If you've ever had a burning question about Balloon Fiesta history, chances are Dick Brown has the answer - or at least knows where to find it. He was there at Coronado Center in 1972 when the Balloon Fiesta got its start. He was there when it used to take place at the State Fair Grounds. He was there when it switched from being held in February to October. It's no wonder he is a member of the Balloon Fiesta Heritage Committee, which seeks to preserve Balloon Fiesta’s history for posterity.
We had the privilege of catching up with Dick to hear about his involvement, what balloons he's piloted throughout his career, and how visitors can brush up on their Balloon Fiesta history. He also has some good advice for first-timers. It's all there in this month's Inside the Basket.
How long have you been involved with Balloon Fiesta?
I’ve been involved since the very first event at Coronado Center on April 8, 1972. We now refer to it as the First Balloon Fiesta. I was a spectator with a camera loaded with kodachrome-25 film. And I got hooked on ballooning right then and there. I soon joined the newly formed Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (AAAA) and became the editor of its Cloudbouncer newsletter. My wife (Donna) and I volunteered for crowd control duty at the 1973 Balloon Fiesta and First World Hot Air Balloon Championships. Not long after that I received my commercial balloon pilot license and ordered a Raven AX-7 from Sid Cutter.
How did you become involved with the Balloon Fiesta and why?
My initial involvement in the Balloon Fiesta was really as a pilot and fun flyer beginning in 1974. At the time I was beginning a 5-year term as the editor of the BFA’s Ballooning Journal and Donna worked on some of the early Balloon Fiesta programs. We loved the camaraderie and excitement of the Balloon Fiesta throughout the '70s, and were happy to see the event change its weather (from February to October) and venue (from the NM State Fairgrounds to Simms Field). I think of those days as the heyday of ballooning, back when the Balloon Fiesta was smaller and you knew nearly everyone.
What do you enjoy most about being involved with Balloon Fiesta?
Ever since the year 2000, I have served on the Balloon Fiesta’s Heritage Committee. While I’m no longer an active pilot or balloon owner, and while I still enjoy being out there on the launch field before sunrise, it is the Heritage Committee that I now enjoy the most. We’re a group of seasoned balloonists who endeavor to capture the Balloon Fiesta’s history before we get too old to remember. We produce the official program each year and I’ve been fortunate to be able to contribute a feature story in the last 16 editions. The Heritage Committee also recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the Balloon Fiesta. We have also produced two books celebrating the 40th and 45th years of Balloon Fiesta. The first, an award-winner, was titled The World Comes to Albuquerque – The Dream Takes Flight in 2011 and the second, on local bookstore shelves now, was titled simply Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We might be just crazy enough to tackle a 50th [anniversary] book to celebrate the Balloon Fiesta’s Golden Jubilee in 2021.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved?
Set your alarm clock for 4:00 am, insert yourself in the smooth-flowing Balloon Fiesta traffic, find that special parking place waiting just for you at Balloon Fiesta Park, and get out there on the launch field. Mingle among those swaying giants, talk to the pilots and ground crews, and volunteer to help out. Before you know it, you’ll be involved. If you join a chase crew, you may one day be invited into the balloon basket. Now all bets are off. Your first flight could easily lead to a fun-filled, life-long addiction to ballooning. You could become a balloon pilot yourself. You could train to become a Balloon Fiesta Navigator. The possibilities are endless. So go ahead, set that alarm.
What tips do you have to first-timers?
Become second-timers. Your first ballooning experience, whether as a spectator, a launch or chase crew member, or a Balloon Fiesta volunteer, will surely get you hooked on ballooning. And remember, ballooning is a year-round sport in Albuquerque, so don’t just wait for the next annual Balloon Fiesta to roll around, join AAAA, get to know local balloonists, periodically check the websites of AIBF and the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, and subscribe to their electronic newsletters. There are always interesting programs and events going on.
If you could take a ride in any balloon, which one would it be and why?
This is a hard question for a retired balloon pilot. I have flown in hot air balloons all across the USA, hydrogen gas balloons in Europe and the Goodyear airship Columbia over Los Angeles. There are times I miss my old balloon (Blue Dragon N616DB) and there are other times when I dream of a special shape balloon, more specifically, a US Navy nuclear submarine. Balloons and submarines work on the very same principle, called Archimedes Principle. Balloons float in the air, submarines float under water. As a former balloonist and a former submariner, I’ve just not been able to keep my feet on the ground. So my special shape would be big and black, long and skinny, with USS New Mexico (SSN-779) emblazoned on the port and starboard sides. Control lines would move the rudder and diving planes. So I choose that balloon for my next ride, even if it’s only in my dreams.