Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, Oct. 2018

Every October balloon enthusiasts from around the world converge in Albuquerque, NM. This year 600+ balloons from 16 different countries were in attendance. Spectators in the thousands, traffic backed up for miles every morning beginning at 4:30am. Fortunately for us, we were in an RV parking area, only 1/2 mile walk to the launch field. The RV parking area had over 1,000 sites, lots of people walking, plus bus and golf cart shuttles. We usually walked, although some mornings we lucked out...a nice golf cart driver would pull up to us and ask if we wanted a lift. At 5:30 in the morning, dark and chilly out, and rushing to the field, we eagerly jumped in. Those devoted shuttle drivers (volunteers) start at 4am in the morning. The festival was very well organized and supported by many many volunteers. As part of a balloon crew, we too were volunteers. Volunteers receive a weekly pass into the event. It's such an exciting place to be. 

Morning Dawn Patrol
We were at the launch field every morning by 6:00am. Pilot briefing was at 6:15, sometimes we went to the briefing, other times got a cup of Pinon coffee and went to our chase vehicle loaded with balloon and gear. Dawn Patrol launched about 6:30; a small number of selected balloons launch before sunrise, it's a beautiful sight when they glow. Dawn patrol is a scouting flight of sorts, it helps watchful pilots determine wind aloft conditions and plan for their flight. 

Vincent Van Gogh from the Netherlands was one of my favorite balloons. 
So artistic and creative.  

This evening was too windy to fly or inflate. With so many people being at the field, the pilots set up their baskets and fire up their burners. At least the people get to see something and talk to the pilots. The pilots all have balloon cards much the same as football cards, the kids are so excited about the balloons and have a good time collecting cards. Handing out cards was another of our crew duties. 

Airabelle. Another favorite. She's ginormous! 
The basket is under her belly, can't see it in this photo. 
All the balloons have creative names, this old gal is Airabelle, the CreamLand Cow, she's from British Columbia. Balloons of this sort are in a category appropriately called Special Shapes. Although all air worthy, we only saw Airabelle fly one day, usually she was inflated and tethered. After working on our balloon with our crew of 5, I can't imagine having to pack up and lug her around. Some of the special shapes balloons have a crew of 25 or more. I also noticed the larger balloons used wheeled carts, where as our balloon was moved by crew power. Our pilot did have a lift tailgate on the back of her truck, was nice.

Our pilot brought 2 balloons. Here we're laying out the balloon, "MyAir FlyAir" getting ready to inflate. She also had a little smaller balloon, a racer, that she used in competition flying, it was easier to inflate and pack up. We liked it better.

Our pilot Myia checking things over before the inflating.  

Our pilot's balloon, Rik Rak, a racer balloon, the envelope size being 65,000 cubic feet, or 65,000 basketballs would fit in the envelope (balloon). It's a little smaller than her other balloon and more maneuverable, she uses Rik Rak for competetion flying. It's also the balloon Tom and I got to fly in. 
The highlight of our week was getting to fly, it was unexpected, just before lift off pilot Myia shouted "jump in now!"...no time for second thoughts, I jumped in. Tom got to fly the next day.

My flight with Myia took us over the Rio Grande River...never knew the Rio Grande went through Albuquerque. Our flight lasted over an hour, it went by all too fast. IT WAS TOTALLY AMAZING, JUST FLOATING, SO QUIET AWAY FROM THE NOISE AND TRAFFIC BELOW. Tom got to fly the next day. We've been bragging about our flights ever since, ha ha. 

Pilots have fun dipping down and touching the water, known as a "splash and dash", sometimes getting their feet wet inside the basket, the balloon Hearts of Fire is getting ready to Splash.

Too windy. Once the meteorologist fly the green flag, pilots have the ok to fly, however, it's still up to pilot's discretion. This day was iffy, already a delayed start, the green flag finally went up. Our pilot decided not to fly or even unpack, I think a good choice. This pilot started to set up, the wind was whipping the envelope around, others join in holding down the basket. After this wind gust, the pilot decided not to fly. 

Night Glow. The Special shape balloons are creative and amazing.

Sunset at the launch field. 

Night glow. Balloons inflate for static display. 

Morning launch.
Mass Ascension, balloons launch in 2 waves. It's well organized, there are trained launch directors on the field, each responsible for a group of balloons. They're dressed like referees and referred to as Zebras, some of the ladies are very creative with their outfits.  

Christ the Redeemer from South America.
My favorite balloon. Very huge, was quite the sight in the air. 

Another special shape balloon.

More special shapes that got a lot of attention.

One of our landing spots. I took this shot as we finished packing up. The white sheet on the field indicated it was an balloon friendly field to land in. Some of the locals mark their property to be seen from the air. Always fun riding back to the launch field, everything piled in the back of the truck, with a few of us piled on top or in the basket. Spectators, other crews and traffic directors all waving to each other, fly day is a festive day. During the festival it's permissible to have balloon crews riding in truck beds.
It was a tiring week but oh so great.