ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For spectators, the balloons are the stars of fiesta. But organizers know who really makes the event such a hit — the pilots. KRQE News 13 shows you why the pilots love balloon fiesta so much, and what keeps them coming back.
Beth was born to be a hot air balloon pilot.
“Been in ballooning since I was about eight years old when my dad started flying,” said Beth Wright-Smith, an Albuquerque Balloon Pilot.
She remembers her very first balloon fiesta.
“The very first group of pilots we had, it included 13 balloons that launched in 1972 from Coronado mall,” said Tom Garrity, spokesperson for the Balloon Fiesta.
The fiesta has come a long way in the past few decades, now it’s the pilots that travel a long way to get here.
“At least 550 primary pilots from around the country and around the world,” said Garrity.
Beth said her pilot friends from around the world stay connected on social media.
“If you are on Facebook with the other balloonists, the excitement starts building at least a month in advance,” said Wright-Smith.
Many of the pilots she meets at fiesta may not speak the same language, but it’s a special bond – united by their love of ballooning.
“It’s kind of fun to find out ballooning is the same everywhere you go,” said Wright-Smith.
This flag was from a balloon she had lent to a team from South Africa, other local pilots are also teaming up with international pilots.
“My sister met a pilot from England a few years ago and they are flying together this year,” said Wright-Smith.
This year, pilots from 19 countries are here.
“A team from Thailand is going to be the group that has flown in the farthest for this year’s fiesta,” said Garrity.
Beth said even after several decades, every year is different and every year is special.
“Meet new people also, but it is a big reunion,” said Wright-Smith.
To show you just how popular fiesta is around the country — there are balloons here from 44 states.
New Mexico has the most here — Texas is second.