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Thread: A Bunch of Hot Air (Warning...lots of Pics)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    ABQ NM

    A Bunch of Hot Air (Warning...lots of Pics)

    You may or may not know this, but Albuquerque has been the home of the largest hot air balloon festival on the planet for the past 42 years. Always held the first full week of October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta attracts balloonists from all over the world. In its heyday, there were over 1,000 balloons participating in the event. Due to space and safety considerations, there are now only about 550 to 600 balloons involved each year. (Still several times bigger than any other balloon event in the world.) From about 1985 until 2000, I worked on one of several crews responsible for setting up, chasing, and putting away the balloons. I've worked on everything from small traditional balloons (called sport balloons) to huge special shape balloons. (Like a 200' long tennis shoe, or an 11 story tall bald eagle.) Had I not left New Mexico in 1991, I was next in line with the outfit I was with to be trained as a pilot. Even after I moved to California, I would take a week off work every year to go crew on balloons. That all ended when I broke my back in 2001. Crew work is physical, and can be potentially jarring -- not a good combination with the hardware I have in my back nowadays.

    Until this past weekend, I'd not been back to the Balloon Fiesta since 2000. Now that I'm back in Albuquerque, I wasn't gonna miss it this year. I went to the event Saturday morning, but the traditional Mass Ascension was canceled due to high winds. They did end up having the Mass Ascension on Sunday morning, but I slept in and missed it. (Didn't feel like getting up at 4:00 AM for the second day in a row.) I had the day off Monday for Columbus Day, so I went out to the field -- for the first time as a spectator since the early 1980s. There were only about 150 - 200 balloons flying Monday, but it was still cool, and I got a chance to snap a few photos along the way.

    Here you go, in no particular order...

    A pre-dawn shot of the music stage from backstage:

    First light as the sun peeks over the mountain. This is about 10% of the crowd that'd be there on a weekend:

    (Click here for a higher-res version.)

    This is a shot of the nylon tarp one crew uses to lay their balloon out on. It's about 250' x 200'. The balloon is a huge cartoon cow that is the biggest balloon at the event this year. I've worked on a similarly-sized balloon (with a tarp about the same size) quite a bit.

    (Click here for a higher-res version.)

    This is a poor shot, but underneath the sitting people you can see a large nylon bag holding the cow balloon. The envelope (the nylon part of the balloon) probably weighs between 800 and 1,000 pounds:

    By comparison, here's a typical sport balloon, which probably weighs about 150 to 200 pounds:

    And one shot of the cow balloon being spread out on the tarp before inflation. The people in the pic give a bit of sense of scale:

    OK, enough crew stuff, here are a few balloons...

    The first balloon off the ground:

    "Sushi", the fish balloon:

    The cow balloon never made it off the ground (it can't fly unless the conditions are perfect), but I did get a shot of it mostly inflated:

    The Jester, partly inflated:

    The Firefighter:

    The fire below the Firefighter:

    Just a pretty sport balloon:

    An Ice Cream Cone:

    I helped write the original proposal to the US Forest Service to get them to sponsor the Smoky Bear balloon. I don't know if they're still sponsoring it or not, and this is not the original envelope. (They deteriorate after a certain number of hours of flight.)

    A bunch o' balloons, including Smoky Bear.

    This is probably about 1/3 of the balloons that were in the air Monday. The Mass Ascensions on the weekends are a lot busier...about 3 times as many:

    And probably my favorite of the day, Darth Vader:

    Weather permitting, I'll be back to the event one or both days next weekend, so I might end up with a few more pics. When I was crewing, I seldom got a chance to take photos and digital cameras were just becoming affordable back then. You could burn through a lot of film back in those days. In fact, Kodak called it the most photographed event in the world every year, back in the days when they sold film.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Amherst, New Hampshire
    Very cool Vaughn Darth Vader is amazing. I wonder how much something like that would cost
    We used to have a balloon festival here in NH every year but only have a dozen or so balloons. Its really exciting to watch them.
    Faith, Hope & Charity

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Coastal plain of North Carolina
    Seeing a balloon festival such as this is on my bucket list. i imagine it to be beautiful to see.
    I may be getting a little older physically but mentally I'm still tarp as a shack.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    London, Ontario
    They used to have a balloon fest here several years ago. But it was run from a downtown park, so it was only about a dozen or so crews (space constraints) but as a spectator it was very cool since you could get right up close to the balloons (ie: almost touch the envelope as it is being inflated on the ground, look inside it as they shoot in the flame, etc.)
    But those tarps are a new thing to me... up here at the festival they just spread the balloon out on the grass. Maybe being a groomed park there was less worry about anything catching or tearing?

    Great shots, big beautiful sky, Vauhgn!
    There's usually more than one way to do it... ........

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    S E Washington State
    Oh, ya, absolutely amazing. Been wanting to see that for years now. I'd never seen pictures of the Vader one before. Flat awesome!
    "We the People ......"

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    No, not all of SoCal is Los Angeles!
    I live just north of Temecula, CA so we surely do get our share. Wonderful to watch.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails temec-balloon.jpg  
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Nice pics, Vaughn.
    Chinese Proverb: Man who eats many prunes gets good run for the money.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    DSM, IA
    Nice pics Vaughn! We have a smaller event around here, in fact it takes place less than a mile from Rex B. place.
    A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone. -Henry David Thoreau
    My Website

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Spitting distance north of Detroit Michigan
    Pretty cool, other than for the fact it resembles my 'blood' family reunions. A bunch of oddly shaped old bags spewing hot air and who are mostly, let's say, 'very colorful'. We also seem to have a few who by day's end, can't get off the ground due to 'conditions'.

    On another related note...I lost a load of 'ballast' once while early morning fishing. It was just breaking sunrise, so quiet & peaceful that ones thoughts seemed excessively loud. I had just stood up to stretch my legs when a balloonist hit the gas{or whatever terminology is correct} as they floated above my{totally unaware of them} location...I don't recall who was more shocked, the lord as I was face to face with him for a split second, or the sleeping lakeside folks who thought hell just announced it's arrival... man those contraptions are quite a sight....Thanks for the photo's & flashbacks
    The perception of perfection is perfectly clear to everyone else

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Lafayette, Indiana
    Great photos Vaughn, Thanks for sharing. I remember hearing on the news about this.
    It's not what you achieve in life...It's what you overcome!

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