Skywhale and Skywhalepapa graced Canberra's skies again for the first time this year.
The iconic pair have been on a tour of regional Australia since 2021, with their last show taking place in May.
The Canberra Times was invited to witness a "secret" test flight just after dawn on Thursday morning.
The specialty hot-air balloons were inflated at 6am at John Dunmore Lang Place and took flight for just over 45 minutes.
Conservator Carmela Mollica or "the Skywhale nanny" as folks from the National Art Gallery like to call her, was more focused on making sure the artworks were airworthy.
Although both balloons are certified to fly, she said they like to do at least one test flight a year. She scheduled the flight to ensure the artwork was in good working condition and for preservation purposes.
"It will fly for no more than an hour so it really depends on what happens up in the sky. And obviously they've got to find a safe landing spot," Ms Mollica said.
The balloons must be inflated first thing in the morning, and even a small change in wind conditions would've stopped the test flight from going ahead.
"We're lucky to be able to launch this morning. Sometimes we have to know about [weather conditions] in advance, a day or two, or even a week," Ms Mollica said.
Tour ride agency Balloon Aloft are well acquainted with the specialty balloons and are the National Gallery's go-to pilots.
Without a steering wheel, the pilots routinely take on the challenge of landing Skywhale and Skywhalepapa in an appropriate location where the wind takes them.
It could be a paddock, a field or an oval (when they're lucky).
For a brief moment during flight, it looked like Skywhale was about to land atop the National Library but eventually both balloons landed safely on patches of land on either side of the Commonwealth Bridge.
Once deflated, the conservation crew worked to clean the balloons and scrub out any cow or kangaroo dung on the artwork.
Then drying the Skywhales takes a long time due to the condensation on the balloons caused by the hot air within interacting with the atmosphere.
Skywhale was commissioned by the ACT government to commemorate the territory's centenary celebrations and was unveiled on May 9, 2013.
Artist Patricia Piccinini, a born and raised Canberran, created the signature yet challenging artwork in line with her hyper-real and other-worldly style.
It cost $338,000 to bring the beau-teat-ful creature to life. The artwork received mixed reactions at first but over the years, the whale has become a beloved icon representing the national capital.
Ms Piccinini created Skywhale's male partner, Skywhalepapa, eight years later in 2021.
After the short flight, the fantastical creatures will be boxed up to be returned to storage at the National Gallery of Australia.
Whale done, until next time.
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