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Albuquerque Ascension!

It’s that time of year when Albuquerque skies will be filled with hot air balloons

Bringing participants and spectators from all over the world, Albuquerque’s most iconic event starts October 7th and runs for nine days at Balloon Fiesta Park. Officially titled The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta presented by ExxonMobil, this is its 51st year and features 546 Primary Pilots from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States. It is the largest balloon festival in the world.

There will be 107 special shape balloons showcased this year, as well as a viewing of a solar eclipse on Saturday, October 14. NASA will be handing out complimentary solar eclipse viewing glasses to guests that morning. Other featured activities include live music, food vendors, artisans, spectator balloon rides, and “glow” presentations where hundreds of balloons light their burners in the dark. 

This year, Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park will also be the site of the FAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship. First staged in 1906, the pilots compete for the farthest distance achieved non-stop from the launch site. Last year the event was held in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The winning team traveled close to a thousand miles before landing. It is a prestigious world aviation event and will occur on the first day of the Balloon Fiesta.  

One of the highlights of the Balloon Fiesta are the mass ascensions where all of the balloons that are participating launch in two waves. This occurs around 7:00 AM on both weekends and Wednesday, and takes about 90 to 120 minutes to get all of them in the air. The sky is literally filled with balloons and it is quite a spectacle. It takes a lot of coordination to make this happen safely and experienced launch directors facilitate the operations on the ground.

So, why is Albuquerque the global center of hot air ballooning? Much of it has to do with geography. Albuquerque has a weather pattern called “the box effect” created by the high Sandia mountains to the east and a group of mesas to the west that envelop the Rio Grande Valley. This creates relatively predictable wind conditions where the low altitude air currents flow to the south and the higher elevations flow to the north. Balloons can ascend and then actually land on the spot from where they launched despite having very little control over their direction of travel. Essentially, the pilots can “steer” by changing their elevation and taking advantage of this effect.

Another factor is the enthusiasm and creativity of the Albuquerque hot air balloon community. The balloon festival had humble beginnings when in 1972 a group of balloonists launched 13 hot air balloons from a mall parking lot. By 1978, it was the biggest balloon festival in the world and had acquired a permanent site. These days, it has a huge impact on the local economy, bringing in over 200 million dollars in tourism in 2022. 

Launch schedules can change due to weather. The local TV stations update launch conditions and schedules throughout the event. Further details can be found on the event website: balloonfiesta.com


 

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