October 8, 2009
By Mike Collins
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Hot air balloons filled the sky above Albuquerque, N.M., during the Thirty-eighth Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The event was held Oct. 3 through 11. Generally good flying weather midweek was replaced by windy conditions the final two days, forcing cancellation of the final Balloon Glow on Saturday evening, Oct. 10, as well as the farewell mass ascension of balloons Sunday morning, Oct. 11.
More than 500 balloons and some 650 pilots registered for this year’s Balloon Fiesta, representing states as far away as Alaska, North Dakota, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. International pilots came from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, among other countries. Average attendance is 850,000 people over the nine-day period.
The Balloon Fiesta takes place during the first week in October. Flying events are scheduled each the morning, beginning around sunrise, with mass ascensions involving hundreds of balloons slated for Saturdays and Sundays. Balloon glows—displays of inflated but tethered balloons that begin before twilight and continue until dark—are held in the evenings, weather permitting.
Generally good fall weather and favorable wind conditions make Albuquerque an ideal location for such an event. The “box”—a combination of upper- and lower-level winds created by the Rio Grande River to the west and the Sandia Mountains to the east—frequently allows balloonists to take off, climb, and then navigate the different wind currents to land near their launch sites. Cool air from the north, near the surface, moves balloons southward while winds at slightly higher altitudes often move in the opposite direction.
The 2009 Balloon Fiesta will be the subject of an article in a future issue of AOPA Pilot magazine. More information on the event can be found online.
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
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