I have always wanted to film hot air balloons with a drone ever since I got my Phantom 3 Advanced at the start of this year, however I knew I would have to wait until Summer and with the hope of fine weather before I would have the chance to see them in the air once more. By good fortune my home town of Maghera is situated near their flight path and for a few days at the start of June each year they can be seen in the skies early in the morning or just before sunset in the evening when rising thermals are less strong and winds are light. By the start of June I missed several flights near home simply because I had not been there, perhaps two or three days of action when I wasn't there to see them then one day while walking outside Cookstown I could see a formation once more far away to the N, I knew they would have long landed by the time I got there, I was beginning to wonder if my luck would hold for much longer however on my side was a glorious period of warm and dry high pressure weather so I knew there would be another chance soon.
On June 8th I was home in Maghera, it was a stunning day, warm, humid with a gentle Nly breeze with glorious blue skies. I said to Conor that I had a feeling about hot air balloons, I really did have a strong instinct that they would show, part of me wanted to drive to Draperstown where they are most often seen however my Mum wanted to go for a late evening walk with our dog Rhua so I decided to go for the walk instead, this would turn out to be a great decision. Mum, Rhua and I drove out to Drumlamph Woodland outside Maghera and did a walk through the trails and forest, it really was a gorgeous evening. Suddenly we heard a loud rushing of air, then again, Mum said it was hot air balloons, I was skeptical, I looked into the sky and couldn't see anything, then the sound returned and this time it was louder and more urgent. Then through a network of trees I saw the top of a massive balloon being filled with air, Mum was rite. I grabbed the keys and ran through the rest of the forest, got the case out from the boot and ventured over to a grassy clearing near the entrance to the woodland, I couldn't believe my luck, a balloon was inflating from the very field next to the woodland and furthermore it wasn't alone, I could see seven balloons in total all preparing to launch, I had only minutes to get set up.
I got everything switched on, got calibrated then just as the first balloon rose into the air from behind the trees so did my Phantom. From this point on it was a drone flight of severe concentration, anxiety but mixed with a heightened sense of joy and wonder. Each balloon rose in turn and slowly drifted past me at a low elevation with flames burning periodically against the haze Summer sky, it was such a beautiful and peaceful spectacle. I had been doing a lot of flying and filming up to this point so I felt extremely confident and quickly got in the zone, this was what I had been waiting for and now it was happening. I filmed each balloon, many of which sailed past me to the S however one stayed in the area, however before they all departed I was amazed to see yet more sky action, with all the balloons aloft two paragliders appeared from nowhere and landed in the same field from which the balloons had launched from, however one paraglider was going to hit one of the airborne balloons and had to take evasive action, segments of this scene can be viewed on the video. I also saw another drone filming the last balloon, it looked like another Phantom so that was seven hot air balloons, two paragliders and two drones all sharing the same airspace in the middle of nowhere so talk about busy skies. I would later find out that BBC Newsline weather presenter Barra Best was in one of these balloons.
I made sure I was at least 60-70m from the balloons or more at all times and never got in front of their line of travel, I always positioned myself to the side so our paths would never cross. I stayed below the CCA height restriction of 120m the entire time so I was lower than the highest balloons, it would have been nice to get higher however I wasn't for taking any chances in a busy sky like this, I played it safe and used my head so that all went smoothly. I was flying line of sight at all times and made sure to mentally have an escape plan if needed incase any of the balloons suddenly changed course, once all was sorted in my head I began to relax and enjoy the flight and it was then that I obtained my best footage.
The highlight for me came during golden hour when one of the balloons drifted across the western sky lowering in height allowing me to fly level with it and track it sideways like a dolly across the sky. The balloon eclipsed the lowering sun causing it to vanish then reappear on the other side, it was an awesome scene which was complimented all the more by the golden light over the ancient Drumlamph woodland. Local readers might spot the ring fort and the new walkways over the swamp area on the video.
Full video footage featuring two flights of the hot air balloon passage over Drumlamph Woodland at golden hour. Please watch at 1080p and open to full size for the best experience. The video is very relaxing and tranquil and makes for a great subject to watch last thing at night in bed before falling asleep. Thanks very much for viewing.