1999 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
Added 2008-Apr-28 | See
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!
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
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
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