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Ballooning Culture & History

NM flag balloon by marblestreetstudio.com

More than a century ago in Albuquerque, “Professor” P.A. Van Tassell, a local bartender, piloted a “gas bag” from the center of town up to nearly 14,000 feet and landed, intact, a few miles away at the west end of the city. Still, ballooning remained an obscure sport for many years. It wasn’t until 1972 that 13 hot air balloons participated in the very first Balloon Fiesta. From that humble ascension, Albuquerque has become the prime destination for balloonists worldwide. 

Citizens of Albuquerque have been behind many of the sport’s 

greatest achievements, including: 

• The first successful crossing of the Atlantic by balloon was done 

by three Albuquerqueans: Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman 

who made history in the Double Eagle II helium balloon in August 1978. 

• Abruzzo and Anderson, with another Albuquerquean, Ron Clark, along with Rocky Aoki of Tokyo were first to cross the Pacific by helium balloon. The Double Eagle V flight set the record for the longest distance ever flown in a balloon: 5,768 miles, from Nagashima, Japan 

to a landing site near Covelo, CA. 

• Anderson, along with his son Kris and fellow pilot Don Ida set another record in 1980 when they flew the Kitty Hawk in the first non-stop flight crossing over North America by gas balloon. 

• Another Albuquerque hero, Troy Bradley, has set over 50 world records for ballooning, and has attained the highest ranking a balloonist can achieve, the Montgolfier Diploma. 

Ballooning Facts 

• The first balloon passengers were a rooster, a sheep and a duck in 1783. 

• A “champagne dunk” is part of the initiation rites following a balloon passenger’s 

first ride in a balloon. This ritual involves champagne being poured over the initiate’s head. 

(Champagne was also taken along on the first manned balloon ride, to appease the inhabitants 

of the region where they might land.) 

• Balloon rallies at hot air ballooning events are colorful and energetic social events where crowds of balloonists and spectators gather and celebrate life. In some ways, the atmosphere is similar to tailgate parties at football games. 

• Balloon pins and trading cards are popular collectors’ items. Ideally, each balloon has its own pin and card. During Balloon Fiesta, kids of all ages enjoy talking with pilots and collecting these pins and cards. 

• Sport ballooning has been practiced in Albuquerque ever since Sid Cutter brought in a balloon in 1971. 

• Flying a balloon requires a pilot’s license, awarded by the FAA after extensive training. 

• Balloons are called “aerostats” because they are static in the atmosphere. Rather than flying through the air (as an airplane does), balloons travel on the air. Direction is controlled by skilled control of altitude in order to reach wind currents going in the desired direction. 

More ballooning information: www.visitalbuquerque.org/balloon