Thursday, October 6, 2011

Special Shape Balloons

Special Shape Balloons were scheduled to compete in a Rodeo today. However, high winds prevented any balloons from flying. So the special shape balloon pilots were asked to merely inflate their balloons for viewing on the launch field. The result was a little chaotic, with balloons battling not only the winds but also each other as they were inflated. I counted as many as 12 balloons in the picture below!


Our pilot helped hold down the basket for one of, if not the, largest of the special shape balloons, the turtle, owned by some friends of his from Belgium.


The envelope of this balloon is so big it was hard to get it all in one picture.



The turtle has lots of extra appendages, including arms, hands with fingers, a ball cap (turned backwards), a bow tie, and sneakers with shoelaces. Every piece has to be inflated. When the wind picked up, the balloon began swaying side-to-side and a few people got pushed by the feet!


I hadn’t seen the clock fly, so I got the best picture I could of it. Then I noticed that Mama Bee, in the foreground, was sporting a pink Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon.



This balloon has three monkey faces: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil."


Here are more special shape balloons, both from this morning’s struggling efforts and from other days when they flew.



The turtle seems to be talking to the bear.





Monday, October 3, 2011

Balloon Fiesta Sets World Record

Little did I realize when I was marveling about being in a hot air balloon on Saturday, rising so quickly and quietly above the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta launch field, that I was taking part in setting a new Guinness World Record! As announced several places, including the Sacramento Bee, 345 hot air balloons were launched in one hour, breaking the previous record of 329 set in France earlier in 2011.

I must apologize for publishing a picture of the wrong balloon in my previous blog post. The Zipper, in which I was a passenger, is below in a picture provided by the pilot.

I thought I spotted it in the sky the day after my balloon ride, but I picked the wrong one. The one below is similar, but definitely not right!


Anyway, thanks to Pilot Luc Goethals who set me right, with apologies for my mistake! (He’s already forgiven me.)

Today began with commercial balloons lining up to inflate and ascend with paying passengers.



The American Flag was flown by the Folgers balloon while the Star Spangled Banner was sung. What a moving way to inspire participants!


We didn’t get to fly the Zipper today because we were missing some members of our team. So we watched a flying competition where balloonists tried to toss rings over very tall poles (for a $4,000 cash prize and a chance to win $100,000 if they repeat it for 4 days) and throw flags to land in a boat (thus winning the boat). The boat was won, and one balloonist won the $4,000.

Here’s an attempt to get a ring tossed on a pole.


This picture shows an attempt to land a flag in the boat.


After watching so many balloonists trying to hit the targets, I really appreciated how difficult the competition was!

We met several “Zebras” (Launch Directors) today. If you’re interested in learning more about these dedicated volunteers, check out the Zebra Zone on the Balloon Fiesta website.


Mike, one of the Zebras, came to talk with Luc about whether he was going to launch today. I noticed he wore a Breast Cancer Awareness cap and several buttons and ribbons. When I told him I was a survivor, he gave me a “Save the Ta-Tas” button and a big hug!


Later, I met Debbie who discussed health and cancer survival, and she also hugged me and showed off all her Zebra attire, including a special manicure!


Here are some more balloon sights for your enjoyment.



The bee family flew together today!






Lookout! Here I come! (The landing missed all the people, amazingly.)



During happy hour this evening, a member of our Escapees Boomers group, Linda Wheeler, entertained us by singing several songs.


We called it an early evening with a light supper at home so we can get up early in the morning to get to the launch field by 6:15 am.

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!