Up, Up and Away: The Greatest Show OFF Earth

How do balloons work?

The basic principal behind hot air ballooning is that hot air rises.

Weather permitting, balloons begin to launch at about 7:15 AM on mass ascension days, led by a balloon flying the American flag to the strains of The Star Spangled Banner. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

The envelope is first filled with cold air, and then, when the balloon is almost full to capacity, still lying on its side, the pilot operates the burners. Propane gas burners are used to project heat into the envelope. When the air inside the balloon is warmer than the air outside the envelope, the balloon stands upright. That is why balloonists like to fly so early in the morning. If it were too hot outside, it would be impossible to get the inside of the balloon that much hotter, and it would not have enough lift to get off the ground. The morning air is generally cool and stable, and ideal for flying.

To launch the balloon, the pilot pulls on the burners again, increasing the temperature inside the envelope, and, while it becomes lighter than the air outside, the balloon lifts off the ground.

What about the weather?

Predawn October mornings in Albuquerque are quite crisp, so dress warmly. When you arrive at the Balloon Fiesta Park before dawn, you can expect the temperature to be around 40 degrees. By noon, it is usually about 65–68 degrees. Your best bet is to wear layers of comfortable, casual clothing that you can shed as the day heats up. A wind-resistant jacket over a sweater and long-sleeve shirt is ideal.

For the evening events, you will probably start off warm, but be prepared to throw on a jacket after dark.

RV facilities at Balloon Fiesta Park

Like RVs, new balloons can vary in size and amenities. You can start with a smaller sport model for about $20,000. These balloons typically carry a pilot and one additional person. The larger balloons that can carry two or three passengers in addition to the pilot will range between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Having an RV parked adjacent to the launch site is without question the best way to attend this event. Balloon Fiesta Park is set up to accommodate RV parking during the event.

The four RV parking site types include:

STANDARD sites have NO hookups; 2011 rates are $30/night

PREMIUM sites have 20-amp minimum electrical service and low-pressure water provided; 2011 rates are $65/night

VIP sites are located in a separate area immediately adjacent to the Launch Field with two field entry passes included, and NO hookups; 2011 rates are $85/night

PRESIDENT’S COMPOUND sites are located on the east side of Balloon Fiesta Park on a bluff overlooking the Launch Field with four field entry passes included, and 30-amp minimum electrical service and city water pressure; 2011 rates are $150/night (number of spaces is very limited)

Note: All sites require a three-night minimum stay

Albuquerque Aloft

Many pilots who are registered for Balloon Fiesta sign up to participate in Albuquerque Aloft. Pilots launch their balloons from selected school grounds in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho on the Friday morning before Balloon Fiesta. It is a great way to kick off the beginning of the nine days of Balloon Fiesta.

Fiesta Glow all burns when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time are perhaps the most spectacular single moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Albuquerque Aloft is the only Balloon Fiesta event in which balloons launch from pre-designated sites outside Balloon Fiesta Park.

Hot-air balloon rides

For many visitors, the ultimate thrill during Fiesta Week is a ride aboard a hot-air balloon. Flights during fiesta events may be booked onsite at the balloon park. The area’s usually good weather and gentle winds make this a popular activity for visitors. Dress in layers and wear gloves.

Exploring Albuquerque

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. The Albuquerque metropolitan area contains approximately one-thirds of New Mexico’s residents, and, as the state’s largest city, it has attractions to please a variety of interests.

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes in honor of the Duke of Alburquerque, Viceroy of New Spain. The first “r” was later dropped, but Albuquerque is still known as “the Duke City.”

Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it’s still current before making your travel plans.

Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Part 1: Up, Up and Away: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta


Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Web Site: ballonfiesta.com

Phone: (888) 422-7277 or (505) 821-1000

Mailing Address: 4401 Alameda NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Worth Pondering…
The balloon seems to stand still in the air while the earth flies past underneath.

