An adventurous couple have completed a long jump with a difference – flying high to scoop a top prize.
Deborah Day and her partner Mike Scholes, from Lindfield, completed the Great British Long Jump – a competition where hot air balloonists fly as far as possible in one trip.
Deborah, who also runs Hairworks in Cuckfield, piloted the 211.6 mile trip to victory, with Mike in charge of the navigation.
“The first ten minutes were nerve wracking as the balloon headed north west instead of north east, as forecast. On that track, I would have missed Wales.
“Fortunately, at 500 ft, the balloon turned onto the forecast track but we were unexpectedly over the Bristol Channel for nearly 100 miles, crossing the coast near Port Talbot.
“It was really challenging having to navigate and steer the balloon around controlled airspace and keep out of air ways. My best flight since gaining my pilot’s licence only 19 months ago.”
Mike, who is registered blind, has also been a trained pilot since 1991.
“I lost my sight in 2007 and had to give up,” he said. “Deborah is really getting into it. She is embracing it in a big way.
The couple were airborne for six hours and 24 minutes working out a balance of how much fuel they could take without weighing them down in the 19-year-old balloon.
Mike and Deborah took off from the grounds of a pub in Redruth, Cornwall and headed up the coast towards Newquay.
“We nearly missed Wales – how can you miss a whole country?” said Mike.
“As we went over the Bristol channel the balloon started to turn right. We landed in Market Drayton in Shropshire.
“I do the radio – my vision is very limited. She would set the frequency.”
Mike said the balloon is normally flown at around 3,000ft but the daring duo reached 10,400 ft.
“It is the only aircraft that flies with the wind. It is normally very stable. Everyone in the competition has to make the best of what kind of weather there is.”
Six balloons took part in this year’s competition in October, but Mike said the number of competitors vary.
“Sometimes more than 30 people have joined in,” he continued. “This year we flew in memory of Anthony Smith, a well-known balloonist who died this year.”
“We flew over Shobdon Airfield in Herefordshire. You can see all the brightly coloured microlights from the air.”
“One journey took us through 18 airfields.
“It was a busy trip. I have had aircraft come very close. The closest was on my very first ever jump at Luton airport.
“They said drop to 3,500ft. Air traffic said the aeroplane will pass 1,000ft below us. I could look down the top of the right wing. I couldn’t pick out any faces, but I bet they could see mine.”
Mike said the couple is looking for new challenges – including taking the balloon abroad. Deborah was awarded the Adams Sparks Trophy by the British Balloon and Airship Club – recognising her as Pilot of the Year for having shown the ‘most convincing demonstration of flying skill’.
Mike said he was ‘very proud’ of Deborah and is pleased her enjoyment of ballooning means he can continue too.
“Ballooning whilst completely refurbishing the salon was difficult but it paid off,” said Mike.
The flying duo are now looking for their next challenge.