Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta: Facts and Figures

From 13 Balloons in 1972 to the Biggest Balloon Event in the World

Bee Balloon Couple
© Aileen O'Catherine

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has grown in scale and noteworthy history since 13 hot air balloons launched from a shopping center parking lot in Albuquerque in 1972. The 2019 Balloon Fiesta takes place Saturday, Oct 5, 2019— Sunday, October 13, 2019, with over 600 hot air balloons and 1,000 pilots taking to the air from Balloon Fiesta Park.

The winds and currents in Albuquerque make for perfect hot air ballooning conditions, and the weather in early October provides gorgeous sunny days and cool mornings, also perfect for getting a balloon off the ground. Colorful hot air balloons against New Mexico's bright blue skies are a sight never to be forgotten.

Balloon Fiesta History

Balloon Fiesta history and facts tell the story of the growth of this amazing event, the largest balloon event in the world.

  • The first balloon event in Albuquerque took place on April 8, 1972, at Coronado Shopping Center with thirteen balloons participating. The first event was a promotion for KOB-AM radio.
  • From 1972 to 1975, balloon events took place in late winter/early spring.
  • The first event to be called the "Balloon Fiesta" took place in the fall of 1975.
  • The first Balloon Glow (where balloons are tethered and pilots release flaming gas into the balloons at night) took place on Christmas Eve, 1979 when local pilots wanted to thank New Mexicans for their support of ballooning.
  • Gas balloons were part of events until 1981 and went on hiatus until 1993 when the Gordon Bennett race was brought to the fiesta. The World Championship started in 1994, and the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race began in 1995.
  • The first Special Shapes Glowdeo began with just 28 special-shaped balloons.
  • The first Dawn Patrol launched at the 1978 Balloon Fiesta. The Dawn Patrol was created when two balloonists developed position lighting systems that enabled night flight to take place. These pilots take off in the dark, about 6 a.m., and stay in the air until it is light enough to see landing sites. Other balloon pilots watch the Dawn Patrol to get a sense of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes.

Balloon Fiesta Facts

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the world's most prestigious international ballooning event. The event happens in Albuquerque because the city has the climate, winds, and infrastructure to attract balloonists. Early October in Albuquerque brings cool morning and evening temperatures, just right for a balloon launch. The city also has a phenomenon known as the "Albuquerque Box," a combination of wind patterns and geography that results in balloonists having great control over their balloons. All in all, Albuquerque is a great place to launch a balloon—or hundreds of balloons.

  • Mass ascension is one of the most wondrous events of the Balloon Fiesta. All participating balloons launch in two waves, starting at about 7 a.m. The lead balloon takes off flying the American flag as the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays. The launch of hundreds of balloons takes about two hours.
  • In 2011, the Balloon Fiesta achieved a Guinness World Record for the Greatest Mass Hot Air Balloon Ascent, the most balloons launched within the shortest period of time.
  • Balloon Fiesta couldn't take place without the hundreds of volunteers who help each year. Volunteers take tickets, judge events, and participate in chase crews. More than 1,000 volunteers help make the event happen.
  • Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Inc., a non-profit, runs the Fiesta.
  • Because the event has an excellent safety record, the Balloon Fiesta is one of the only balloon events where viewers can walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots.
  • Balloon Fiesta Park covers 365 acres with a 78-acre launch field.
  • Balloon Fiesta mass ascensions include 600 balloons—or more.
  • The Balloon Fiesta is the most photographed event on the planet.
  • The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest annual international event held in the United States.
  • The Balloon Fiesta attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year. Nearly 888,000 attended in 2017.

Distance to Balloon Fiesta From Selected Cities

Albuquerque is an easy drive from a number of nearby cities.

  • Amarillo, Texas: 288 miles
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado: 378 miles
  • Dallas/Fort Worth: 644 miles
  • Denver: 437 miles
  • El Paso, Texas: 266 miles
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico: 223 miles
  • Las Vegas, Nevada: 586 miles
  • Los Angeles: 811 miles
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: 543 miles
  • Phoenix: 458 miles
  • Salt Lake City, Utah: 604 miles
  • Tucson, Arizona: 448 miles

A Bit About Albuquerque

Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, with about a half million residents in incorporated Albuquerque and just under 1 million in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Albuquerque is one of the highest cities in the United States, with elevations varying from 4,900 to 6,700 feet in the city.​ Albuquerque is about 65 miles from Santa Fe, a popular destination for visitors.

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