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Darth Vader balloon brings the dark side to Bristol skies

It was the balloon’s first flight over the city, where it was built by Cameron Balloons in 2007.

The balloon waits to take off from Ashton Court (Ben Birchall/PA)
The balloon waits to take off from Ashton Court (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Claire Hayhurst, PA

A giant Darth Vader hot air balloon took to the skies above Bristol for the first time following a crowdfunding campaign.

The Star Wars-themed special shape joined 57 other hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes as part of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

It was the first Thursday mass ascent for the event, which is Europe’s largest annual meeting of hot air balloons, in its 41-year history.

Crowds waved and cheered as the Darth Vader balloon flew over the city’s landmarks including Clifton Suspension Bridge and the historic harbour.

Ian Martin runs the ballooning team for the fiesta and co-piloted Darth Vader on its Bristol flight.

“The main pilot is from Belgium so the two of us flew and we worked together to do the flight,” Mr Martin, who has flown more than 150 balloons over his career, said.

“I have never flown in Darth Vader before.

“It was emotional because of the work we have put in over the last 24-48 hours to put this on this morning,

“It was emotional for the effort that people had put into getting Darth Vader here and emotional for me to fly in him as well.

“We would like to thank the public for all the support they have given us.

“People were so excited to see it. We had people come to our landing spot who had followed it across the city.”

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, day 1. Great fly over suspended bridge and fly over city. Darth is home.

Posted by Darth Vader Balloon on Thursday, August 8, 2019

Supporters raised more than £5,000 for Darth Vader to appear at the fiesta.

The balloon was built in Bristol by Cameron Balloons in 2007, but had never flown in the city, despite appearing in Australia, the United States, China and Malaysia.

Funds raised will go to support the fiesta, a not-for-profit event that costs organisers £750,000 each year.

In a post on Facebook after the fiesta flight, the balloon’s page stated: “Darth is home.”

More than 130 colourful hot air balloons from across the world will take part in the four-day event at Bristol’s Ashton Court estate.

Darth Vader is one of the special shapes attending the fiesta – with others including a bear from Taiwan, a Hunter boot and Buster the bulldog.

The annual fiesta’s mass ascents usually begin from Friday morning but an extra flight was scheduled this year due to forecast rain and high winds.

Nightglows, in which balloon burners are fired in time to music, are due to take place on Thursday and Sunday evening.

PA

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