But for Jamie
Weller, the pilot of the 103rd - and last - balloon to take off, the flight
was much more than a pleasant jolly in the early morning sun.
He is using
the fiesta to rack up his flying time in a bid to qualify for his balloon
A tough challenge
- and one that is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Jamie
has been blind for 15 years.
engineer in the Royal Navy, the 35-year-old from Nottingham was diagnosed
with Cone Dystrophy, a degenerative eye condition, in 1990.
began to deteriorate until he was left with a complete loss of central
a medical discharge from the Royal Navy in 1991, and with the help of
St Dunstan's, a charity which cares for blind ex-service men and women,
he completed his A-levels and obtained a degree.
successful career as a tax consultant with one of the country's top accountancy
firms, Jamie turned his attention to other challenges. Ballooning is top
of his list.
"I have always
had a love of aviation, I've always wanted to be a pilot," he said, relaxing
in the balloonists' marquee after completing a successful 50-minute flight
"I lost my
eyesight at 21 and that was taken away from me.
thought I would be doing this 15 years after losing my eyesight."
Friday morning flight safely in the bag, Jamie had flown 14 hours at the
controls of a balloon. He has to fly a total of at least 16 hours to qualify
as a pilot. There are also five written papers to complete.
from Nottingham, flies a balloon supplied by St Dunstan's. He is accompanied
by a co-pilot who advise him on obstacles and landing areas.
person - my co-pilot - acts as my eyes," he explained.
I do when I am in the basket, I use my other senses... I feel the balloon
and respond to the balloon as I am flying it. I attach myself to the balloon,
I can feel the balloon rise and I can feel it falling. I feel the wind
in my face that gives me input on wind direction."
But to become
fully qualified, Jamie faces a further challenge: he must successfully
complete a solo flight.
"It is going
to be a bit difficult to do that in this country because you need to fly
at least 30 minutes solo and there is nowhere in England you can fly 30
minutes in any direction without any obstacles (such as) railways, buildings,
cables," Jamie said.
my biggest problem flying - not to be able to see those things in the
and his support crew are working on a solution. They were due to meet
with a potential sponsor at the Fiesta in a bid to get backing for a solo
flight attempt in the Middle East.
The key advantage
of flying in the desert, as Jamie explained, is there are very few obstacles
If he manages
to obtain his licence, Jamie believes he would be the first blind balloon
pilot in the world.
are not important to the 35-year-old. What matters most is the fulfillment
of a life-long ambition.
"It is something
I have always wanted to do... to pilot a flying machine - and I am doing
that," he said.
"It is just
an amazing feeling being 500ft up in a completely peaceful environment,
skimming across the ground, skimming across trees, skimming over hills
and across fields.
"It is that
sense of being in control, flying an aircraft. People like driving, people
like horse riding, this is something that excites me.
"As a blind
person you don't often get the opportunity to take control and be in charge
of something like this.
"To be given
the opportunity to be able to something like this is amazing."