Europe’s top trailer maker helped rock superstar Bono take a memorable sightseeing balloon flight over the Burmese lake said to be one of the world’s top beauty spots.
The company which arranged the unforgettable trip for the Irish singer and his family has a fleet of Ifor Williams trailers to transport its dozen balloons and their equipment across the Far Eastern country – now known as Myanmar.
According to the firm’s British chief pilot, Mark `Nobby’ Simmons, they wouldn’t think of using anything else for the job.
Mark has been flying balloons for the past 30 years, starting straight out of school and becoming the country’s youngest commercial pilot at the age of just 21.
He founded his own company, Hot Skies Ltd (www.hotskies.co.uk), in the mid-1990s which from its base near Bath arranges passenger and advertising balloon flights across the south west of England.
In 2007 Mark, 48, joined a company named Balloons over Bagan based in the Mandalay region of Burma and eventually became its chief pilot.
After starting with a single balloon in 1999 Balloons over Bagan now takes over 20,000 sightseers a year on flights over a countryside dotted with ancient temples and breath-taking lakes.
Among them was Bono, his wife Alison and their four children who were transported in two balloons over the stunning scenery of Inle Lake last winter.
Mark recalled: “They were all in the country on holiday for the first time and decided to take a balloon flight over the lake which is said to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and is absolutely stunning from the air.
“Bono and his wife flew with me and his four children, Eve, Eliza, Jordan and John, were behind us in another balloon flown by a colleague.
“They were a really nice family and all very chilled out and down to earth. It was a pleasure to fly with them.
“In 30 years as a pilot I’ve flown other big names, like the Spice Girls and the singer Beverley Knight back in the UK and the Queen of Butan and the Prime Minister of Thailand in Burma.”
Mark points out that both his own company in England and the operation in Burma he flies for use only Ifor Williams Trailers.
“Back in the UK my company uses an 18ft flatbed to move around our single balloon while in Burma we currently have seven with another five on order,” he said.
“We have them specially shipped over from Devizes Trailer Centre, which is the Ifor Williams distributor for the Wiltshire area.
“As we need them to be a bit longer than the standard 18 feet Devizes adds a box section on to the back to make them 20ft.”
Mark added: “The average passenger balloon flight is governed by the amount of fuel you can carry and lasts for about an hour. We go to a maximum height of 2,000 feet but usually we move along at about 300 feet, just above the rooftops of the temples for a better view.
“There are 12 balloons in the fleet capable of carrying 16 passengers and each has its own local ground crew of 10 to 12 young lads who drive a tractor pulling the Ifor Williams trailers and follow us to wherever we land to collect us and pack up the balloon.
“The trailers have to be able to carry about one-and-a-half tons of gear including the balloon, which we call the envelope, the basket which goes beneath it plus the burner and fan.
“They cross some pretty rough country out there so they have to be tough, which they are.
“We use Ifor Williams trailers because they are by far the most versatile and easy to tow but also because they are the industry standard for balloon companies in the UK and certainly in Burma where they don’t make any trailers.
“It’s certainly worth having them sent over by container from Devizes Trailer Centre.”
Philippa Gunthorp, head of administration for Devizes Trailer Centre, said: “Dealing with Balloons over Bagan has been a great opportunity to get Ifor Williams trailers to somewhere that’s a little off the beaten track.
“People would probably never expect to find them in use as far away as Burma but it’s been great to supply the company with so many of the 18ft flatbed models over the past couple of years.
“We already have seven of them out there and will be supplying another five this summer.
“It’s actually rather complicated getting them over to Burma because of the amount and complexity of the paperwork involved but it’s been well worth the effort.
“Each of the trailers is modified by ourselves by adding an extra two feet to the original length to meet the individual requirements of Balloons over Bagan.”
Andrew Reece-Jones, the Design Engineering Manager at Ifor Williams Trailers, said: “The range of uses people find for our trailers never ceases to amaze me and there cannot be many places on the planet where you can’t find one.
“I think their sheer versatility is down to the robust qualities of our trailers and their enduring strength means they are suitable for the most inhospitable of terrains as well as the highways and by-ways of the developed world.”
To find out more go to: www.hotskies.co.uk