The 41st Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) is now history. This was my 27th consecutive Fiesta. I made my first visit to the Fiesta in 1986 and was immediately hooked. This was a really good year for the Fiesta: only two days of flying were cancelled due to weather issues. As always, I had a wonderful time: old friendships renewed; new friendships made; lots of fun, shared experiences; and, lots of beautiful balloons!
This year I crewed for Cosmos I, owned by my friends, Jerry and Cindy Holmes of Fort Worth, Texas. Cosmos I is a special shape balloon, which looks like a cartoon space man. The envelope (the fabric portion of the balloon) holds 116,000 cubic feet of hot air, which is generated by burning propane. It is made by Air Fly Balloons of São Paulo, Brazil, which has also made other special shape balloons, including Farmer Pig, Crazy Crab, etc.
So, what do I mean when I say “I crewed for Cosmos I” you ask? Chase crew or crews help the pilot inflate and deflate his/her balloon for each flight. Since balloons usually don’t land where they take off, part of the process involves chasing the balloon from its launch point to its landing point. Crew sizes vary from 4-6 people for a non-special shape balloon to 20 or more for a special shape balloon. Most crew members are volunteers. At an event like AIBF, there may be upwards of 2,000 crew volunteers.
The Fiesta starts the first Saturday in October and runs through the second Sunday. For nine days, the skies of Albuquerque are filled with colorful balloons participating in a variety of flying events, including dawn patrols (balloons that launch prior to sunrise) and mass ascensions (when all 500+ balloons launch in multiple waves). In the evenings, ground-based events take place, including balloon glows (static displays of the balloons after sunset) and fireworks.
This year’s Fiesta featured over 500 hot air balloons representing 19 countries (the United States, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand). Over 100 of the balloons were special shapes. Some of the special shapes making their inaugural appearance at the Fiesta were:
• Aaron, an Elvis balloon from Brazil (named for Elvis’ middle name)
• Cosmos I, an astronaut from Texas
• Funny Phant, an elephant from Brazil
• Ice Cream Cone, a chocolate cone from Kentucky
• Little Fireman, a fire helmet balloon from Brazil
• Little Inspector, a penguin from Brazil
• Red Bird, a woodpecker from Brazil
• Shining Star, a wheel chair accessible balloon, from Spain
• Simba, a lion head from Belgium
• Squirt, a fire hydrant from Brazil
The Fiesta began with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot in 1972. Today, the Fiesta is “the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.” The 78-acre launch field is the size of 54 football fields put together. The Fiesta is one of the only balloon events where spectators are able to actually walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots and crews. In 2000, the Fiesta set a record of over 1,000 balloons!
A question I’m frequently asked is, “Why Albuquerque in October?” Albuquerque is located in a wide valley with a very unusual weather phenomenon called the Albuquerque Box, which allows balloons to take off and land in almost the same spot. The October weather is usually very suitable for the box.
The 42nd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will be held October 5-13, 2013. I’ll be there.
In closing, I leave you with the Balloonist’s Prayer: May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.