—Alberto Santos-Dumont

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Up, Up and Away: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Countdown to Liftoff: 22 days, 21 hours, 50 minutes

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows.

Part of the reason for the success of the Fiesta are the cool Albuquerque morning temperatures in October and the Albuquerque box. (Credit: Raymond Watt, balloonfiesta.com)

The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 1-9—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

The balloons come in many colors and shapes with the special shapes category getting larger every year. There are balloons that look like cows, cartoon characters, automobiles, stagecoaches—and just about everything else.

A century after the release of Jules Verne’s balloon adventure novel with Captain Phileas Fogg, Around the World in 80 Days, internationally-acclaimed balloon festival was born in Albuquerque. It was 40 years ago! In 1972, and 20,000 sleepy spectators gathered at sunrise in a local parking lot to witness 13 balloons ascend. At the time, 13 balloons seemed really impressive.

But in 2004, more than 800,000 spectators watched as more than 750 balloons floated into the beautiful blue New Mexico skies. The fiesta has amassed an international following, attracting pilots, spectators, and media from nearly 30 countries.

So, what’s the big deal about balloons?

Hot air ballooning is a spectacular and exciting event to experience. Before dawn, people start to gather. By 6 a.m. long lines of automobiles are jockeying for position in a stop-and-go traffic scene. Excitement fills the air. Weather permitting—and if the wind is not too strong—a rainbow of hot air balloons simultaneously lifts into the early morning air. The crowd is awed and “oohs” and “aahs” over every balloon! Each is a work of art. The number of giant painted bubbles gliding through the sky multiplies the viewers’ pleasure.

Mass Ascensions, a launch of all the participating balloons have been a feature of Balloon Fiesta since its earliest days and is one of the most spectacular display of sound and color in all of aviation. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

The launch field is divided into three sections of 11 rows of 12 balloons each. Think of a checkerboard. The launch begins with the outside rows on the north and south ends of the field—these two rows lift off at the same time. Usually the wind is from the north, so that works out well. Then they work in towards the middle of the checkerboard.

The excitement begins as the crews take the collapsed giant balloons from their storage baskets. Twenty to forty feet of fabric is stretched flat on the ground in exactly the right way. The blue-flamed burners that heat the air to lift each balloon are started. The heat of the flame from the propane tank is surprisingly intense and the noise made by the burner is expectedly loud. When finally, the signal is given for the balloons to ascend and they take off in waves of color, it is a magnificent sight!

Ballooning is popular in Albuquerque…why?

Albuquerque is popular with hot air balloonists because of the “Albuquerque Box.” In balloon language, a “box” refers to flight back and forth over the same area by using winds of opposite directions at different altitudes. It is a common phenomenon in valleys because of the flow of air down the mountains. With a box, balloonists have more flexibility in how they can control and navigate their balloons.

What is a balloon crew?

Balloons are big—and it takes a group of four or more people to help the pilot. Before the flight, the ground crew helps with preparing the balloon. First they walk out the envelope for inflation, and then they help attach all the equipment to the basket.

A special shape balloon, Well Fargo's Cent'r Stage. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Once off the ground, the chase crew follows the balloon in a car or truck (the chase vehicle) so they can help retrieve the balloon and pack it up wherever the pilot lands. It can be a lot of work, but chasing can be fun! Balloonists often need helpers—so ask around; you might just get a ride!

Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Part 2: Up, Up and Away: The Greatest Show OFF Earth


Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Web Site: ballonfiesta.com

Phone: (888) 422-7277 or (505) 821-1000

Mailing Address: 4401 Alameda NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Worth Pondering…
How posterity will laugh at us, one way or other! If half a dozen break their necks, and balloonism is exploded, we shall be called fools for having imagined it could be brought to use: if it should be turned to account, we shall be ridiculed for having doubted.

—Horace Walpole, letter to Horace Mann, 24 June 1785

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