SW Aviator Magazine - August/September 1999 issue
Flying into the Millennium
by Diane Kay
What will the sport of hot air ballooning be like in the next millennium? More specifically, what changes will occur for the pilots, crew members, and fans—and the Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta?

Perhaps a few predictions can be made based on recent trends:

Shapes will change more than basic systems.

Everybody loves the special shaped balloons that float with smug absurdity over Albuquerque every October. It seems logical that the number of special shapes will increase and become more creative as time passes. Maybe we will see shapes that change in flight. For example, animals with moving feet would be a big hit. Anything theatrical that will make people take notice is sure to be considered a good drawing card by sponsors of the KAIBF.

We are already seeing a few special shapes with blinking lights. There will be more of this, along with laser shows, music, and big, costumed production numbers. If you think this sounds crazy, just wait a few decades and see.

The basic equipment of balloons will probably stay about the same. Consider the systems used to heat the balloons. Today, pilots use propane systems to create the hot air that gives the balloons their lift. When you think about it, there is not much that can be improved upon in this area. Balloons will never be equipped with nuclear power, nor will batteries do the trick.

Technology can only advance up to a point in this sport. After all, people who really want to use high tech equipment in aviation are probably doing so in the cockpit of a stealth fighter. Ballooning is a bit of an anachronism, and will remain so. Some purists today even pursue reenactments of the early days of ballooning by giving demonstrations of “smokies,” the original smoke filled bags of rising air.

If anything in the way of systems is to change, it will probably be in the addition of a propulsion system. The next millennium may bring us hybrid aircraft borne of blimp and balloon marriages. At the last KAIBF, there were demonstrations of fan-powered paragliders. It is not a giant leap of imagination to think that someone could attach a fan to a hot air balloon. It would undoubtedly change the Federal Aviation Regulations over time.

But still, hot air balloons in their present form will continue to thrive. They are not built for serious travel, but for serious fun and freedom. The simplicity of their purpose will continue to attract people to the sport.

Balloonists will adapt to a new Albuquerque.

Every year, pilots at Fiesta bemoan the loss of more landing sites as the city of Albuquerque builds and grows. Vacant lots are replaced by businesses on a daily basis. A certain amount of open space is required to land a balloon safely, and on a windy morning, even more space is needed to bring the gentle giants to a stop. Every year more pilots come to Fiesta, and every year, there are fewer places for them to land.

The basic math in this situation tells us that one of three things will probably happen:

  1. A) More ballooning accidents will occur.
  2. B) Either by choice or by regulation, balloon pilots will only fly on near-perfect days. (Not very likely to happen.)
  3. C) The number of pilots flying from Fiesta field will be severely limited.

The most likely scenario for the future is 1, unfortunately, followed by 3.

The typical Fiesta of the next millennium will probably have fewer pilots, but there will be more TV coverage and more money at stake. Perhaps only commercial pilots with high-powered sponsors will be invited to participate. Competition will become fierce in high-stakes flying contests. The pilots who just fly for fun might be exiled to the dirt launch sites out in the neighboring city of Rio Rancho.

Whatever the future holds, the sport will continue to flourish. Perhaps we will tell stories to our great-grandchildren about the days gone by when a thousand balloons filled the air over Albuquerque and we were there to see it.

Diane Kay is an Albuquerque balloon pilot and freelance writer.

The Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will take place October 2-10, 1999 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Balloon Fiesta has grown from 13 balloons and 10,000 spectators gathering in the parking lot of a shopping mall twenty seven years ago to nearly 900 balloons and over a million spectators anticipated this year. It has become the world‘s most photographed event.

Three airports serve the city of Albuquerque, and each offers its own advantage.

Albuquerque International (ABQ) has multiple facilities and numerous runway choices, but lies on the opposite end of the city from the action.

Coronado Airport (4AC) is located directly next to the Balloon Fiesta Park, offering great views, but a somewhat troubling traffic pattern when balloons are aloft.

Double Eagle Airport (AEG) boasts modern facilities, excellent runway conditions and a great west-side view of this colorful annual event.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.