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About Kavanagh Balloons

Kavanagh Balloons is Australia's only manufacturer of hot air balloons.

 

Since 1979 we have been designing, constructing and certifying balloons for sports, private and commercial use.

Join us on a flight through the history of our company.

 

Our history

Phil and Wendy Kavanagh are Kavanagh Balloons. Introduced to the sport in the 1960's while it was still in its infancy, the intrigue felt while playing with a group of balloon enthusiasts in the Aerostat Society was first a part-time hobby which slowly evolved into a full-time profession.

With the birth of modern ballooning in the U.S., the Aerostat Society of Australia was treading its own path, initially with a core of students from Sydney University, and then a wider band of individuals who shared the ballooning interest, all closely following developments in America and the U.K., building and flying various experimental balloons. After about three months Kavanagh began to see many faults in the design of the balloons flying at the time. For instance, why should the balloon tear when one doesn't want it to? Why shouldn't the burner relight instantly, how do you tell when the burner is overheating the envelope. Also, couldn't accurate measurement of the temperature inside the balloon aid the pilot in altitude control.

Deciding the answers to his questions were not to be found within the Aerostat Society, in 1968 Kavanagh decided to leave the Aerostat Society and build his own balloon.

How does someone get into designing and building balloons?

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Ulinga Serial No. KB001 is still flying today and celebrated its 25th birthday this year (1999). Ulinga's owner Joe Blitz bought it after seeing it fly at an Airshow. The banner announcing the balloon was for sale was really the start of Kavanagh Balloons. Several orders for balloons were received, and so armed with orders and still working full time Phil had to make the choice between his job at the time as a television cameraman and taking up balloon building full time.

 

Balloons won and so full time business started in the four car garage of his suburban home.

Back in the 60's, while still involved with the Aerostat Society, several friends had returned to earth with a thud after dropping their cigarette lighters, it was then Kavanagh came to the conclusion that a safe and reliable method of lighting burners was a design priority. Working closely with brother Stephen, an electrical engineer, the Peizo Ignition system was born, and in 1970 "Little Bear" became the first balloon to be fitted with pilot burners with an automatic re-ignition system.

 

This was the first of many innovations for ballooning to come out of Kavanagh Balloons. Because the adhesive used in "Little Bear" would soften at 100 degrees C it was important to monitor the temperature, and need being the mother of invention, saw a thermistor fitted to the crown with a set of instruments in the basket reading temperature, altitude and vertical speed. Today however Ball, Brauniger and Flytech are suppliers of instruments.

In 1979 Kavanagh Balloons Pty. Ltd. became an incorporated Company. As the business grew, a move from the family garage to a rented factory was necessary and in 1993 a final move to a purpose built factory with launch field in Mount Kuring-gai just 27kms north of the city of Sydney.

Since the introduction of airworthiness procedures in Australia during 1986, Kavanagh Balloons have undergone stringent testing by the Civil Aviation Authority for issue of Certificate of Airworthiness and Type Approval. Everything built by Kavanagh Balloons has been designed in house. The Kavanagh design range now covers the two person 56,000 cu.ft. balloon to the 20 person, 400,000 cu.ft. passenger balloon.

All baskets are built and finished on site, and customers can choose from aerobic flooring and full padding to passenger compartments or straight and simple with only the top edge upholstered in leather.

Stainless steel tanks have been designed in house and are built exclusively for Kavanagh Balloons, with a choice of 55, 72, 76 and 82 litre available.

The Smart Vent is an innovative deflation system, which was the result of years of testing various deflation methods. It is the only fast deflation system which is resealable so it can be tested before takeoff. European, U.S. and Australian Patents have been granted on this Australian invention.

Being so closely involved in the business of building balloons has not caused a total withdrawal from the sport of ballooning. In 1985 when pilot Chris Dewhirst wanted to fly over the Himalayan mountains, Phil was there as co-pilot and so were his balloons and in 1991 when Kavanagh decided to give up his fun flying a for a try at competition, Australia saw one of its longest involved balloonists walk away as the National Champion. A new phase of fun flying had started. After 30 years in ballooning the same "I can do that" attitude is still there.

In June 1993 pilots Phil Kavanagh and Brian Smith flew the Kavanagh built Roziere "Australian Maid" 3000kms from Carnarvon in Western Australia to Windorah in south west Queensland - the first flight of a Roziere balloon in Australia.

The Federation Aeronautique Internationale awarded Phil with a Absolute World Record for his flight to 7,199 metres in Australian Maid, - after 20 years it has been decided that this fun flying is a serious business.

Kavanagh Balloons Pty. Limited is a small business success story - 90% of the balloons flying in Australia have been built by Kavanagh Balloons. Many of the owners have become lifelong friends.

​"There was a lot of faith involved in those first set of patterns" recalls Kavanagh, "but with my background in boat building and design I thought if I could draw a 50ft boat within a quarter-inch, I wouldn't have any trouble with a 50ft balloon segment.

 

In the late 60's in Australia, balloons were in the polyester film and tape stage and in 1968 with a limited budget, the first Kavanagh balloon was built using .001" polyester film and fibreglass reinforced strapping tape, and a chimney (pop-top) deflation system.

 

The 35,000 cu.ft. "Little Bear" named for the sponsor of the packaging tape holding the envelope together, logged over 150 hours in free and tethered flight and was incredibly strong despite its fragile appearance.

Demonstrations of "ballooning" at country shows helped raise the funds to build a fabric balloon, and it was on this balloon that experiments in various venting systems, super-pressure designs etc. were carried out.