High Flying at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

I had to get up at 3:15 this morning (Wednesday). We picked up a boxed lunch, got on the bus and got to the Balloon Festival field by 4:30. We signed several waivers and got our balloon assignments and were told we had to be back by 6:00 am to be taken to our balloon. So we had about an hour to kill. As a part of the Road Scholar group we had access to the Group Tour Hospitality Tent which had places to sit, hot coffee, hot tea, very bad hot chocolate and more Krispy Kreme donuts than I have ever seen in one place!

About 5:45 I walked over the the seemingly infinite line of Johnny-on-the-Spots and made sure I would NOT need to pee once I was in the balloon gondola. On my way over I passed a few of the very many vendors at the Fiesta. Then I lined up to walk over to the balloon. The balloon I was assigned to had ten people in it plus the pilot. All of the riders were Road Scholars so I knew everyone I was to be in the gondola with.

The Balloon Fiesta launch field is 78 acres, the size of 54 football fields. The entire Balloon Fiesta Park is 365 acres, that includes room for parking, over 100 merchandise and food vendors, special tents for pilots, chase crews, sponsors, two music stages, first aid, etc., etc.

While we were waiting for someone to take us to our balloon we watched Dawn Patrol lift off. Dawn Patrol goes up about half hour before sunrise. These are about 8 very experienced pilots that go up early to give the rest of the pilots an idea of how the wind is blowing at various heights.

When our crew guy came to get us I found out the balloon we were going up in was a guy out of Lebanon, Ohio (about 90 miles from my house). The company is called Gentle Breeze and they usually fly out of Warren County Airport. They work under a contract with Rainbow Riders for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

As soon as the balloon begins to lift off the ground and the gondola begins to right itself the pilot tells us to get in. We have each been assigned a general location in the gondola. The toughest part of the entire trip is getting into and out of the gondola. They do not have doors. They have 4 foot holes you use to climb up and in. That is fairly easy when your knees work right and you don’t have a bunch of extra weight to swing over the side but with help we all made it in.

Below: Pictures taken while I’m still on the ground. Note the balloons carrying the American, French and American/Arizona flags. Today was the Parade of Nations. These were the only balloons I saw carrying flags. There were 17 countries at the Fiesta this year and several states were to have had balloons carrying their flags but I didn’t see any more since we started loading as they started going over.

With so many balloons going up at the same time there are ground officials that give the pilots direction as to when they can take off so as not to interfere with an adjacent balloon. Balloons themselves can touch and bump but if one balloon gets under another and rises into the gondola of the balloon above it the balloon below can be punctured. These officials are called “zebras” and dress like referees. They are in control of the field and pilots obey them.

More than 500 balloons in the mass ascension this morning. There are to be 104 Special Shape balloons this year. Many of the special shapes went up today but Thursday and Friday they will be featured.

Individual balloons that caught my eye today.

“I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation…” – The Carpenters

“What goes up must come down” – Issac Newton (and Blood, Sweat & Tears)

Putting our toys away. We landed in a public park. There were several families with kids and a couple older kids playing. They quickly surrounded the gondola. Several neighbors came out with cameras. Our pilot put them to work.


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