Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Balloon Fiesta

Every October, Albuquerque hosts the International Balloon Fiesta. The festival started in 1972 with the launching of 13 balloons, but quickly escalated to being the world's largest hot-air ballooning event attended by people from all over the world. Over 1,000 pilots now fly in the festival in hundreds of balloons. Highlights include: the “special shapes” balloons, balloon competitions, fireworks displays, a "balloon glow," a car show, a wine festival, and tons of greasy food for all to enjoy. It's easy to see the attraction, in this time-lapse video, of the most photographed event in the world.

The Art of Ballooning

Since all surfaces on Earth absorb the Sun's heat differently, dangerous vertical winds (thermals) emerge as the day progresses. The air is most stable right after sunrise and before sunset. Essentially, the only control a pilot has in a balloon is changing altitude. Pilots usually won’t fly in the middle of the day when that control is lost and when the temperature differential between the outside and the inside of the balloon is too subtle for the balloon to fly in the first place. If you wake early enough on any crisp morning in Albuquerque you will most likely be greeted by a host of balloons. They can usually be observed going in a northerly direction, following the winds.

Balloons typically cost between $20,000 - $30,000 and every year some don't fare as well as others. They can catch turbulent or warmer conditions and end up clipping power lines, meeting the "depths" of the Rio Grande, or finding a resting place a lot further away than anticipated. Hence, any experienced balloonist has "chasers" who's sole job is to, well, chase the balloon (usually in a pickup truck). New Mexicans are well acquainted with random trucks driving erratically where no roads could ever possibly go. A word of advice, look up when you see this because there's a good chance your curiosity will be satisfied by the sight of a flying pitcher. Of course, it's also often the case that teenage boredom gets the better of young New Mexican drivers leading to frequent excursions into empty lots. You be the judge.

The enchantment of ballooning is, for most New Mexicans, far more central than you would expect. We are drawn to the seemingly uncontrollable nature of takeoff, flight, and landing; to the very soothing periodic noise of burners as balloons sail daily overhead; and to the hope that maybe one morning an enormous pig-shaped balloon will drop into our back yard loaded with all sorts of pinata-like goodies.


Bilo said...

Great video J!

Anonymous said...

breakfast burritos at sunrise on the launching field.....yummy!!!