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April 14, 2011
IN A year of Air Force celebrations, it
was a party balloon of a different kind
last month when the Air Force Balloon
came of age.
Well, perhaps not THE balloon
(there have been six) but it is the 21st
anniversary of Air Force's iconic hot
air display vehicle.
Central Flying School D Flight
Commander SQNLDR Philip
O'Donnell said the date turned
over on March 5 but was not cel-
ebrated because the balloon was
heavily involved in the Australian
International Airshow at Avalon.
"The Canberra Balloon Festival
was being held from March 12 to
20, so we planned to mark the event
then," SQNLDR O'Donnell said.
The event comprised a celebratory
re-enactment flight followed by a get-
together of serving and former balloon
crewmembers, after which everyone
gathered in the envelope of the current
balloon, VH-FAN, for an anniversary
Air Force received its first balloon,
VH-LDB, in early 1990 and the first
real flight on March 5 was piloted by
Mr John Wallington.
Passengers were the then Chief
of Air Staff AIRMSHL Ray Funnell,
Ambassador to the Soviet Union Dr
E. Samotelkin and PLTOFF Deborah
Since that historic first flight, the
six balloons have proved themselves
as an ideal branding and recruiting
medium. They have flown about 6700
passengers for a total 2462.3 hours
around Australia, often where con-
ventional aircraft are unable to oper-
ate, and have also made one overseas
deployment to the Philippines.
SQNLDR O'Donnell had no doubt
the balloon would still be around for
another 21 years.
"The balloon fills a unique niche
in the Air Force's PR strategy," he
said. "We go to places and events
that by virtue of their isolation and
population, it is not cost effective
to send our large and/or fast aircraft
assets. We can spend a week or two
away visiting communities, person-
ally engaging with the people on the
ground and in the air all for the cost
of one or two hours flying in a fast jet
that may only achieve a brief expo-
sure to the target audience.
"We are also very fortunate to have
the continued support from AFHQ.
CAF is a great supporter of the work
that the balloon crew does and that
really makes us feel that we are con-
tributing in our own unique way to the
Air Force mission."
CAF's support took a rise on
March 17 during the balloon festival
when he and his wife Gitte took the
opportunity to go aloft.
By the flight of the
KALEIDOSCOPE OF COLOUR:
Above, the Air Force Balloon is
one of many which brightened the
morning sky during the Canberra
INSIDE STORY: To
mark the anniversary,
serving and former
gathered in the envelope
of VH-FAN for an
Photos: Craig Eager
UP, UP AND AWAY: Right, CAF is
ready for take-off.
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