When we arrived at the camping area I was really bummed out as we followed the golf cart into the RV parking area. We drove further and further away from the balloon launch area, past hundreds, nay, thousands, of RVs. When we were directed to our parking spot we were the last RV in the row, as far as one could get from the activities. Our rig was about 1/2 mile from the road. And this was supposed to be a 'premium' site! Geesh!
- Balloons travel with the wind. The winds in Albuquerque will sometimes allow balloonists to ride a 'box', where balloons can go one direction, change altitude and ride the wind in the opposite direction, returning close to their launch site.
- Balloonists can not see above them. The pilots carry whistles to alert balloon pilots below them as to their position.
- Balloons will often lightly bump against each other during the Fiesta because there are so many of them in the air. When they bump it is called 'kissing'.
- The burners are powered by propane. The tanks are much like those we use for our gas grills, but they must be FAA approved, and thus cost much more. There are 3 or 4 tanks in the gondolas.
- Balloons can stay aloft about 2 hours. Less time if the weather is hot, more time if the weather is chilly.
- Most pilots use traditional wicker gondola baskets. The wicker is strong and allows for flexibility. If they weren't flexible, they might crack or break due to a rough landing. The gondolas range in size from two-man (three if you are very cozy) triangular shaped gondolas, to large rectangular gondolas that can carry 6-8 people, or even more.
- The 'envelope' is made of ripstop nylon. The smallest are about 20,000 cubic feet and about 5 stories tall. Balloons can go up to 500,000 cubic feet and 16 stories tall. The balloons weigh hundreds of pounds. Launch crews do not handle the balloon with their bare hands as the oils cause the nylon to break down faster.
- Balloons can fly with holes in them. FAA regulations require that any hole larger than the size of your thumb be repaired. It costs about $100 for a small repair.
- At minimum, balloonists carry an altimeter, a rate of climb instrument and thermometers to measure the temperature inside and outside of the balloon. There are "aps" for iPads and iPhones that allow chase crews and pilots to communicate with ease. I asked how pilots might know about variations in wind speed above or below them. They can only judge winds by what other balloons are doing as well as by using a "spitometer" which helps indicate wind currents below the basket. Oh, the pilots may also carry shaving cream or popcorn to test wind directions below, in case they run out of fuel for the spitometer!
- Ballooning falls under FAA regulation. The equipment must be inspected annually. Pilots must be licensed.
- Rate of ascent is controlled by the burner, and possibly by jettisoning ballast. Descent occurs when the balloon cools, and by opening vents. The top of the balloon has an opening with a parachute-like valve in it (seen in picture below). Once the balloon has landed, a line pulls the parachute away from the envelope allowing the hot air to escape and the balloon to deflate.
- We were encouraged to help pilots and their crew. We were told that as a balloon comes down, we should ask the pilot if he wants us to "lean on"to help stop the basket, and secure it until the chase crew arrives. In the picture below, the Dreamers are leaning on.
After hearing the pilot's presentation I was beginning to get excited about our coming adventure. But, not nearly as excited as I was the next morning, when I discovered just why we were parked in the south 40. It turns out that the wind patterns take the balloons right over our camping area! This picture shows "Cinderella's Coach" on the left, with balloons heading our way. We enjoyed this scenery seven of the eight mornings we were at the fiesta. (One morning the balloons couldn't launch as it was too windy.)
At the end of the row of RV's in the picture above, you might notice an open area. (It is the rectangle marked with an X in the map I included showing where we were parked.) That is a field that was used for targets during competitions, and for landing by many balloons. It was just a hop, skip and jump from our home on wheels. However, there were times when the fickle wind took pilots off their intended course, and they chose to land amongst our RV's! Here, Mr. Wizard's pilot, adroitly put down in a vacated RV parking spot, and used the roadway to take down his balloon.
And, here is another, just behind Cinderella's Coach! How's that for a front row seat?!
I'll be writing more about the Fiesta in future posts...