Virgin Balloon Flights has a team of highly experience pilots and crew that have flown in the South West around Bristol, Bath and South Wales for decades.
All pilots are fully qualified for commercial balloon rides, operating until the same strict levels of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations as commercial airline pilots.
Not only does their passion for ballooning set them apart, every year Virgin’s pilots have to pass a ‘refresher’ exam and an annual medical assessment in order to keep flying.
You really couldn’t be in better hands and there’s even a chance you might spot a familiar face from Bailey Balloons team below flying with Virgin in the future.
All of our pilots are extremely experienced. They are all fully qualified commercial pilots who operate under the similar strict codes of conduct and regulations of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that commercial airline pilots are governed by. To become a commercial pilot, they have to first fly and take written and practical exams to obtain a private pilot’s licence (PPL) then after lots of flying experience and studying, take much harder written and practical exams to obtain their commercial licence. Every year they have to pass a practical flying examination under a CAA approved examiner and also have a regular class 2 medical. All of our pilots, as you can see from their very brief (and modest) CVs have a great passion for ballooning that has coloured their lives.
Clive was born into an aviation family; his father was a flight test engineer with British Aerospace and later Sales Engineering Director for Concorde.
Building model aircrafts from the age of 6, Clive obtained his gliders licence at 18. After full-time education he decided to go down instead of up and trained as a commercial diver. At nineteen worked in the Middle East for several years on oil rigs and then spent a further 3 years in the North Sea, specialising in life support systems.
At 26 he joined the motor trade as a General Manager for a Ford Dealership, obtaining his hot air balloon licence at 29 and operating the Ford Dealership Balloon.
Clive set up Bailey Balloons in 1994 with his wife Jo, also a Commercial balloon pilot, one of four women in the U.K. to fly the larger balloons, and both are qualified instructors. Clive proposed to Jo at 8,000 feet over Bath and they left their wedding by balloon.
Clive has flown balloons all over Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Africa. He is the first European to fly balloons in Iran where he also trained their first balloon pilots. Clive holds the altitude record from the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta when he flew his balloon up to 22,5000 in 1994. Jo accompanied Clive as his co-pilot.
Clive also loves planning and executing ballooning stunts, including Flying stuntman and balloon pilot Ian Ashpole on top of the Discovery Channel balloon, flying two balloons attached together by a tight rope and having fellow pilot Mike Howard walk between the balloons blindfolded at 3,500 feet.
There are only a few female commercial balloon pilots and Jo is one of them. Clive taught her to fly before they were married. Jo has flown in different countries around the world including Bulgaria, Poland, Qatar, Switzerland, France, and Italy. Her expertise is with special projects, clients and the media. With her attention to detail and innovative ideas she will always ensure that the project is successful.
Jo has built an impressive portfolio of media contacts since her and Clive began Bailey Balloons and Jo is always heavily involved with media and press relations for all of the stunts.
Jo’s most memorable flights are being proposed to in a balloon at 8,000 feet over Bath and flying from Thornbury Castle on her and Clive’s wedding day. One of Jo’s most memorable landings was in a huge field of tomato plants in Bulgaria with Phil Dunnington with all the local villagers coming out and helping us pack the balloon away!
She was the stunt woman flying a one person hopper balloon in Canada filming for the Land Rover Freelander Advert. Watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soMZN_EArw8
Mike has been flying for over 27 years but he has grown up with ballooning as his father, who taught him to fly, was a hot air balloon pilot.
He has flown around 2500 times in that time and has been lucky enough to have flown passengers all over the UK as well as in Dubai, the Maasai Mara in Kenya, over the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar, the deserts of Central Australia around Alice Springs and Far North Queensland by the Great Barrier Reef for 6 years.
Mike holds a commercial hot air balloon license in 4 separate countries and will be spending the winter piloting in Myanmar again.
He also piloted a balloon in the world record breaking crossing of the English Channel in 2011.
Rick has been involved in Ballooning since 1987 and has made well over 4000 balloon flights in over 100 different balloons. He has also flown in many different countries and has spent his last 6 winters flying in Bagan in Myanmar, South East Asia. He lived in Australia for many years where he operated his own balloon company. It is a family affair with his wife Heather, his sons, Joe and Dan who have all worked as part of the Bailey Balloon team! Rick is a keen motorcyclist and lives in Dorset.
Originally born in the UK, Dan moved to Sydney, Australia when he was 6 so his Dad (Rick) could continue flying when he started school. Dan’s school years were always spent going in late so he could go ballooning before school.
Dan learnt to fly when he was 14 and got his 1st balloon when he was 17, and his licence soon after this. . Whilst getting his licence and building commerical flying hours in Canowindra and Canberra. Dan worked as a chef and in retail alongside crewing commercially.
Dan received his commercial licence at 21, flying in Canberra and the Hunter Valley, he soon left his retail job to fly full time.
