The summer flying season was drawing to an end, and I was keen to get a training flight in with Pamela Reeves, our new PuT (Pilot under Training), and my girlfriend Katy on what was a glorious afternoon in late September. Launching from the University campus, perched up on the hills surrounding the city of Bath, we floated off on a light southerly breeze, for what was to become an eventful flight.
We drifted out over the city limits, and into the patchwork of surrounding countryside. Pamela proved herself to be a fast improving pilot, and I decided that at the end of the flight she should attempt her first landing. A generous sized field soon presented itself and, with a little assistance, she made a good shallow approach and landed comfortably.
We were just congratulating Pamela on her first landing when suddenly there was a fluttering noise directly behind us. The next thing we knew, there was a pigeon flying around up inside our envelope. After the initial surprise, it dawned on me that this unwelcome guest had just scuppered my plans to fly the balloon closer to the edge of the field. With my girlfriend on board, who was a vegetarian, a roasted pigeon wouldn't have gone down well. By venting madly, I tried to let the pigeon escape through the parachute. But no! The bugger was staying put, flying around the envelope, having a wonderful time!
"Does anyone have any ideas?" I asked my crew. None were forthcoming. For about sixty seconds I thought to myself, this'll be a good story to tell in the bar. Then things turned for the worse (or rather they turned for the more expensive).
Our resident pigeon decided that he wanted to skip the joint, and had decided that his best way out was through the side of my beloved balloon. Pecking away madly, he nearly signed his own death warrant as I weighed up the pros and cons of stopping him with my Mk IV burners! Luckily for all concerned, the pigeon suddenly arrived in the basket - landing squarely in my arms. I don't know if he was tired out, or whether he was just overcome by the heat.
I noticed that the pigeon had a band on his leg, so I guess it could have been a racing pigeon. I got Katy to jump out of the basket, and carry the pigeon who seemed remarkably tame, clear of the balloon. After about 30 seconds the pigeon regained his senses, and flew away (with no doubt a wonderful tale to tell his chums). I was not so fortunate. I had to deflate and inspect my envelope.
Sure enough the pigeon's peckings had done some damage, and although each hole was small they were placed well above the equator - so it was off to Cameron's to try to convince them how the holes really got there. In the end, the repairs did not cost a lot, but looking back on the incident, I wish I had noted down the pigeon's band number. It would have been interesting to get in touch with the owner to proclaim, "Do you know what your pigeon did to my balloon?" If nothing else, I might have been written up in Pigeon Fancier's Monthly. Instead I just have a story for the pub and the blasted pigeon is getting written up in Balloon Life!