Omega was there at the beginning of the sport in England,
before splitting into Western and powerhouse builder, Cameron.
Don Cameron worked
for the Bristol Aeroplane Company when he, along with a few
friends, members of the Bristol Gliding Club, formed the group that
built the first modern hot-air balloon in Western Europe. Called
the "Bristol Belle," this balloon tore itself apart on its first
inflation, then was rebuilt at Cameron's behest, with the addition
of horizontal load tapes for structural integrity. "Bristol Belle"
first flew in July, 1967. In 1968, Cameron, with Leslie Goldsmith,
founded Omega Balloons. Omega built ten balloons before splitting
into Cameron Balloons and Western Balloons in 1970. Western built
some good balloons, and won over its share of fans, but never fully
became a force, and, according to Don Cameron, closed up operations
when Thunder entered the market in '72 - '73. Cameron, of
course, has thrived, leading the world in sport balloons and
completely dominating in special shapes.
Much of the above is taken from a wonderful history of Cameron
Balloons Ltd., which I've been permitted to adapt for these pages.
Authored by Mr. Richard Cardy, and first published in Aerostat, the magazine of the British Balloon and Airship
Club, this article was kindly offered by Hannah Cameron,
daughter of Don Cameron. Check it out here (set
aside some time - it's a long read, and well worth it!).
In addition to the aforementioned History of
Cameron Balloons, Ltd., I've had some wonderful recent
contributions, not the least of which is a beautiful set of photos
featuring Don Cameron demonstrating an Omega balloon in 1969. Check
them out here. I'm pleased
and honored to offer these new additions, but there's still a lot
I'd like to have here that I don't. If you have pictures,
literature or information that would better honor Omega, Western
and the early years of Cameron, please write me!
Together, we're building a page that may, one day, pay fitting
tribute to Don Cameron's early work.
Click on any of the images below to open a new window with a MUCH
Some files are over 300KB, so downloads may take a while.
" ¤ " symbol indicates photo scanned with permission from
BALLOONING magazine and the BFA.
Bristol Belle, the one that started it all (spottily colorized by
the author). Here it is undergoing a laborious hot inflation
(is that Don Cameron at the burner?). When first inflated, it tore
itself apart. Don Cameron added load tapes, starting his, and
Bristol Belle's storied careers.
I'm pretty sure this is G-AXJA, an Omega 56 (c/n 5), first flown in
July, 1969, later registered in Ireland, which it helped represent
in the 1973 Worlds. I have a great page of B+W photos of her
here, on one of her first
Western built just over 20 balloons between 1970
and '73, each with 12 bulbous gores. This one, like most Westerns,
was a 65,000 cu. ft. model, as was this one, shown in
Albuquerque, 1973, and this one.
Omega's most visible commercial client was Nimble Bread. This hang
balloon's intriguing shape is due to its long, sharply-tapered
skirt. Here's a shot of
the harness, with, I hear, a non-pilot model, artificially
A super-short early Cameron skirt. That's a young Rick Behr
at the burner of the first Cameron in the U.S. (c/n 39), flying for
Bombard in 1974. Here's another short-skirted early Cameron, c/n 35, that
flew in the '73 Worlds.
The woven-floored basket of an Omega, Henry VIII, in Milford,
Surrey, early 1970. Julian Nott notes that balloonists new to hot air simply
copied what was done at the time in gas balloons, such as the use
of thick trail ropes. Julian adds, "this balloon had been in
service for just a few months. It is easy to see why cylinder
jackets soon came into fashion."
This was the second Western built (ca. '70),
which was, as of the mid-'90s anyway, still airworthy. Here is another early (and
little!) Western still flying in the '90s (Collection of George Garcia Jr.), and here's another Western, a
Swedish entry in the '73 Worlds.
In the mid-'70s the "Gerard A. Heineken" was the
largest balloon in the world, and sported this 2-story basket (yes,
that's Don Cameron on the upper deck, right).
In 1980, Julian
Nott piloted this capsule (under this balloon) to a world altitude record of 55,134
feet. Note the auxiliary burner at the top right, none other than
the selfsame burner from Henry VIII, depicted above a decade
It's hardly difficult to find pictures of Golli III on the web, but
the first shape balloon (1976) does bear mention (Here's another angle).
Photo: Becky Krieger ¤
Cameron spurred along the low-cost-balloon craze with the Viva.
Production began in 1976. This is a '77
Although long associated with bulbous gores, Cameron has long done
a brisk business in flat balloons, like this N-Series, as well
(note the Raven Rally's "me-too" skirt-to-scoop
Cameron's first smooth-gored balloons, the S-Type, were not quite
as advanced as the later N-Series. The S-Type was "not recommended
for general use as fabric stresses are higher."
This ad touts a few of Cameron's mid-'70s achievements, including
the largest balloon in the world (a record the company broke
several times), an innovative solar balloon, and the first hot-air
airship. The S-Type ad at left is excerpted from this as
By 1979, Don Cameron had ample reason to smile - his company was
thriving - having its most productive year in its history, as
ballooning surged worldwide (note the "flexi-rigid" fiberglas
uprights, sheathed load cables, and burner looking just a
bit ahead of its time).