Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Hot Air Balloon Ride

It’s been my dream for over 30 years to ride in a hot air balloon. I got my ride on Saturday, the first day of the Balloon Fiesta! What a thrilling experience!

The balloon is named Zipper and is owned by a husband-and-wife team, Pilot Luc (pronounced “Luke”) Goethals and Crew Chief Loren Goethals. Luc is from Belgium and has flown balloons in six countries: Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States. Loren is from Texas, and they now live in from Richardson, Texas.


The envelope is a standard shape and holds 105,000 cu. ft. of air.


Don and I served on a 4-person crew with two other volunteers. It took us over 45 minutes to drive to the launch field in the morning, leaving our motorhome at 5:45 am, because of tremendously heavy traffic. (I hope that will diminish after the weekend.) We were told by the organizers to arrive at 6:15. Still, we arrived before the owners and other crew members. Since ‘our’ balloon wasn’t assigned to depart in the first wave, we took the time for Luc to give us some instruction about handling the basket, burners, envelope and other equipment. While there are similarities in every balloon, every pilot has his/her own way of doing things. While we waited our turn, we stood by and watched other balloonists nearby inflating and launching their balloons.


Sometimes it got a little tight between envelopes!


When it was our turn, we started inflating the envelope then had a slight delay to hold off, as instructed by the “Zebra” (referee, dressed in black/white stripes). A balloon that was in our takeoff path had to finish getting aloft first.


Don held the envelope open while it was being filled with air.


Luc walked into the partially inflated balloon to check things out.


We finally departed at 8:37 am. Here are some views from aloft. Everything on the launch field below quickly started to look very small!


Don drove the chase vehicle, a Land Rover pulling a cargo trailer, seen below in the center.


We flew 5.36 miles in 57.24 minutes, with a max altitude of 6,371 ft. (starting at almost 5,000 ft.). The only sound I heard was when Luc turned on the burners to heat the air as he expertly controlled the altitude of the balloon. The sights I saw while aloft were simply amazing. The sky was filled with balloons!


Some of the special shapes were still on the ground being prepared for launch with lots of spectators hovering close, like ants returning to their Queen!


The bee couple launched but left their baby behind!


I spotted the baby flying solo the next day. I hope this isn’t indicative of a disfunctional family! (Notice the blue, red and purple antennae, noses and feet to identify each bee.)


Some of the balloons accomplished a “Splash and Dash” in the Rio Grande.


Here’s our shadow next to the reflection of another balloon hovering close to the river.


Kayakers watched from a superb vantage point. Maybe we should do that one of these days instead of crewing.


Pilot Luc found a spot in a neighborhood where we could land. It was toward the street on the right in this picture, the last one I took before preparing for impact. Some landings can be a little rough; ours was a soft landing, although in the middle of desert brush.


Don and the chase crew arrived within minutes and walked the basket out to the street. Francisco, a college student at UNM, seen on the left below, lives in the area and was very helpful as navigator to direct Don to drive directly to us on back roads.


We packed up the envelope and loaded everything back into the trailer. Then Luc and Loren brought out champagne, sodas, water and snacks for a little post-flight celebration.




Later we returned to the launch field, bought dinner from the various food vendors, and watched the sunset.


We brought our folding chairs and got comfortable for the Evening “Glow.” Balloons were inflated and lighted in sequence, but didn’t launch.


Still later there were fireworks and then the special gas balloons were launched to fly on a several-day competition in the 16th Annual Challenge Race.


What a magical day!


  1. Thanks so much for's been on my bucket list for a lot of years, too. The photos are amazing!!

  2. Super post...I enjoyed every word and every picture of your marvelous adventure. A magical day, indeed.

  3. Wow, what a treat! Both for you and for all of us who get to see the festival from the sky. Wonderful wonderful photos and story. Congrats on your amazing ride.

  4. Indeed, a magical day! Congrats! Not sure I could go there, but, so glad you got your dream to come true.

  5. That is just amazing! Wonderful photos, and what an amazing journey! On my bucket list, too.

  6. Great blog. Now you know why we got so hooked on this event. Okay, when do you plan to wipe that grin off your face?

  7. Really nice pics! Only ride I've had was on my brother's solo balloon taking off from my Dad's farm. The quiet floating 100s of ft above the is inspiring. Cattle on ther ground got spooked, must have thought we were from outer space. Lucky you though, because we had a windy landing. Kinda hairy.

  8. Great post and fantastic photos! All those balloons up in the air would be enough to drive an Air Traffic Controller nuts!!

  9. Oh my gosh - loved the pictures. What an adventure for you!!!! Someday when Richard and I move to New Mexico, we'll meet you at the festival!

  10. Great post and wonderful pictures. We attended this event many years ago, before we became Boomers. Now we will have to make it a point to return and do it right - like you did!


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