My alarm waking me at 4:25am and heading out to the Balloon Fiesta Park before 5am has turned the past few days into a blur. I’m having a hard time recalling the individual events as the days seem like one long continuum. We have breakfast at the Pilots’ Pavilion, then meet up with our balloon team at the pilots’ briefing before setting up the day’s launch. After we launch the balloon, we jump into vehicles and chase the balloon. Once the balloon lands, we disassemble it and head back to park for a tailgate party (even though it’s not even noon by then).
In my last post I mentioned the competition to drop a bean bag on a target. I left out a photo of a line of balloons descending over the park trying to be the closest to the target. Here’s the photo.
Yesterday (Wednesday) was day five of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Donna took a pass on crewing – she had a deadline to meet and a book signing scheduled for the evening. No competition was scheduled on this day – the featured event was the Flight of the Nations Mass Ascension. This showcases the international participants from countries around the world. The balloons representing the visiting countries go up in the first wave flying the flag of the country they represent.
I described partially inflating the balloon with a fan powered by a gasoline engine before using the propane burners to fully inflate the envelope and stand it upright in a previous post. A picture’s worth a thousand words, so here’s a photo of the fan used by our crew.
We had the balloon airborne after the international pilots were up.
The wind direction was different than what we had previously experienced. We chased west across the Rio Grande River, then north through Corrales (map). We ended up in an area called Rio Rancho. Hearts A’Fire was coming down on top of a hill in an area of affluent housing. I looked at Google maps on my smartphone as we tried to find a way to meet our balloon before it was earthbound. We scrambled up a dirt road running between million dollar homes. One of the crew members named Alex – a young, strong, local fireman – and I jumped out of the SUV and ran through the brush. We hit a muddy patch, then arrived on another dirt road just as Brad had the basket touching down. We quickly grabbed the basket and put all of our weight on it to stop it. Another successful flight!
Along the way our pilot, Brad, had lowered the balloon into the Rio Grande River – that’s right, they did the splash and dash! He had two passengers on board, both representatives of his corporate sponsor (Cottonwood Mall) and they had wet feet. They were thrilled.
This morning (Thursday) Donna was up and ready with me. There was another competition today, so we launched offsite. After much debate among a few of Brad’s fellow pilots, we launched from an industrial park just west of the balloon fiesta RV park. The wind was fickle. The morning briefing and Dawn Patrol flight didn’t offer much insight into which direction the balloons could expect to go.
The event of the day was the Special Shape Rodeo. While we were out looking for a suitable offsite launch point, the special shaped balloons were launching from the field. There’s just about every character and shape you can think of.
The task for the competition today was to fly over the field and drop a ring over a pole. The wind was unreadable as the special shape balloons were going in every direction at very low speeds. Almost all of the balloon pilots guessed wrong and didn’t come anywhere near the field. I heard only three came close enough to attempt to drop a ring.
Our balloon went southwest. As we chased, we saw an interesting landing. There was a small park southwest of the field. As you go further south from there, downtown Albuquerque looms. For out-of-town pilots, the park seems like their last chance before they head into the downtown area with little to no landing opportunities. We were stopped on Osuna Road following the progress of Hearts A’Fire when we saw a small teardrop shaped balloon dropping quickly toward the park. The pilot must have been panicked about missing his last chance. He hit the field hard and the basket tumbled on its side as the balloon dragged it across the grass. A number of people in the park ran to the balloon and grabbed the basket, stopping it from moving any further. I hope the pilot wasn’t injured – it looked like a hard jolt.
Brad brought Hearts A’Fire down a few miles south of that park – local knowledge is king. He set down in a small lot next to a recycling center only a couple of miles from our coach! We arrived on scene just as he was about to touch down and ran from our chase vehicle to secure the balloon.
After we packed up the balloon, everyone returned to park to tailgate. The kids are off school Thursday and Friday for fall break. We had a lot of kids belonging to the crew at the park. I took over the grilling duties and grilled brats for the adults and hot dogs for the kids. We had a table full of food and, of course, the usual mimosas and beer for the adults.
First-time balloon passengers traditionally have a ceremony after their flight. Brad always goes through this ritual with first timers. Today was no different. I won’t go into detail of the ritual for fear of spoiling for a future first-timer. I’ll only say it involves the telling of the origin of first hot air balloon flight, champagne and an initiation to the world of ballooning.
Today the weather was much cooler than we’ve had. I don’t think we saw 70 degrees. The good news is we’ve been able to fly balloons every day so far. Tomorrow’s forecast looks good. Let’s hope we keep the streak alive.
For some great photography and another perspective on the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, you may want to click this link to Nina’s post at Wheeling It.