In 2018, the festival featured the high flyers of the global hot air ballooning scene including all female teams, stunt pilots, world record holders and special shape pilots. Here’s a look behind-the-scenes at just a handful of our favourite characters.


Flight Director John Wallington

John Wallington is an institution at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, having been involved with the festival in various ways since 1985. In 2018, John had his feet firmly on the ground in his role as Flight Director; however, this Australian Ballooning Champion has racked up some exciting airborne accomplishments. Amongst his most memorable flights John counts the first ever non-stop flight across Australia, an international flight from New Zealand to Australia and the Australian altitude record. To put it simply, he has flown further, farther and higher than anybody else in Australia.

Tully & the Galbraith family

Silhouetted against an inflating balloon, the shape of a dog with a furiously wagging tail can be made out. Tully runs around the Capital Chemist Balloon to join his owners, the Galbraith family that own and pilot this craft. As a puppy this pooch was always looking to the sky and hopped into a hot air balloon at the first chance. An adventurer’s best friend, Tully also joins the family on stand-up paddle boarding trips and eagerly jumps into the sidebar of their motorbike.

The Galbraith family have been ballooning for over 40 years. Pilot Justin Galbraith specialises in balloon skimming, dipping low over Lake Burley Griffin to entertain kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders.

Royal Australian Air Force crew

Did you know that the Australia is the only country in the world to have hot air balloons featured in its air force? These craft may not quite satisfy a pilot’s need for speed, but they have inspired many a young pilot. For over 26 years, the RAAF have travelled throughout Australian visiting schools and communities to teach us about the art of flying.

Up to three Air Force crafts, including one intricate balloon shaped like a fighter pilot helmet, patrol the skies above the national capital during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. Specialising in everything related to air travel, you won’t be surprised to learn that a number of our military and civilian balloon pilots also fly airplanes and hang glide.

Kermie & the Monahan twins

Kermie the Frog, not to be confused with Kermit the Frog, made its debut at the Canberra Balloon Festival this year. Owned and operated by New York based twins, Scott and Todd Monahan, this giant green frog stands an impressive 90 ft tall. The Monahan’s pride themselves on piloting special shaped balloons, including a clown, a haunted house, firemen, a lion and a fire hydrant.

These handful of talented people represent a wider team of equally talented, passionate and dedicated individuals. The Canberra Balloon Spectacular is only possible thanks to the tireless work of numerous pilots and their support teams, the flight direction team, meteorologists, the Southern Tablelands Four Wheel Drive Club, St Johns Ambulance staff, the Lions Club of Belconnen, invaluable volunteers and Events ACT. As Enlighten Festival draws to a close and the hot air balloons are packed carefully away, Canberrans thank this team for brightening their sky with fiery action.

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular will return in 2019 as part of Enlighten Festival.

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