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Ballooning Culture & History

NM flag balloon by - albuquerque international balloon festival, balloon festival new mexicoBallooning in New Mexico began more than a century ago in Albuquerque, when "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, today known as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

From that humble ascension, Albuquerque has become the prime destination for balloonists worldwide, and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is said to be the most widely photographed event in the world. The annual Fiesta now draws many hundreds of balloonists and hundreds of thousands of spectators to Albuquerque every October.

Why Albuquerque? The weather here is widely considered to be the best in the world for ballooning. In the famous "Albuquerque Box" pattern, the wind blows predictably north at one elevation and south at another, allowing pilots to launch, fly a great distance, then change altitude to return close to the launch site. This unique pattern, created by the interplay of clear skies, low humidity and elevation, is common on early October mornings, usually dissipating by midday. Albuquerque's ideal conditions have earned it not only the largest International Balloon Festival, but also the title of Balloon Capital of the World.

To learn more about the science and history of ballooning, as well as facts about ballooning in New Mexico, visit the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, located at Balloon Fiesta Park. The city's newest museum is an exciting showcase for the history, art, science, culture and sport of ballooning.

Ballooning in New Mexico is so popular that more than 300 balloonists call Albuquerque home, more than any other state. Citizens of Albuquerque have been behind many of the sport's greatest achievements, including the following:
  • Ballooning in New Mexico, New Mexico Balloon Festival in Albuquerque - Balloon by marblestreetstudio.comThe first successful crossing of the Atlantic by balloon was done by three Albuquerqueans: Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman made history in the Double Eagle II helium balloon in August 1978.
  • Abruzzo and Anderson, with another Albuquerquean, Ron Clark and 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, California.
  • Anderson, his son Kris and Don Ida set another record in 1980 when they flew the Kitty Hawk in the first non-stop crossing of North America by gas balloon.
  • Another Albuquerque hero, Troy Bradley, holds two dozen gas balloon world records for endurance and distance.

Other Ballooning Facts

  • The first balloon passengers, in 1783, were a rooster, a sheep and a duck.
  • A "champagne dunk" is part of the initiation rites following a balloon passenger's first ride in a balloon, which often involves champagne being poured over the initiates 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, 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.
  • Sport ballooning has been practiced in Albuquerque ever since Sid Cutter first brought a balloon to the State and (accidentally) flew a hot air balloon at a party. Sid Cutter is the founder of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. 
  • 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.