Annual hot air balloon festival brings global audience to the US

Annual hot air balloon festival brings global audience to the US

The commencement of an annual fiesta that has brought pilots and onlookers from all over the world to New Mexico's high desert for the past 50 years is slated for Saturday morning, when hundreds of hot air balloons are expected to take off.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, one of the most photographed spectacles in the world, has grown to be a major economic engine for the state's largest city and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for fans to watch the enormous balloons being unpacked and inflated up close.

This year's attendees include the families of other participants as well as three of the original pilots who took part in the inaugural fiesta in 1972. 13 balloons were launched that year from an open lot next to a mall on the outskirts of Albuquerque. Since then, it has developed into a high-budget production. 78-year-old pilot Gene Dennis recalls the snowstorm that nearly prevented him from attending that first fiesta. He had to change his flight schedule out of Michigan in order to get to Albuquerque in time.

Dennis, who flew under the identity "Captain Phairweather," reported that the weather was ideal when he arrived in New Mexico. At the time, he was reported as claiming that he had brought pleasant weather with him.

He's in trouble once more as pilots hope opening weekend forecasts are accurate. Dennis stated, "Ballooning is contagious. It's like drifting in a dream, silently watching the countryside below."

Roman Müller will be participating in the fiesta for the first time this year. He is operating a unique balloon that was designed to resemble the chalet at the top of a well-known Swiss bobsled course. One of his objectives will be to fly above the Rio Grande and descend to a level where the gondola may be dipped into the water. He smiled widely and stated, "This is my goal," while recognising that flying a balloon is not always simple.

The Albuquerque box, a phenomena where the wind blows in opposing directions at various elevations, is one factor that helps, according to him. This occurrence enables skilled pilots to bring a balloon back to close to the point of departure.
According to Dennis, it took the organisers a few years to learn that the predictable wind patterns allowed balloons to stay close to the launch field, providing spectators with quite a spectacle.

During the first fiesta, Denise Wiederkehr McDonald rode in her father's hot air balloon. She travelled from Colorado to take part in a recreation of the flight from 1972 on Friday. Her father, Matt Wiederkehr, was one of the first ten hot air balloon pilots in the United States. He held various distance and time records and used his fleet of balloons to launch a prosperous advertising company.
Wiederkehr McDonald held a cardboard figure of her father as the balloon she was travelling in took off. Wiederkehr McDonald would go on to break her own ballooning records before becoming a commercial airline pilot.

She remembered having many ballooning-related events as a child.

"I recall the first time I was inside a balloon as they were all standing up and expanding, unable to see the sky because it was covered in colourful cloth. The first balloon to illuminate at night was the next item. Oh my God, she exclaimed. I now look back and genuinely appreciate so many of the firsts that I took for granted back then.
A group of experienced European balloonists has joined the celebration. This year, more than 20 nations are represented, including Ukraine, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, and Croatia. It also serves as the starting point for the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, one of the most prestigious long-distance gas balloon competitions in the world.

(source : AP)

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