The world famous Disney Pixar UP balloon was made in England and took six months to build. It has an active volume of 84,000 cubic feet and has 540 individually sewn balloons, each with 13 panels, attached to the digitally printed envelope.
The inflatable house which completely covered the basket and burners was made from strong PVC and was attached after the hot air balloon was inflated. The house was then zipped up around the burner frame and secured in place prior to the fans being switched on and the house taking shape.
In flight, this looked stunning was was very difficult to operate. The pilot was unable to see out so a second plain spotting balloon was flown alongside and the pilot of the second balloon was helped fly it 'blind' via radio.
The balloon was built to promote the film UP which became the first ever animated feature to open the Cannes film festival and went on to win an Oscar for its' director Pete Docter. The tour followed the films release around mainland Europe with special stunts in Germany, London and Paris.
The European tour began on Bastille day in France with visits to Caen and Lille before moving to Paris for an unique visit to Disneyland. No balloon, even the Mickey Mouse balloon operated by an American Company, had previously satisfied all of the health and safety risk assesments and provisions in order to obtain permission to tether on the steps of the fairytale castle.
Exclusive Ballooning's cheif pilot Andrew Holly states 'Everybody knows our Disney tour for the famous stunt at Tower Bridge but actually obtaining the permissions to get the balloon inside Disneyland was more of a challenge and to some extent a bigger achievement. The Disneyland team lead by Helene and Vanessa were exceptionally helpful and made covers for some of the obstacles and even removed streetlamps for us.'
It took a team of around twenty people from Disney and Exclusive Ballooning to make this happen and the resulting pictures were fantastic.
The tour then moved to Lyon and Marseille to tie in with the French premieres of the film in each city. In Marseille, the team was joined by Charles Aznevour who had provided the voice of Karl for the french version.
Then is was on to the world famous Metz-Lorraine balloon fiesta - Europes' largest event with 300 balloons and this was the site of the balloon's maiden free flight.
After the tour of France, the balloon grabbed all of the headlines by visiting the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. With 500,000 people, perfect weather and national TV coverage, the tour's media value was soaring.
The tour then continued around Europe with visits to Frankfurt, the Warstiener International Montgolfiade balloon fiesta near Dusseldorf and Berlin where Academy Award Winner Pete Docter and Jonas Riveras, the films director and producer joined the balloon. Upon stepping out of his limousine, Pete Docter's first words were 'Oh my god, that's fantastic!'.
From Berlin it was onwards to Cologne where the balloon took part in Germany's most popular TV program helping to provide a dramatic backdrop for a surprise marriage proposal. There was also a day spent at the famous Lindt chocolate factory in the centre of the city where more prizewinners were flown - competition prizewinners were flown in every city on the tour.
From Germany it was back to the UK again and a visit to Edinburgh Castle before heading back to London for the big stunt and UK premiere.
When Disney had asked about a stunt and suggested flying over Tower Bridge, Exclusive Ballooning suggested flying under it instead. It was simple, if we could pull this off it would be one of the most famous ballooning stunts ever.
After six months of planning we had one shot only which had to be at 5am due to the tides. We acquired a floating barge which has been used in the late 80's for a famous tennis match on the Thames between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors - it even still had the grass! However, it wasn't big enough so we had to attach a second barge in order to have room for the ropes. The balloon was secured by specially welded hooks to the barge ensuring that it wasn't going anywhere we weren't expecting it to!
We loaded the balloon onto the barge under a beautiful sunset opposite the O2 arena but bad weather was moving in - the forecast was for the wind to pass the maximum allowed level sometime prior to dawn. By 2am we were in position on the barge and being towed slowly up river to a specific spot. The air traffic permissions were specific with timing and also with location and we had to stick to these. Also, the bridge lift was booked for 5am and although there is a two minute grace either side of this, we did need to be there at 5am!
We inflated around 4:30am and began the trip up the Thames. The wind was stiff and we used around three hours of fuel over thirty minutes in order to keep the balloon upright. We reached the bridge right on time and had the surreal experience of 'flying' underneath it.
The resulting pictures and TV footage went global and included a double page spread in the Guardian as well as headline TV news on every continent in the world.
The following day was the UK premiere and the balloon was tethered alongside the bridge whilst celebrities and their children enjoyed rides in the balloon.
The final leg of the tour was a trip to Italy with a day spent in Lingotto, Turin flying prizewinners and also a day at Vineria Reale - one of the most spectacular backdrops possible. We were due to inflate for a photograph alongside the famous fifty foot high seventy foot wide fountain but given the eye for a picture we opted to 'fly' inside it!
The final flight of the tour was over the Italian Alps flying from Exclusive Ballooning's Italian base in Mondovi.
One final official flight took place in 2010 at Exclusive Ballooning's Exclusive Cup event where winners from a promotional competition during the release of the Nintendo Wii game were flown.
The balloon has now been retired, the tour generated many millions of pounds in media value and a priceless impression left on hundreds of thousands of people who saw the balloon. Exclusive Ballooning succeeded in achieving a 100% success rate for the tour - every single location being successful. Chief pilot Andrew Holly 'The Disney tour was fantastic and a great success for all involved. Flying under Tower Bridge in balloon is probably something that nobody else will ever get the chance to do so this will clearly feature amongst the company's best achievements'.