Balloon Fiesta kicked off on the morning of Saturday, October 1. We left our hotel at 4:45 am in order to navigate the heavy traffic jamming the roads on the way to the Fiesta field and in order to be in our seats ready to enjoy the Dawn Patrol show at 5:45 am.
Two California balloonists developed position lighting systems that allow balloons to fly at night. Dawn Patrol pilots take off in the dark and fly until it is light enough to see landing sites. Fellow balloonists appreciate the Dawn Patrol because they can watch the balloons and get an early idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes.
The Morning Glow then started about 6:30 am. Balloon glows are nighttime static displays of illuminated balloons. “All burns”, when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time are spectacular.
In the next picture, balloons are getting ready for Mass Ascension at 7:00 am. During the first day of Fiesta, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta set a new world record for the most hot air balloons launched in one hour with 345 hot air balloons taking to the air in one hour during Mass Ascension on October 1, 2011.
The special shape balloons were a hit with the crowds. Here is Darth Vader, a balloon from Belgium.
This is Spyderpig from Albuquerque.
These are two of the three bees. The red bee on the left is Lilly Little Bee from Jeffersonville, VT. The smaller purple bee on the right is Joelly from Maricopa, AZ.
The is The Stork from Corrales, NM and Iwi The Kiwi from New Zealand.
This is Lady Jester from Albuquerque, NM.
This is Sushi from Incline Valley, NV.
This is Centr Stage from Albuquerque, NM.
This is Airabelle, The Flying Cow from Priddis, Alberta.
Here are all three bees.
This is the Dos Equis balloon with the beer bottle, Select 55 in the background to the left of Dos Equis.
Sometimes the balloons came so close to where we were sitting that it seemed like we should be able to touch them.
The next picture is of a Balloon Fiesta Zebra. Balloon Fiesta Launch Directors (ZEBRAS) are volunteers that coordinate the balloon launch. They handle crowd control, observe pilots , and work with them to get their balloons safely off the ground every morning during Balloon Fiesta.
Every Zebra checks to see that every balloon is airworthy and that there is no damage to the either the envelope or the basket. They then let the pilots know where they will be standing and what hand signals to look for during the launch sequence. They also discuss wind conditions and the traffic directly overhead. The Zebras then walk each pilot out to a clear area near the launch site. When the skyway is clear, the Zebra blows his whistle and gives a “thumbs up” signal letting the pilot know he is clear to take off.
After the Mass Ascension was over and all balloons had launched from Fiesta Park we headed back to our hotel for a much deserved rest. Then it was back to the Park in the late afternoon to get ready for the Twilight Twinkle Show at 5:45 pm. The next picture is of the balloons glowing while they are tethered to the ground in the early evening.
The next picture is of the gas balloons getting ready to launch for the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon race.
Gas balloons ascend because the gas inside is less dense and lighter than the air on the outside of the balloon. Heating up regular air makes its molecules expand, becoming lighter than the surrounding atmosphere. That’s what causes hot-air balloons to lift off. Gas balloons used in races such as the Balloon Fiesta’s America’s Challenge use either helium or hydrogen, both lighter-than-air gases in their natural, unheated state.
Gas balloons differ from the hot air balloon that we had our ride in. With both types of flight, pilots try to control their direction by taking advantage of different wind currents at different altitudes. Gas balloon pilots typically started out flying hot-air balloons, and then decided they wanted to be able to fly farther, higher and longer. Because gas balloons cost more to fly, they usually aren’t flown as often. Their flights can last for days, unlike hot-air flights, which usually last about an hour. Gas balloon pilots may prepare for months before a competition, and when they’re racing, they sometimes fly into dangerous weather conditions or over open seas, where an emergency landing could be a disaster. They even have to be careful not to fly over certain countries, where political conditions could make them targets of hostile fire. Gas balloons usually need more people to help with their launch than hot-air balloons. It takes about ten people to launch a gas balloon, according to the Balloon Federation of America, and about half that number to launch a hot-air balloon. For a competition, the gas pilots also use the services of meteorologists. The pilots’ strategies are largely based on weather conditions. The only way they can “steer” a balloon is to catch the best wind currents.
The gas balloon is inflated through a tube, called an appendix, and it takes hours for the inflation to be completed. The appendix stays open during flight to let excess gas escape and keep the balloon from bursting. Pilots make gas balloons rise by dropping weights, called ballast, from the balloon. A ballast is usually sand. The balloonists descend by letting some of the gas out of the envelope through a valve at the top of the balloon in a procedure called valving. There’s usually a cycle to a gas balloon flight. As the sun heats the gas-filled envelope, the balloon gets even more lift and can rise higher, to several thousand feet. At night, the gas inside the balloon cools off, and pilots drop bags of sand to keep from hitting objects on the ground. Then as the sun rises and heats the envelope again, the balloon gains even more lift since its load is lighter. The process usually lasts up to three cycles in a competition. When all the ballast is gone, the pilots have to land.
This year’s America’s Challenge winners travelled nearly 1,000 miles to near the Canadian border in North Dakota and in doing so, set the new America’s Challenge duration record of 71 hours and 31 minutes.
The Evening Glow was followed by a spectacular display of fireworks.