The Skywhale's first flight

In May this year, sculptor Patricia Piccinini took her art to the skies, constructing a hot air balloon in the shape of a whale to honour Canberra's centenary. Vision supplied by Blueboat.

PT3M25S 620 349

With a hefty price tag, this is the official hot-air balloon soon to be gracing the skies of Canberra for centenary celebrations.

The $170,000 ''sky whale'' will float above Canberra on Monday.

I wanted ... something that was obviously artificial, but seemingly natural. 

Designed by renowned sculptor and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini, the balloon was spotted on a test flight in remote Victoria last month, prompting speculation it was headed to Canberra.


Something's afloat: The Centenary of Canberra has launched its largest commision, this sky whale hot-air balloon created by Patricia Piccinini.

Event organisers confirmed the rumours on Thursday morning.

The balloon had locals wondering when it was spotted near Mount Arapiles, in Victoria, last month.

Ms Piccinini, who grew up in Canberra, said she was delighted to create artwork for Canberra that would be seen in such a public way.


Air apparent: The half-tonne balloon was created by 16 people.

''Coming from Canberra, where we have this beautiful natural environment and this interesting plan, which is artificial, which aspires to blend in with the environment, was my starting point,'' Piccinini said last month.

''That's what I wanted to do with the balloon, something that was obviously artificial, but seemingly natural, that's why I ended up with this beautiful sky whale.''

Ms Piccinini said she thought the sky whale was awe-inspiring, nurturing and challenging, but she was interested in how other people responded to the work.


3.5 kilometres of fabric was used in the construction of the sky whale balloon.

Jeremy Lasek, executive director of culture for the ACT Chief Minister's office, said the balloon design, construction and testing cost about $170,000, but other educational materials and piloting would cost extra.

It will be shown publicly at the National Gallery on Saturday and it would then be flown over Lake Burley Griffin on Monday.

''This city has a history and a love of hot-air ballooning,'' he said.

The sky whale balloon is nearly 23 metres tall, more than 35 metres long from nose to tip and took 1880 hours of work to make. It weighs 500 kilograms with fuel, a pilot and two passengers aboard.