80-year-old pilot honored, windy weather grounds balloons

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – Balloon pilot Roger Hoppe, 80, has seen Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta transform over the years into the massive event it is today.

“I’ve been out here from day one,” he said.

But on the last day of the Balloon Fiesta Sunday, he didn’t get to fly what would’ve been his last fiesta flight before retirement.

Windy weather kept all balloons grounded.

“Winds were blowing about 21 miles an hour when the final call was made,” Rainbow Riders Hot Air Balloon Co. President Scott Appelman said.

During the static display, crews struggled to keep balloons steady.

There were plenty of sad faces, and some vendors closed shop early as people headed toward the exits.

“I drove all the way from Colorado so I just want to see the balloons,” stated Ronnie Martinez of Pueblo.

“Here we are!” exclaimed Paityn Thomas of Lubbock. “Our first balloon festival and no balloons.”

It was a disappointing last day for some, but there was still plenty to celebrate; number 46 was arguably one of the best Balloon Fiestas, weather-wise.

“We’ve flown eight out of nine days,” pilot Mike Voorhees said.

As always, it was a chance for thousands to connect and enjoy the sights.

“I enjoy the people and the culture,” said Sandra Vanwye of Chile, who Hoppe is training to become a balloon pilot.

Hoppe was honored Sunday as Balloon Fiesta Ambassador of the Day for his influence on other pilots and decades of service in the community, both on the ground and in the skies.