EARLY birds in Bristol were able to get a brief glimpse of what promises to be the biggest ever Bristol International Balloon Fiesta with over 150 expected to take to the skies – weather permitting.

While rainfall grounded more than a dozen balloons at Queen’s Square in the city to showcase this coming weekend’s festivities, enough was on show to prove this year will be just as picturesque as years gone by.

The annual event at Ashton Court brings in around 100,000 visitors on each of the four days it runs, with mass ascents planned for 6am and 6pm.

Balloons of all shapes and sizes from across the globe will be seen and the nightglows with a backdrop of fireworks and music are expected to be as popular as ever.

This year 156 balloons are planned, 36 more than last year.

In addition, whether its picnics, the fairground or the live bands, there is something for everybody.

Alveston pilot and IT consultant Richard Allen, 39, has been ballooning since 1997 and is looking forward to the festivities and said he was crossing his fingers for some good weather.

“I just enjoy it, it’s good fun and the people are great. I am looking forward to the weekend and catching up with some old friends,” he said.

On the preview show on Tuesday, August 5, event director Ben Hardy said: "It’s just a way of us telling everyone in the city and further afield that the festival is coming and it is coming this weekend.

“We’re expecting a good mix of balloons including a Smurf and Miss Daisy. It should be really good, really exciting.”

Don Cameron, chairman of the Flying Committee, described the ideal conditions for flying.

"Ideally hot air balloon pilots would like clear skies and winds under eight knots,” he said.

“But there are other things that we think about. If the winds at 2,000 feet are too high, then mixing after the sun comes up will cause a speed-up near the ground by landing time.

“Sometimes cloud is an advantage, because it cuts down the solar heating and makes the thermals start later. Thermals are good for gliders, but bad for balloons because they make the flight path on landing unpredictable."

The fiesta runs from today, August 7, until Sunday August 10.