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Sun Flyer Balloon Log

2014 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Pilots: Frank Bacon and Josh Bacon

by Frank Bacon

The balloon fiesta, the 40th time for me to participate, began on Friday for us with the Albuquerque Aloft flight from Los Ranchos Elementary School. Albuquerque Aloft flights launch from elementary schools all around Albuquerque as a way to advertise the balloon fiesta to the residents and to introduce ballooning to the elementary school students at Albuquerque Public schools. We always launch from Los Ranchos Elementary because students from this school helped us design the Sun Flyer balloon in 1996. From their suggestions we came up with the Zia design and the name of Sun Flyer .

Josh piloted the balloon with Shannon and Dianna as passengers. During balloon fiesta, we try to fly as many of our balloon crew as possible who have helped us through the year in launching and chasing the balloon. It is always good to have an experienced crew member on board to help look for other balloons in the area and help the pilot watch for obstacles when flying low and landing. Josh flew low over the North Valley for over an hour with a Splash and Dash touch down in the Rio Grande and final landing on the west side of the river near Coors and Montano.

Saturday was the first official day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta with a mass ascension of all 500-plus balloons from Balloon Fiesta Park. I piloted the balloon with passengers Kathy and Debbie, two loyal crew members. The winds were very light out of the northwest, so we drifted over the city where there are very few big landing spots, but many small ones such as parking lots or a few vacant lots. Since the wind was light, about 3-4 knots, we were able to land in a small parking lot for Wise Pies pizza on Alameda Blvd. near I-25, after a flight of 0.6 hr. A crew for a balloon from Missouri helped us land, and our crew showed up a few minutes later to help deflate and pack up the balloon.

After our flight and breakfast burritos back on the field, several of the crew and I went to a meeting of the Balloon Federation of America where three other pilots and I were presented an Ed Yost Master Pilot Award for Forty Years of Aviation Excellence in the Sport of Ballooning. I am thankful that the forty years have been safe in a sport with inherent risks; we have had lots of fun with several hundred safe flights.

Sunday was scheduled to be another mass ascension from the park, but winds were too high for launch," so flights were canceled for the day. But we had signed up for Balloon Glow on Sunday evening where balloons inflate on the field but don't fly. Instead the pilots fire the balloon burners to illuminate the inside of the inflated balloon and make the balloon "glow" in the dark. This is a spectacular event with about 100 balloons glowing in the dark and a popular event with the public and the crew.

Sunday evening's glow was about the best I can remember, and Josh kept the balloon glowing for about 45 min. A spectacular fireworks display closed out the evening.

Josh and I had signed up to participate in competitive events, and Monday was the first day of competition. In these events, the pilot picks a launch site at least one mile from the balloon field with the idea of flying over the field and dropping a marker on a target marked by an "X". Points are awarded based on how close the marker is to the target. The pilots with the most points accumulated over the week of competition win some very nice prizes, like a new pickup truck or new balloon for the top pilot.

With the wind blowing from the northwest, Josh chose a launch site in Corrales at the Corrales Elementary School, appropriately located on Target Rd. John went along as his passenger and crew member. Having picked a good line, drifting across the Rio Grande and catching the northern flow of air across the field, they dropped a marker 135 ft. from the target and finished 57th out of 228 pilots competing. They made a notable landing on the southern end of the balloon park in front of hundreds of spectators after a 30 min. flight.

Sun Flyer
Sun Flyer

Tuesday was another day of competition. With the wind again coming from the northwest, I picked a launch site just west of Corrales Elementary School near the Rio Grande. The competition on Tuesday was the Sid Cutter Memorial Competition where the pilot tried to drop a marker inside a rectangle about 4 ft by 6 ft, or inside a small boat located on the field. Jerry accompanied me on the one-hour flight, but our marker landed about 10 or 20 ft. outside the rectangle, so we did not win any points; only 45 pilots out of 288 were able to score. Again, we landed on the southern end of the balloon park. We feel any day we can pilot the balloon over the field from over a mile away is a successful flight. As old balloon pilots say, "Winning is 90 per cent luck, and 10 per cent pilot error."

Golden Girls
Golden Girls

Wednesday was Flight of the Nations Day honoring international pilots. All balloons took off from the field in a mid-week mass ascension. Targets were set up one mile away from the field for competing pilots, but the score was not part of the overall competition. The wind was fickle that day, and Josh and Scott saw the target but were unable to drop their marker. Only four pilots scored out of 288 competing. After making a Splash and Dash in the Rio Grande, Josh landed in a residential area in the north valley after a one-hour flight with the aid of some "mature" ladies in their house coats who came out to help land the balloon; we referred to them as the "Golden Girls". They were a lots of fun who made memorable a very nice flight and landing.

