Exclusive Ballooning and wholly owned subsidary The Aerial Display Company have been operating hot air balloons for FT - The Financial Times - for twenty five years. The history of where the balloons have been is incredible and the story enters a new chapter with the 125th Anniversary celebrations kicking off in London in February 2013.
The newest FT balloon was launched, in FT tradition, at Tower Bridge, London on February 13th 2013 - 125 years to the day that the first edition of the newspaper rolled off of the presses. It is the start of a year of celebrations which will see another secret balloon appear in the Spring and a tour of the most influential financials hubs of the world.
The very first FT hot air balloon was built twenty five years ago and was the brainchild of the Aerial Display Company which is a wholly owned subsidary of Exclusive Ballooning.
The first FT balloon was launched in June 1988 with a flight over London's Tower Bridge to celebrate the newspaper's centenary. It was the start of a 17 year continuous sponsorship which saw three FT special shape balloons make headlines of their own all over the globe.
The 10-storey-high iconic rolled up pink newspapers toured the world, appearing at financial districts, premium events and race days. During the 1990's a series of high-powered executives and officials from international business and governments got a taste of ballooning in the basket of an FT balloon. Deals were done, agreements were reached and friendships were formed below the 100' high newspaper. It has been one of the most photographed and most memorable series of special shape balloons the world has ever seen.
The FT pilots and crew also set world-firsts and records with stunts including:
The balloons were also an annual feature at the World Economic Forum in Davos, whereafter they would always travel back to the UK via Chateu-d'Oex in Switzerland and Mondovi in Italy.
After launching at Tower Bridge in London, FT-125 then had the privileged experience of an across London Flight. Saying good morning to the city, the balloon passed over famous City landmarks including Regents Park, the Emirates Stadium, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and is only one of very few to have the privilege and permission to fly directly over Buckingham Palace.
Not wanting to disturb Her Majesty the Queen, Chief Pilot Andrew Holly, refrained from shouting ‘can we land in your garden Ma'am?'
The flight lasted just under 3 hours ending in Reigate, Surrey and gave commuting in London a whole new meaning.
In late March, the balloon began its international travels with a tour of Sweden.
Upon arrival in Sweden, the balloon headed straight to Gothenburg and tethered until midnight at Square Götaplatsen, where is stood alongside one of Gothenburg's most famous landmarks; the statue of Poseidon, by Carl Mills.
Glowing outside The Göteborg Museum of Art, the balloon welcomed all those walking past, attracting much attention. The museum is a world renowned gallery with the building itself constructed in 1923 to celebrate the city's 300th anniversary. It is therefore fitting that the 125th anniversary Financial Times balloon was there to visit.
Tethering again the next morning at the foot of Östra Hamngatan,next to the harbour, FT 125 greeted busy commuters on their way to work.
It then made its way to the city of Örebro, where it tethered in the city's main square, outside the town hall and the beautiful St Nikolai Church, Stortorget.
Standing for just over an hour, passers by stopped and watched the spectacle of the 125th anniversary balloon inflated in rather a small space!
Having travelled over 500km across Sweden the FT 125 balloon then arrived in Stockholm.
In temperatures of minus 10, the balloon tethered next to the famous Kaknästornet tower which over looks Stockholm. The tower is a major hub of Swedish television, radio and satellite broadcasts. Standing 560ft tall its observations decks and restaurant provides superb views of the city, with an additional spectacle to see this evening.
The next morning the balloon completed its tour by flying over the clear and calm skies of central Stockholm.
Commuters watched from their cars and the platform of the main train station as the 125th anniversary balloon flew overhead on a beautiful March morning.
Having flown over Buckingham Palace, London just over a week before, the FT125 balloon made it two palaces in under two weeks; flying directly over Stockholm's Royal Palace, which is the official residence of the Swedish Monarch. Continuing over famous landmarks including the Kaknästornet tower and Parliament building, the flight lasted just over 2 hours.
The adventure continued and to mark further celebrations of this landmark year for the Financial Times, the FT 125 balloon arrived in New York City on the evening of April 30th at Brooklyn Heights, Pier 5 of Brooklyn Bridge Park, overlooking the Manhattan skyline.
The 125th Anniversary pink balloon glowed a warm welcome visible to smartphone cameras in the high rise of Manhattan, traffic on Brooklyn Bridge, walkers along FDR Drive and commuters on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
The evening tether for the commuters of New York City coincided with FT Group CEO, John Riding and FT Editor Lionel Barber, ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The balloon could be seen right opposite the southern end of Wall Street as traders and workers left for the evening.
As the sun set over New York City, the FT-125 balloon illuminated the East River like a giant lantern set against the Manhattan and Brooklyn night skylines.
Staying inflated past midnight, the balloon welcomed in May Day in antipcation of further planned celebrations.
After promising the announcement of a second FT balloon early in the year, on May 1st 2013, 25 years after the first of three Financial Times iconic special shape newspaper balloons were launched, Exclusive Ballooning unveiled a very special new FT shape.
Fit for the digital age, the new FT.com tablet enjoyed its maiden flight over the countryside of New Jersey this morning. G-FTUS launched out of legendary balloonist, Denny Fleck's private balloon port alongside the standard shape FT-125 balloon G-UKFT.
When initially speaking to FT about launching new balloons, Exclusive Ballooning were thrilled to be a part of this landmark year and especially to have the opportunity to suggest a very unique special shape.
Standing some eight storeys tall, the front face of the tablet balloon is larger than a tennis court and shows a massive digitally printed FT.Com home page, complete with all the instant links to news, graphics, Apps, resources, video and information expected on a tablet screen. It is the World's first tablet shaped balloon and certainly the largest tablet on the planet. Manufactured using a total of 1600 meters of fabric and a sewing length of 10 miles; the tablets volume would indeed be able to hold a massive 7 million real tablet devices inside.
Enthused from FT.com's maiden flight, that evening the balloons made news of their own as they tethered at Rockefeller Park, Battery Park City in the heart of New York's financial district.
The FT-125 attracted much attention with many lingering in the park to watch the spectacle of a hot air balloon in Manhattan.
After seeing the sun go down, it was then the turn of the newly unveiled FT.com tablet balloon to make an appearance and it was surely a sight not to be missed.
To top-off a momentous 48 hours for The FT and our team in New York, the top section of the Empire State Building was lit up for the first time in FT signature pink against the night sky, whilst the new tablet balloon glowed warmly on the Hudson shoreline.
Organising hot air balloon activity in such a sensitive area is no simple feat. Exclusive Ballooning worked closely with the Mayor's Office, NYPD, FDNY, Battery Park City Authority and a large number of other local and national agencies to secure the use of Rockefeller Park and we are delighted with the results.
The FT balloons will continue their Anniversary Tour with more special activities throughout the rest of the year.
In August, both the FT-125 and the Tablet balloon took part in Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and stole the show.
FT125 lit up the arena in the Thursday's night glow and flying on Friday morning. The giant FT Tablet took its place on the launch field and using a different angle, the BBC conducted a live interview from within side the Financial Times special shape tablet balloon! It then flew out to cheering crowds on Thursday evening.
Pictures : Exclusive Ballooning