Albuquerque has a long and colorful history with the sport of ballooning. More than 100 years ago, "Professor" P.A. Van Tassell, a local bartender, piloted a "gas bag" from the center of town up to nearly 14,000 feet and landed, intact, a few miles away at the west end of the city.
The weather in Albuquerque is widely considered to be the best in the world for ballooning. The famous "Albuquerque Box" effect enables pilots to launch, move with the winds at different altitudes and even backtrack along their original course. This unique weather condition is made possible by the combination of the mountain formations and wind characteristics and makes precision flying possible.
In 1972, hot air ballooning really took off in Albuquerque. That year 13 balloons participated in the very first Balloon Fiesta. Over the years the number of balloons has grown to more than 1,000, making the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta- the largest and most photographed ballooning event in the world.
Popular events during Balloon Fiesta are the Mass Ascensions, Balloon Glows and Special Shapes Rodeos. Mass Ascensions are held on all four weekend mornings and mid-week during Balloon Fiesta. Held just after dawn, the site of several hundred balloons taking flight with the sunrise is stunning. Balloon Glows are held in the evenings with the launch field filled with balloons of every color, shape and size. As the propane burners are lit against the dark sky, they light up the balloons like giant colorful light bulbs. Perhaps the most popular balloons with kids of all ages are the Special Shapes. Dinosaurs, dragons, motorcycles, moving vans, Mother Hubbard's Shoe and a cow jumping over the moon can all be seen floating overhead. The Special Shapes have become so popular they have been given their own mass ascension, balloon glow and "rodeo."
One aspect of the Balloon Fiesta that makes it so popular with pilots are the precision flying events. Target drops, key grabs and cash grabs are all tests of a pilot's abilities. Held on weekday mornings, these events challenge the maneuverability and skill of the pilots.
Albuquerque has hosted two gas balloon world championships- the Coupe de Gordon Bennett, the world's oldest and most prestigious gas balloon competition and the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, the premier gas ballooning event in the United States. These draw pilots from around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people attend the nine-day Fiesta each year. Thousands more watch the balloons as they float over the city. The Balloon Fiesta, held annually from the first Saturday through the second Sunday of October, is the city's major balloon spectacular.
The sport of ballooning counts among its greatest achievers many citizens of Albuquerque. The first successful crossing of the Atlantic by balloon was done by three Albuquerqueans; Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman made history in the Double Eagle II helium balloon in August of 1978. Abruzzo and Anderson teamed-up with another Albuquerquean, Ron Clark and Rocky Aoki of Tokyo to make the first crossing of the Pacific by helium balloon. Known as the Double Eagle V, that flight set the record for the longest distance ever flown in a balloon, 5,768 miles from Nagashima, Japan to a landing site near Covelo, California. Anderson, his son Kris and Don Ida went on to set another record in 1980 when they flew the Kitty Hawk in the first non-stop crossing of North America by gas balloon. Another Albuquerque hometown hero, Troy Bradley, holds two dozen gas balloon world records for endurance and distance.
New Mexico's weather, boasting clear blue skies, calm winds and mild temperatures, is favorable for year-round ballooning and enables our 300+ resident balloonists (more than any other state) to fly frequently and for long periods of time.
The Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum opened its doors to the public on October 1, 2005 and today contains one of the finest collections of ballooning equipment and memorabilia in the world. Named in honor of Albuquerque balloonists Maxie Anderson and Ben Abruzzo, the Balloon Museum features over 25,000 square feet of exhibition space and is home to the original Double Eagle V gondola flown by Hall of Fame inductees Clark, Newman and Aoki on their Pacific crossing.