The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a gathering that draws in crowds from around the world. Here, you’ll revel in the beauty of colorful balloons speckled across the magnificent New Mexico autumn skyline. So, prepare for blue skies, crisp air, and beautiful balloons at The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta taking place from October 7th to 15th.

What is The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?

 

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta above a parking lot

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The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a world-renowned attraction and destination for visitors of all ages. For more than four decades, the first week in October is something that every New Mexican looks forward to. In fact, guests from all over the world come to Albuquerque to celebrate hot-air ballooning. The Albuquerque Internation Balloon Fiesta comes from modest beginnings with the first festival taking place in 1972 with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot.

 

Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque New Mexico

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Today, the event has grown into a full-blown 9-day event launching from the custom-designed, 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. With over 500 balloons, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot ballooning and most photographed event on the planet. It’s also the largest international event held in the United States.¬†Imagine 54 football fields, all our together. That’s the size of Balloon Fiesta Park’s 78-acre launch field. Additionally, at this Park’s “playing field”, there are no losing teams and no viewing stands. Guests walk the field and are part of the action.

Special Shape Rodeo

 

The Special Shape Rodeo started in 1989 and has become the most popular event at the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Since the inception of this event, many events around the world have now added similar special shape events to their program. The first Special Shape Rodeo balloons launched on Thursday and Friday afternoons were lucky enough to fly both days. This event was such a success that it created major traffic jams and produced huge crowds. Twenty-eight shapes participated in the first event and the Special Shape Rodeo was on solid ground, The Shape Rodeo grew each year with 35 shapes in 1990, 45 shapes in1991, 62 shapes from eight different countries in 1992, and a whopping 108 in 1996, the largest special shape Rodeo to date.

 

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Special Shape Rodeo

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In 1993, the Special Shape Rodeo added a third flight that would take place on Thursday morning, and by 1998, Special Shapes were so popular that they were the only balloons to launch from the field on Thursday and Friday mornings and glow from the field on the same evenings. This totals four events dedicated to strictly Special Shapes. The Shapes Glow has come to be called the Special Shape Glowdeo.

Balloon Glows

 

Balloon Glow at The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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The events now known as Balloon Glows were invented in Albuquerque in 1979 when local pilots inflated balloons on Christmas Eve night as a thank-you to local residents. The sight of balloons lit from within at night like giant holiday ornaments was breathtaking. As a result, glow events are now held all over the world. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta launched its Balloon Glow, the world’s biggest, in 1987. The most spectacular moment in the entirety of the Ballon Fiesta is the Balloon Glow all burns. This is when all of the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time. The Balloon Glows, followed by New Mexico’s most spectacular fireworks displays, are now among Balloon Fiesta’s most popular events.

Gordon Bennett

 

Gordon Bennet Hot Air Balloons on the Balloon Fiesta Park Field in Albuquerque New Mexico

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This year, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will be hosting the 66th Gordon Bennett. Dating back more than 100 years, the Gordon Bennett race is the premier gas balloon distance race. As a result, this event attracts some of the most experienced and distinguished pilot teams from around the world. This legendary race is often compared to the America’s Cup Yacht Race for the endurance necessary to compete and win.

 

Artwork of James Gordon Bennett Jr

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While the mission of the race is simple, executing that mission is anything but easy. The winning team is the one that flies the farthest distance from the launch site. But, determination alone won’t carry a team to victory. Physical resistance, mental strength, strong morale, and incredible knowledge of winds and weather are the keys to taking home the cup. The race is named after James Gordon Bennett Jr., who founded the International Herald Tribune and was a great sponsor of air sports. At The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, each country is allowed to enter its three best teams to the Gordon Bennett.

America’s Challenge

 

Gas Hot Air Balloons in America's Challenge at The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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The America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race is one of the world’s two premier distance races for gas balloons. It is modeled after the aforementioned Gordon Bennett, the world’s oldest air race, and the world championships for distance gas ballooning. The competition is simple. The team that travels the farthest distance wins. America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race was founded by The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 1995 through the vision and efforts of Mark Sullivan. Mark Sullivan is the former Balloon Fiesta president and recipient of the Montgolfier Diploma, one of ballooning’s highest honors.

