The inaugural Balloon Fiesta was held in 1972 by the local radio station 770 KOB Radio as the highlight of the station’s 50th birthday celebration. Radio station manager Dick McKee asked Sid Cutter, the first person to own a hot air balloon in Albuquerque, if the station could use his balloon as part of the festivities. McKee, Cutter and Oscar Kratz started to discuss ballooning, and at some point McKee asked about the world’s largest gathering of hot air balloons. At that time, this record was held by England with 19 balloons. Cutter agreed to try to get 19 balloons for KOB, but some pilots failed to arrive in time due to bad weather, and the first fiesta that took place on April 8, 1972 featured 13 balloons.
The next year, Albuquerque hosted the first World Hot-Air Balloon Championships. In 1975, the fiesta was moved to October in order to correspond with the championships. Over the years, the festival has considerably expanded and now features a lot of special events such as the traditional balloon rally.
Today, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest balloon convention. In 2000, the festival gathered 1,019 balloons. This prompted the board to limit the number of participating balloons, choosing quality over quantity. Since 2009, the limit has been 600 balloons.
The festival lasts for nine days, each of them filled with unique and exciting events. Each night a number of balloons take off before sunrise. They are known as the Dawn Patrol. Dawn Patrol pilots fly until it is light enough to see landing sites. The Dawn Patrol is appreciated by fellow pilots because it allows them to get an early idea of wind directions and speeds at various altitudes.
One of the main attractions of the fiesta is Mass Ascensions. All participating balloons launch almost simultaneously, filling the sky. To prevent accidents, launch directors, also known as “zebras” because of their striped uniforms, coordinate the launch.
Uniquely shaped balloons are launched during the Special Shape Rodeo. Some of the most famous shapes include a soda pop can, twin bees, and a milk cow. Other special events and competitions held at the fiesta include the Fiesta Challenge, America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race, the Flight of the Nations Mass Ascension, and other speed, skill and piloting competitions