Pilot Craig Farrell says he wouldn't bother ballooning if it was easy.
"There's a lot to it. When you're in the air, you've got no steering, no brakes, no suspension. The only thing you can do is go up or down and you're at the mercy of the winds," Mr Farrell said.
"That's what attracts me to it."
The 36-year veteran of the skies - who got into ballooning after reading an article in a newspaper one tea break at work saying it was possible to get your own balloon - took Allycorn into the sky on Saturday morning on the first day of the annual Balloon Spectacular.
The New York-based balloon, in the shape of a pink unicorn, was the creation of brothers Todd and Scott Monahan, friends of Mr Farrell.
"We're all lucky, the Monahans, me, the festival. Everyone's lucky to have this relationship. It's a very trusting, long-standing relationship. I've flown this balloon, this is the third country now," Mr Farrell said.
With 2000 people allowed onto the fenced-off Patrick White Lawns beside the National Library, and many more gathered outside the barrier, ground crew worked to inflate 15 balloons in the tight spot.
The sound of petrol-powered fans and gas burners cut across the quiet of an autumn morning, giving the balloon envelopes shape before lifting from the grass to a cheering and waving crowd.
Half in the air, the balloons contorted and thrashed around before take off as long licks of gas flame were fired inside to heat about the four tonnes of air which keep them afloat.
Mr Farrell, who will pilot Patricia Piccinini's Skywhale on Monday morning, said he was hopeful there would be several flying days across the festival.
Balloon Spectacular flight director John Wallington said it was wonderful to hold the event despite the changes in format to satisfy COVID-19 restrictions.
"We were lucky in '20, because we were pretty much the last event that was able to occur in '20. We did have New Zealand straight after us, but the public were completely excluded from that. And then all of the European, Japanese and American events through '20 were cancelled," Mr Wallington said.
"Despite the change in format and so on, it's wonderful it's happening again. It's great."
Restrictions on large gatherings were imposed in Canberra a day after last year's festival ended.
Mr Wallington said there had been a lot of good will in the international ballooning community for the Canberra event, which was visible with the presence of an international balloons like Allycorn.
"Balloonists are a very interesting group of people because obviously there's a fair bit of personality involved in actually deciding you're going to fly a balloon in the first place. So it's an interesting but small world community. There's a lot of good will amongst people within it," Mr Wallington said.
Events ACT executive branch manager Ross Triffitt said organisers felt fortunate the Balloon Spectacular was the first major multi-day festival to return a year since the start of the pandemic.
"These events take six months to plan. Even when we go back to six months ago, when we were planning what the festival might look like at this time, we had to have multiple scenarios," Mr Triffitt said.
"We had scenarios without any crowd, without any entertainment, without any food and beverage on site. Literally just the balloons that you can see from locations around Canberra. It's fantastic to be here now and see so many people out in the morning."
Mr Triffitt said Events ACT needed to strike the right balance between the length of festivals and the number of tickets available, saying while there was a demand for more tickets, an extension of the festival would be costly.
"There's a lot of things to line up. You need the confidence in the community in terms of the number of people that want to come out and attend events in a pandemic. We need to have the public health restrictions at a point where it allows enough people to come. I think here this is really a situation where the demand is a lot more than the supply," he said.
The event will run over nine mornings from March 6 to March 14, but there are no longer tickets available.
For people hoping to catch sight of the balloons, organisers recommend vantage points along Lake Burley Griffin and at the National Arboretum, which do not need to be booked.
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