Albuquerque Aloft kicked off the 50th anniversary of the Balloon Fiesta with dozens of launches from schools in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Friday morning.
Veteran pilot Carol LaRotonda, who has been flying balloons for 25 years, brought “Aerotonda” to Petroglyph Elementary School to inflate and put on a show for the students, parents and faculty before school.
“I really enjoyed the interaction with the kids,” LaRotonda said. “This is the next generation and just getting out and sharing the love of a sport is great.”
While Albuquerque Aloft is a way for balloonists to share their passion with a younger generation, it holds special meaning to LaRotonda because it is also a way to honor the legendary founder of the Balloon Fiesta, Sid Cutter.
Cutter, who died of cancer in 2011, held a hot-air balloon rally in 1972 in Albuquerque that drew a crowd of roughly 10,000. That rally marked the beginning of the International Balloon Fiesta that made Albuquerque the ballooning capital of the world. The event drew 783,866 guests in 2021 and 866,414 in 2019.
“This is an homage to Sid Cutter,” LaRotonda said. “His original idea was that the Balloon Fiesta wouldn’t happen in one place, that it would take place at a variety of different places in town and we’d all take off at one time. And so this is really a tribute to Sid Cutter and so I really enjoy that.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Cutter’s rally, and LaRotonda says she expects it to be a good time for the whole family.
“I’m very excited; they’ve got a lot of special things going on,” LaRotonda said. “Music festivals, a variety of stuff, but there’s a brand-new 50th Fiesta balloon, we’re doing a bunch of special things each morning as far as the flyovers and the statics and a variety of stuff. I think it’s very exciting, and everybody should come out.”
Not just Albuquerque
Cutter’s vision has expanded beyond Albuquerque’s city limits. On Friday, all 11 elementary schools in Rio Rancho joined in Albuquerque Aloft
At Ernest Stapleton Elementary, “Arimosa,” piloted by Alex Bartra, and “Never Forget,” piloted by Mark Komadina, were getting ready to launch as the sun rose. Students and their families were able to purchase donuts, coffee and hot cocoa on their way to the launching pad just past the playground.
As they watched, pilots and their crews laid the balloons on the ground, first opening the envelop with high-powered fans before filling them with the hot air from flames fueled by propane tanks as the baskets and balloons lifted upright.
Before the balloons launched, children posed in front of them for parents to grab a quick photo and collect cards of the balloons. At about 7:20 a.m., Airmosa lifted off, with Never Forget following shortly afterward.
Neighborhood Journal Editor Tracy Goldizen contributed coverage from Rio Rancho.