Test flight before Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

Bristol is preparing to host its annual hot air balloon festival later this month.

A dozen balloons took part in a test flight from Vassells Park in the northeast of the city on Monday ahead of the August 11-14 main event.

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta has been around since 1979 and is the biggest event of its kind in Europe.

Balloons are prepared for flight (Ben Birchall/PA)PA Wire/PA Images – Ben Birchall

The city is home to the world’s largest balloon manufacturer, Cameron Balloons, and has become a hub for the hobby.

Ian Martin, who flew a balloon sponsored by British brand Paul Smith, said four-man balloons can stay in the air for eight or nine hours if they have enough fuel.

But it also skippers larger models that can carry up to 16 people at a time.

It was the Paul Smith ball’s maiden voyage, fitted with the brand’s signature stripes.

Bristol International Hot Air Balloon FestivalA dozen balloons took part in a test flight (Ben Birchall/PA)PA Wire/PA Images – Ben Birchall

Mr Martin, who has been flying balloons for 30 years including a stint with Sir Richard Branson, said after the party the Paul Smith balloon will head to Las Vegas to fly over the desert.

He also coordinates the Nightglow, which sees dozens of balloons fly through Avon Gorge and light up their propane cylinders to the beat of music to create a floating light show.

The event is so popular that the Clifton Suspension Bridge must be closed to the public while it is in operation to prevent too many people from crowding in and putting their safety at risk.

This year, the festival is gaining momentum following the pandemic.

Bristol International Hot Air Balloon FestivalBristol International Balloon Fiesta is the biggest event of its kind in Europe (Ben Birchall/PA)PA Wire/PA Images – Ben Birchall

In 2020, the event was just a surprise “flyover” of 43 balloons, and was kept secret to avoid people getting mixed up.

Instead, Bristolians enjoyed the spectacle of their own communities.

Last year, on-the-ground activities at the Ashton Court estate were canceled for a second consecutive year due to social distancing measures.

Organizers coordinated around 15 parties with hundreds of balloons taking off from different locations in Bristol during the first two weeks of August.