The Tradition Begins

The State Fairgrounds was secured as the site for the first Balloon Fiesta. Pilots were flown in from 15 countries, put up in one of Albuquerque's finest hotels, given brand new trucks -- complete with crew -- to chase their balloons, and treated with celebrity status throughout their entire stay. Since each country was allowed four representatives, pilots from around the United States descended on Albuquerque to compete for the three remaining spots on the U.S. team the week before the World Competition. The first slot had already been granted to Bruce Comstock, the current reigning National Champion. The arrival of 138 balloons, over 10 times the huge turnout of 13 balloons the previous spring, so taxed the limits of the local hospitality industry that the people of Albuquerque literally opened heir homes to house many of the pilots and crews. The entire community got behind the spirit of this landmark event and cooperated at every turn.

The only thing that didn't cooperate was the weather. In planning for the event, weather statistics had been researched and, believe it or not, it was determined that February would be an excellent month for flying. But in 1973 it snowed, the wind blew, and the sun was often hidden by overcast skies. There were just enough marginal flying days to qualify a U.S. team the first week and, thanks to a determined Balloonmeister, Ed Yost, all four flying tasks were completed for the World Championships the next week. With the protests resolved and the weather endured, the ballooning world was presented with its first World Champion, Dennis Floden, known as the unphlappable Captain Phogg.

Albuquerque had done it. The Duke City was on the map in a big way. Press coverage spanned the globe. Amidst world headlines filled with the strife of the Viet Nam war and returning POW's, this ambitious southwestern town had successfully gathered 15 countries together and hosted the world's largest and most celebrated balloon event ever. Albuquerque had undisputedly established its reputation as the Hot Air Balloon Capital of the World. Now what?

World Balloon Championships, Inc. had agreed to host the biannual World Championships again in 1975, and had also made a commitment to have an annual balloon event in any case. It was also very clear that balloons had captured the heart of Albuquerque. Thus, the newly dubbed "International Balloon Fiesta" was destined to continue.

Cutter, Rutherford and Company put on the 1974 Fiesta, again at their expense, with slightly fewer balloons, somewhat less of an international flavor, but with a more enthusiastic audience than ever. Over 115 balloons from 33 states and 7 countries continued the budding Fiesta tradition and launched the 3rd Fiesta from the State Fairgrounds.

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