Albuquerque woman founds ‘Chicks Fly’ balloonist group

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – In a male-dominated sport, a group of women are proving that flying balloons isn’t just for the boys.

“Chicks Fly” was founded by Albuquerque local Debi Ellis-Ostgulen in June 2015. Ellis-Ostgulen pilots “Plum Fired Up!” – a balloon she custom designed.

As of today, “Chicks Fly” is 556 members strong and growing.

“We’re supporting each other, since we don’t always get that support from the men,” Beth Wright-Smith said.

From pilots, like Wright-Smith who takes to the skies in “Center Stage,” the massive Wells Fargo stagecoach, to crew members, like Ellis-Ostgulen’s Co-Crew Chief Chani Kaibetoney – the group is made up of women from all aspects of ballooning.

“We all just kind of needed a place to gather and talk about the different issues that ladies have,” Kaibetoney said.

“It’s women talking about their experiences and how they got started and mentors and helpful tips – things to remember when you’re at Fiesta,” Wright-Smith said.

The group’s members also come from all over the world.

“We have pilots from Ireland, we have pilots of Canada, Mexico. All different places,” Kaibetoney said.

But this group isn’t just about empowering ladies who have been doing this for a long time — it’s about encouraging the next generation of female balloonists.

“Women and girls in particular need the support of other women,” Wright-Smith said.

Like, 19-year-old Bryana Cannaday, who is a student pilot.

“All the chicks, they support me,” Cannaday said. “And I love having them around.”

There’s also 16-year-old Savannah Bradley, who got her pilot certification as soon as she could early this year.

Bradley is the youngest female pilot and youngest pilot all-around at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 2016.

“I think it’s an important community and group whether we all know each other in person or not,” Bradley said.

“It’s really great to see these young girls coming up in the sport of ballooning,” Kaibetoney said.

Several of the “Chicks Fly” group members are participating in the U.S. Women’s National Championship during this year’s Fiesta. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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