From the 2nd till the 10th of October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will create an enchanted world of special-shaped balloon rodeos, twilight balloon glows, and vibrant balloon-filled skies. Brisk autumn mornings in the Rio Grande Valley are expected to bring an otherworldly backdrop for the breathtaking majesty of the most popular event: the Mass Ascension of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Albuquerque’s first Balloon Fiesta was held in 1972 when a group of 13 hot-air ballooners gathered in the parking lot of a shopping mall to launch their whimsical aircraft. 2021 will mark the 49th time that the Balloon Fiesta has filled Albuquerque’s crystal blue skies. The Balloon Fiesta is the premier international ballooning event, powered by the perfect October climate and a phenomenon called the “Albuquerque Box,” (a combination of weather patterns and geographic landscape, the box allows balloonists to control and even retrace their adventure).
A 360-acre park, the Balloon Fiesta Park includes 100 acres of grass and booths that will be filled with balloons and concessions. During the 2019 event, Balloon Fiesta launched more than 580 hot air and gas-filled balloons. The event also hosted pilots representing 17 countries and more than 80 food and merchandise vendors. It’s been said that the breakfast burrito, the perfect grab and go meal for the pilots, gained its prominence at Balloon Fiesta.
Mass Ascension, a launch of all the participating balloons, has been a feature of Balloon Fiesta since its earliest days and is the most spectacular display of sound and color in all of aviation. During mass ascensions, balloons launch in two waves. Launch directors, also known as zebras because of their black-and-white-striped outfits, serve as traffic cops, coordinating the launch so balloons leave the field in a safe and coordinated manner. Weather permitting, balloons begin to launch at about 7:00 AM on mass ascension days, led by a balloon flying the American flag to the strains of The Star Spangled Banner.
The 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 is breathtaking and glow events are now held all over the world. Balloon Fiesta launched its Balloon Glow, the world’s biggest, in 1987.
Balloon Glow all burns, when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time are perhaps the most spectacular single moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. The Balloon Glows, followed by New Mexico’s most spectacular fireworks displays, are now among Balloon Fiesta’s most popular events.
America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race is one of the world’s two premier distance races for gas balloons. It is modeled after the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett (the world’s oldest air race, and the world championships for distance gas ballooning), but it differs from the older event in allowing balloons from all countries, without limits on the number of entries from each. The team that travels the longest distance wins. With the rescheduling of the 49th Balloon Fiesta to 2021, the 2021 America’s Challenge event is now scheduled for October 2, 2021.
Since 1989, the festival’s Special Shape Rodeos have spotlighted the event’s most unique balloons, which in the past have been modeled after everything from killer whales to firetrucks to Yoda. On Thursday and Friday nights, these balloons also get their own Balloon Glow, or Glowdeo. Those unable to join in will able to live stream the event.