The Dawn Patrol

 

The Dawn Patrol at The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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The Dawn Patrol began at Balloon Fiesta in 1978 when two California balloonists developed position lighting systems that allowed them to fly at night. Dawn Patrol pilots take off in the dark and fly until it is light enough to see the landing sights. Fellow balloonists appreciate the Dawn Patrol because they can watch the balloons and get an early idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes. On mass ascension days, about a dozen Dawn Patrol balloons perform the Dawn Patrol Show, a choreographed inflation and launch set to music that had been part of The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta since 1996. Dawn Patrol inflation begins, weather permitting, at around 5:45 a.m., with the launch taking place around 6:00 a.m.

Competition Tasks

 

Fly in Task

Fly In Task Diagram

 

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During the Fly in Task, competitors find their own launch area at a minimum and maximum distance from the target and attempt to drop a marker close to a target set by the Balloon Meister. The target will be placed on the Launch Field.

Judge Declared Goal

Judge Declared Goal Diagram

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During the Judge Declared Goal, competitors use available surface and upper-level winds to navigate and attempt to drop a marker or achieve a track point close to a goal selected by the Balloon Meister. Pilots generally have to fly at least 1 mile to a target designated on a Balloon Fiesta Pilot Map.

Multiple Judge Declared Goal

Multiple Judge Declared Goal Illustration

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During the Multiple Judge Declared Goal, competitors use available surface and upper-level winds to navigate and attempt to drop a marker close to one of several goals selected by the Balloon Meister. Pilots generally have to fly at least 1 mile to a target designated on the Balloon Fiesta Pilot Map. The pilot does not have to declare his goal in advance.

Minimum Distance Double Drop

Minimum Distance Double Drop Illustration

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During the Minimum Distance Double Drop, competitors attempt to drop two markers close together in different scoring areas. The scoring areas are frequently geometric designs laid out on Balloon Fiesta Park. Valid marks must be achieved in each scoring area or the competitor will receive no result. The shortest distance between the two markers is best.

 

Gordon Bennett Memorial

Gordon Bennet Memorial Illustration

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The Gordon Bennett Memorial requires the competitor to drop a marker in a defined scoring area (often a geometric or unusual shape) adjacent to the defined goal. The target is generally outside of the scoring area. The objective is to drop the marker inside the defined or outlined scoring area (illustrated by a cactus shape in the image above) as close as possible to the target. Markers dropping outside the area, even if closer to the target, receive no result.

Music Fiesta

 

Music Fiesta at The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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In addition to the sight of spectacular air balloons, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is home to amazing musical artists. This year, you can expect amazing performances from guest artists Brandon Saiz, Runaway June, and Lee Brice. The Music Fiesta takes place on Saturday, October 14th, with performances playing from 1-4 p.m.

Chainsaw Carving

 

Chainsaw Carving Exhibition at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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Chainsaw sculptures are a relatively new art form that has gained popularity all over the world. The delicate ballet that carvers perform with a powerful chainsaw is mesmerizing. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Chainsaw Carving Exhibition is located at the North end of Balloon Fiesta Park. Guests and spectators will have the opportunity to take one of the beautiful carvings home with them as a wonderful souvenir. There will be a live auction held at each exhibition and additional carvings will be available for purchase every day. So, come and see what all the buzz and chips flying is all about!

Balloon Discovery Center

 

Balloon Fiesta Park International Balloon Museum

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Each year at The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, balloon enthusiasts can get a hands-on experience to learn about the sport and science of ballooning. Additionally, visitors get a behind-the-scenes look at Balloon Fiesta event operations. Located at the north end of Balloon Fiesta Park, the PNC Bank Balloon Discovery Center draws more than 30,000 visitors of all ages each year.¬†Admission to the Balloon Discovery Center is free once you are inside the Balloon Fiesta Gates. The Ballon Discovery Center is open from 6 a.m.-11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.-7 p.m. each day of the festival. Interactive exhibits illustrate the principles of lighter-than-air flight, the history of the sport, and the safety aspects of ballooning. A hot air balloon exhibit has a basket in which kids can “burn” the burners and simulate a balloon flight. So, be sure to visit the Balloon Discover Center.

 

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