16 March 2024

'Lucy' pilot collects a numberplate from every place he flies, and now that includes the ACT

| James Coleman
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Jacob Vaillancourt with ‘Lucy’ and his ACT numberplate. Photo: Jacob Vaillancourt.

The pilot of this year’s feature hot-air balloon can leave Canberra on Monday (18 March) with two bucket list items ticked.

Not only has Jacob Vaillancourt flown in Australia for the first time, but he also has the numberplate to prove it.

Jacob is the man behind ‘Lucy’, who came over from Montreal, Canada, for this year’s Canberra Balloon Spectacular. With her plaits, red ribbons and colourful bow, the balloon was specially chosen for the connection to International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Hot-air balloon over lake

Crowds turned out on shore and on boats to watch the Canberra Balloon Spectacular 2024. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Lucy was born in Bristol, England, in 2000. She spent several years touring the Netherlands with her “husband”, simply named “The Boy”, before she ended up back in the UK with another pilot. Jacob and his dad bought the balloon in 2016.

Jacob’s dad has been flying for 35 years, long enough for Jacob to practically grow up in balloons.

“I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he says.

During the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico – the biggest event of its type in the world, featuring more than 550 balloons – he was inspired to start a collection of numberplates from every place he flies.

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“Since it’s such a big thing, Albuquerque has a licence plate with a balloon on it,” he says. “I thought that’s really nice, and I picked one out – someone had one in their garage.

“That’s how it started.”

He says some places are “harder than others”, and the ACT was a particular challenge due to the requirement for unused plates to be returned to Access Canberra. But a call was put out on social media and Canberra dutifully delivered. He now has a standard ACT plate in his hands.

“I don’t want touristy plates. I don’t want a plate with a drawing of the Sydney Opera House or Harbour Bridge.”

Hot-air balloons

Lucy was joined by another 40 balloons from across the world for the Canberra Balloon Spectacular 2024. Photo: Jacob Vaillancourt.

So far, his collection numbers about 10 plates, displayed on the wall at home. He and Lucy have previously toured in New Zealand, but failed to find one there, so he says the ACT numberplate constitutes the most “exotic” in his collection.

“Australia was one of the places I really, really wanted to come and fly in, and I’ve been trying to come a couple of years already. I’m glad this year worked out. I definitely want to come back, maybe in a couple of years.”

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He says perfect ballooning weather is “calm winds and sunshine” and, so far, Canberra has delivered seven mornings out of the eight.

“It’s a very nice city, with a great lake. I’ve heard they’ve had years when the weather was not really good for them, but this year has been really great.”

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Capital Retro5:09 pm 16 Mar 24

According to public records that plate belongs to a Subaru Imprezza Wagon. He should hand it in to ACT RTA.

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