Dan has since worked in UK, France, Myanmar, USA, and Multiple locations in Australia. Chasing the summer!
When Dan is not flying commercially he competes in balloon competitions and has represented Australia at 3 junior worlds in France, Lithuania, and Poland.
Away from ballooning, Dan enjoys camping, hiking and getting out in nature in general.
Steve Kinsey has been a balloon pilot for over 38 years! He has flown many special shaped balloons including Rupert and our beautiful tear drop balloon, Belvoir Fruit Farms. He flown in many countries aorund the world and ballooning seems to run in his veins!
He also loves motor bikes and has had many diffrent ones over the years.
Steve lives in Devon and has completely renovated his house as he is a skilled builder.
Phil was born in Bristol and has flown in Bristol for many years.
He has loved balloons since he was very young and always wanted to be a commercial balloon pilot.
Phil lives with Becca, his wife and their wonderful dog Scrumpy!
He also runs a very successful First Aid and Fire training business.
Andrew has been flying balloons for over 32 years….. and has gained over 2000 hours. He likes to think of any basket he is in as his flying office.
Having flown in 15 countries he often winters flying balloons in India or South Africa or flying for fun in the Austrian Alps.
He met his wife the day he got his balloon licence…. who has been a very devoted Chief crew and wife for probably far too many years than she would like to mention. Together they have 2 sons who are both pilots and very keen at competition ballooning.
Andrew got into ballooning after flying kites as a child and watching clouds float past in the sky.
Flying a balloon is as close as he can get to flying a cloud.
Peter is a third generation commercial hot air balloon pilot, since his maternal grandfather began flying in the 80s. He had his first flight at 3 years old and began training with his farther at the age of 14, to gain his licence on his 17th birthday turning commercial at 19.
Peter has flown all around the world, most recently flying passengers in Qatar for the winter, although he has done many memorable flights, including over the Austrian Alps as well as flying across the British channel. Also a very keen competition pilot, Peter placed 7th in the 2021 Junior World Championships as well as 3rd in the British National Championships.
He also flies planes, having flown the Dash8 for Flybe as a First Officer for a little over 1 year.
Samantha has been working with us as balloon crew across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire since 2019, for three years previous to this she crewed with a privateer team launching from the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, where she got engaged to Chris who is also one of our crew chiefs. Sam enjoys taking photographs of flights and contributing many shots to the Aerosaurus Balloons social media. She is a professional musician, playing the violin with various bands at events including the Bristol Ballon Fiesta survivors’ night, she runs workshops and events through her not-for-profit organisation BearCat Collective, and has a shop called The Honesty Jar on the Dorset/Somerset border. In her spare time she likes to work with horses in harness.
Chris is the Crew Chief for the Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset Team, his role is to facilitate smooth running of the team’s operational admin, logistics, maintenance and training. On flight days he will ensure the safe inflation of the 315 Red and White balloon, tracking the flight and safe retrieve, he is also responsible for keeping the traditional champagne celebration chilled! He will provide support and coaching to the other crew members when required and carry out any additional liaison with local landowners.
Chris got into ballooning for a family privateer team about 7 years ago, learning the ropes and weather from some of the experts who own and fly their own balloons. He met Clive and Jo Bailey at The Bristol Balloon Fiesta, where he also proposed to his wife, Sam, with whom he shares the Crew Chief responsibilities. After the 2016 season as crew he stepped up to lead the team the following year.
Chris owns a training company that specialises in managing mental health and extreme behaviours and says he finds the challenges of ballooning helps to provide a very different perspective to his other professional endeavours. He works for Bailey Balloons alongside his training and his other pursuits of horse training and fire breathing, has also been known to combine his efforts into a fiery version of Santa!
When asked ‘what are the best aspects of ballooning with Bailey’s?’ He’ll tell you – The challenge of getting a flight in the air safely, retrieving it efficiently, working collaboratively with the pilot and crew but ultimately being part of every passenger’s bucket list experience – there is no substitute for doing the simple things well, attending to the fine detail, the essential part is to have fun doing it.
Andy was born in Ghana and grew up in Jamaica, he now lives near Taunton where he is spending his time renovating his bungalow.
He first became involved in aviation in the 80’s when he owned a microlight and has flown over 1800 hours.
After farming for all his life Andy sold up 6 years ago and bought a Motorhome. Andy is our chief crew in Devon and Cornwall throughout the summer months and tries to spend his winters in the sun!
Charlotte Huxtable is our Office manager and she ensures that everything runs smoothly and efficiently. She has extensive knowledge of running offices and local businesses in the leisure industry.
Charlotte comes from Wales and was brought up in Swansea, then moved to Bristol in 2014. She loves spending her time eating the gorgeous food in restaurants in Bristol and the surrounding areas. She loves attending Ketttle Bell classes a few times a week and so she is of great help shifting heavy boxes around the office! She enjoys travelling to far flung places, anything from New Zealand to Glastonbury and has become a passionate balloonist!