1999 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Added 2008-Apr-28 | See PPG History

The sport was only 8 years old in the U.S. and there had been only one sizely gathering of pilots, the Baja gathering in 1996. I was flying every chance I could get and gaining proficiency on my Fly Products 75 and Apco Santana wing. I had no idea how hard that wing was to inflate—it was my only experience.

Some people on the OneList Pilots PPG Club offered up that they were going to organize a gathering of large proportions and parade us around the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta—a huge deal already for balloon pilots. The whole idea sounded cool and I signed up. Plus it would be fascinating to meet these people who were, at that point, just names on a computer screen. Yes, in 1999, we had computers. Remember Hal? He came only two years later!

Not wanting to deal with transporting my paramotor via airline, I packed the little Fly 75 into the Bonanza and flew out there myself. On its own this flight was great but, given the anticipation, it was even better.

There was only one problem. I didn't know if my motor would be powerful enough to lift me. Albuquerque is at 5000 feet above sea level and my tiny motor wasn't very pushy to begin with. Would it be enough?

The little airport I landed at was near the flying field. Someone was kind enough to fetch me, probably Michelle Danielle. She and her husband Jerry Daniele turned out to be among my favorite people.

Details of the flight escape me but I remember being particularly ecstatic to find myself airborne. Both because I managed to make the no-wind launch before many onlookers and because I knew that I'd be flying at the event—my motor was indeed powerful enough.

The rest of the event is now blurred by 9 years of life. A few things do stand out, though.

1. I saw what the craft was capable of during one breezy day when few were flying. We were on the main balloon field and some French guy was alighting on tires, stopping to kite for a few seconds then moving to the next one. I tried and couldn't do it. Hmmmm. I need to learn that level of control, I thought. Of course the Frenchman turned out to be Eric Dufour.

2. The sport was full of characters then just like it is today. It seems the attraction to this type of flying brings out many strong personalities.

3. I was introduced to the Top 80 powered Miniplane and couldn't believe how lightweight and quiet it was. Such a tiny motor that had more thrust than my little direct drive, at seemingly a fraction of the volume and the same weight. I wasn't into huge thrust and loved the weight. Local pilot Boris was letting others fly the machine but I was too new and, even if it was offered, would have been reluctant. His was one of only two examples in the country. I'm not an early adopter so figured it wasn't for me until if and when someone started supporting it.

4. I met another pilot, who would become very influential, Alan Chuculate. His affable demeanor and great skill was immediately appealing. His wife Mary was a lot of fun and we all got along very well. There would be many trips with these folks who added so much to my life and experience with the sport. Within a year, I traveled with Alan and Mary and watched Alan kite up a mountain road. I vowed to learn that. Probably 3 years later, and many, many tries, I finally did it. Then it became common. Such kiting play reinforced how wing-handling skills on the ground beget successful launches into flight.

Top Row: 1) Group 2) Richard Good 3) Balloon field from above 4) Bruce Brown

Middle Row: 1) Pilots looking over "badlands". 2 & 3) Pilots enjoying the show 4) Jeff in "Bubba."

Bottom Row: 1) Jeff with Fly 75 in hotel room, 2 & 3) over balloon field as pilots prepared. 4) Flying back.


© 2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!