Thursday was another day of competition. Due to early winds, the flights were delayed for about one hour, and the competition was modified such that competing balloons took off away from the field, but instead of dropping a marker on the field, the targets were located off the field. The requirement for the pilot was to launch at least a mile from the target. The wind was very light out of the northeast, so I and several other pilots chose a launch site northeast of the field near Roy Rd. and I-25. Lisa came along as a crew member. Unfortunately the wind shifted right after takeoff to the southeast and we drifted considerable north of our target. We attempted to land on the west side of the Rio Grande, but all attempts to land there and not land on the Sandia Indian reservation failed, so land on the reservation we did. This meant the crew had a hard time getting to us because of restrictions for getting the balloon vehicle and crew on the reservation.

After flying for over an hour and a half and landing and standing up the balloon for about 20 min on the Rio Grande levee, we finally had to deflate the balloon as the wind blew the balloon off the levee into some bushes by a canal. Fortunately, a police official from the reservation was standing by, and she helped pull the envelope off the bushes before it totally collapsed. The crew finally was able to make it to the balloon, and with the aid of another policeman from the reservation and his pickup truck, we were able to get the gondola up on the levee and into the trailer. Again, another memorable flight that Lisa and I will remember as one of our many landings on the reservation. It seems that most of our flights together end up on the reservation where recovery of the balloon is a challenge for the crew. Only 22 pilots out of 288 were able to score, so we were not alone in our failure to pick a good launch site.

Friday was the final day of competition, and Josh again chose a launch site on Target Rd. in Corrales just west of the Rio Grande since the wind was out of the northwest. Shannon accompanied him on the flight, but again the wind was a bit fickle, and Josh flew slightly west of the field and landed on a vacant lot south of Balloon Fiesta Park after a flight of about three-quarters of an hour. Twenty-one out of 255 pilots were able to score, so Josh was not alone in his frustration.

Saturday was a mass ascension day from the field. The weather was beautiful with a light wind out of the southeast. Dianna and Sabrina accompanied me on the flight; this was Sabrina?s first balloon flight as she was visiting her sister Twila and Shannon from Iowa. My goal was to do a Splash and Dash in the Rio Grande and land on the west side of the river in Corrales trying to avoid the problems with landing on the Sandia Indian reservation. We did do a beautiful splash and long dash in the river, but the wind and the course of the river were such that we again landed on the reservation near the spot where we had landed earlier in the week. This time I was fortunate enough to land in a pasture instead of on the river levee. We were accompanied by dozens of other balloons, so we stood in the gondola for quite a while with the balloon inflated so the crew would be able to spot us. This was quite a site as we watched numerous beautiful balloons land between us and the railroad tracks, with some landing on the tracks causing the "Railrunner" train to considerably reduce its speed as crew removed balloons from its path. After standing up the balloon for about 20 min., I decided to go ahead and deflate it as the wind began to blow us slightly toward the river. The crew finally were able to reach us, and the balloon and its passengers were retrieved. Scott had mounted his GoPro cameras on the balloon, and the flight can be viewed on YouTube at:Flight video (click me!!). The GoPro cameras have contributed some beautiful records of our balloon flights during Fiestas over the past three years.

As usual, we had our crew party Saturday evening to honor and thank our crew who over the year and during the Balloon Fiesta make ballooning possible and so much fun. We had over 30 guests and enjoyed their company along with an enchilada dinner and drinks appropriate for adults and children with ages ranging from three years to the eighth decade.

Sunday was my 75th birthday, and again a mass ascension of the balloons was scheduled from Balloon Fiesta Park. Unfortunately, the winds were up and we were unable to fly, but Josh and the crew did a great job inflating the balloon and standing it up for a few minutes in a very brisk wind. We were anxious to at least inflate the balloon because Cindy's sister, Elyse, and her family were visiting from Memphis and Atlanta. Several other balloons were also able to inflate, so the Balloon Fiesta was not all together a disappointment for our visitors.


The 43rd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and my 40th to participate, was a great success where we were able to fly eight out of the ten days with beautiful flights and safe landings. We finished in 71st place out of 285 pilots who completed competition, so our piloting skills were reasonably competitive, thanks to Josh's ability to score on the first day and both of our abilities to fly without getting any penalties for rule violations. As has been the case for many Fiestas, John provided his short bus, and Paul his trailer for the Fiesta; John's driving adds another dimension to the Fiesta that keeps the crew safe but constantly alert for sudden turns and stops. Humor and banter with the crew are constant sources of entertainment on the bus.

So with the hopes for another year of ballooning, safe landings, and good health, we plan to participate again next year at the 44th Annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

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