An historical event took place in the forests to the north of Kosta village just before midday on the 20th August, 1968.

Sweden's first hot-air balloon made her maiden voyage! Yet another reminder of the Åfors Rocket and Balloon Club's existence.

Bertil Vallien, 30 year-old artist at the Åfors glass-factory shared the minimal basket with the balloon's constructor, Donald Piccard from California, a legend in the art of balloon flying. With crash helmets in place, Mr. Piccard adjusted the gas valve, and the 20 metre high Emilie, registration number SE-ZZA, was airborne!

Other members of the club waited impatiently below for their turn. The onlookers peered aloft somewhat anxiously at the yellow 'pumpkin'. With an elevation capacity/speed of 8m per second, Vallien and Piccard were soon up in the treetops. Emilie can only be steered up or down. The balloon goes down if one opens the valve placed high in the nylon canopy with the help of a rope in the basket. A sideways movement lies in the hands of the elements. Considerable meteorlogical knowledge is necessary to make a safe ascent. Very soon Emilie is rather too close to the treetops and is soon anchored to the top of an oak. But Donald Piccard knows what he is doing, and is going to teach Bertil all the tricks of the balloonist (trade). They make a routine landing a little later in the middle of a small roadway.

Few people know that in 1957 Bertil Vallien was accepted by both the National College of Art, Craft and Design and a fighter pilot training unit. Other compelling interests were horses and music. We now know that art held the greatest attraction for Vallien. He spent a few years in the US before he and Ulrica put down their roots in the small hamlet of Åfors to start their endeavours with glass and ceramics. They thought that the little community needed livening up. So, in 1963, together with like-minded associates at Boda and Kosta (glass factories), they launched "The Åfors Rocket and Balloon Club", somewhat in protest against the penchant at that time for forming societies. The informal presidents of the club were Bertil Vallien and silversmith, Per Arne Lundahl from Växsjö.Some of the other members were Ulrica, Erik Höglund, Monica Backström, Göran and Ann Wärff, and photographer Ola Terje. All in all some twenty members.

Bertil's interest in the ethereal element grew. The following year the club launched their very own "Spirit of Eriksmåla", home-made out of fireproof paper and steel-wire. The three cubic metre sized craft, carrying glass, ceramics and photographs disappeared into thin air. (without a trace).
However, the Åfors Rocket and Balloon Club were above all, a group interested in parties and mad escapades. They cast glass in the snow, circulated an pornographic almanack called "Watch It!" and fired off large rockets over Åfors lake. They went on adding to the legend of creative dynamism in the Glass Realm. Many made the pilgrimage to the glassworks to experience, for themselves, the dizzying whirl and to buy their glass.

- In the beginning we didn't intend to mess about with rockets and balloons. We formed the club because we wanted to meet up and have fun, says Bertil Vallien

Nonetheless, the balloon enterprise grew and became ever more serious. During the years 1963-68 as many as twenty five small unmanned balloons were sent up. In 1968, whilst in Australia for an exhibition, Bertil flew a balloon for the first time. He found this trip to be so enjoyable that contrary to the advice of the Australian ballooners, he took a detour to Los Angeles to meet with Donald Piccard. On arrival, he ordered a balloon that would be delivered to Sweden within three or four months. The cost was 20,000 Swedish kronor.

The Åfors Balloon and Rocket Club decided to buy the balloon. Members contributed 250 Swe. Kr. each and a bank loan took care of the rest. The loan was later paid back with the earnings from an exhibition of members' work at Transjö. Piccard flew 'Emelie' over the Atlantic to share his knowhow for a few weeks before it was time for Lift Off Day.
As the Board of Aviation could not give him permission to land in Sweden, Piccard had to land in Denmark and travel by car with the balloon to Åfors. At that time balloon flying was almost forgotten (a thing of the past) in Sweden. The Swedish Aviation Board had no guidelines for such an endeavour, so they had to consult with the Åfors Balloon and Rocket Club on the matter of regulations.

The third hot-air balloon in Europe was now on Swedish soil for the first time. Emelie had a capacity of 1,600 cubic metres air and could carry a cargo of 450 kilograms. The wicker basket was so low that one had to wear crash helmets to land in one piece. The width of the balloon was 16 metres in diameter, the material made of an anti-inflammable textile.
In addition to the 20,000 SEK came costs of 5000 SEK for gasol and a burner. In 1968 running costs were 12 kronor per hour. Donald Piccard became very thoughtful when he saw the Småland forests and is supposed to have said the following:
-If your balloon is still in existence in two years time then you are the world's best aviators!

Emelie's first flight /lift-off evoked great interest in the media with both Swedish Television and the national newspapers reporting the event. Donald Piccard's mission was to train BV and P A Lundahl as pilots. They in their turn were to teach the other members. The ÅR&B Club continued to fly during the seventies, though less frequently. Nowadays Emelie is to be found at the home of P. A Lundahl in Växjö. She made a comeback in the summer of 2001, for Åfors' 125 year jubilee celebrations, when with balloon fully unfurled, Emelie, alas, remained grounded!

The members of Åfors Rocket and Balloon Club´s pull out the balloon from Bertil´s Volvo Duett. Photo: Ola Terje.

Fr. left: Björn Ramél, Erik Höglund och Bertil.
Photo: Ola Terje


Up, up and away! Photo: Ola Terje




Those balloonbaskets were small in the 60´s. Photo: Ola Terje

On this picture you can see, for example: Rolf Sinnemark, Göran Wärff, Ann Wärff, Per-Arne Lundahl. Photo: Ola Terje, june 1969.



The club´s activities draw some attention from media. Here, Swedish Televison visit Åfors, fall 1965.




Sweden´s first hot - air balloon became a postcard.