America's Challenge Updates
Inside the Basket - Ursula Richards, Balloon Fiesta pilot, Navigator and pin collector
August 18, 2020
Ursula Richards wears many hats during Balloon Fiesta. She pilots a special shape balloon during the event, is a team lead for the Balloon Fiesta Trolley team and is an avid Balloon Fiesta pin collector.
In this month’s Inside the Basket, Ursula shares more about how she became involved in Balloon Fiesta and her love for collecting pins.
1. Give a brief overview of your ballooning background and how you became involved with Balloon Fiesta.
I have loved hot air balloons ever since I was a little girl attending Elementary School. While playing out in the playground - a balloon landed in the field next to the school, and I fell in love with balloons at that moment. I knew someday I would become more involved but I didn't know to what extent at the time. After serving in the US Navy, I came home and started chasing balloons and volunteering. I have been a Balloon Fiesta greeter, chase crew member, Balloon Fiesta office volunteer, Trolley Team lead, and a pilot. I have served on the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascenion Association Board and have served on various committees. Currently, I volunteer for the Education Committee. I also served on the Balloon Explorium Board for a couple of years.
As far a becoming a pilot -- I really never envisioned this, as I am afraid of heights. Yes, I had ridden in balloons before but that was it. That all changed one day when I decided it was time for me to start training and purchase my own balloon. I have no idea what happened as far a my fear of heights, but that was over 7 years ago. I purchased my first balloon in October 2013, while Balloon Fiesta was happening. This was no ordinary balloon - this was a Special Shape. I had been in love with this balloon ever since I first saw it at Balloon Fiesta in 2000. I had talked to the pilot/owner over the years - we would trade pins - he made some great pins. Then something happened, I saw the balloon on a ballooning website and I saw "Squawk" was for sale. I knew I had to have this balloon. I called the owner the next day and the rest is "herstory." I changed the name to SquawkURs -- added the UR for my initials. It has been a pretty sweet ride thus far. I also purchased a regular shape balloon over 3 years ago, I call her chURp.
I would like to say I did things backwards. I bought the balloon, then the trailer and finally the truck. I then earned my pilot's certificate. I would like to note that ballooning has taken me to a few places out of state and overseas. I crewed for the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race during Balloon Fiesta one year. I was a crew chief for "Azul" the big blue dragon, where we flew at the Mondial Hot Air Balloon Rally in Lorraine, France. I flew SquawkURs in Taiwan -- over three years ago. If you would have told me when I was a little girl playing on that playground so many many years ago that I would become a pilot - the answer would have been no way, "I'm so afraid of heights." I am so glad I took the plunge. My advice to everybody would be - "live out your dreams and conquer your fears as best you can." I know you won't regret it.
2. What is your favorite part about piloting at Balloon Fiesta?
It's pretty amazing to be surrounded by about 600 other balloons -- both big and small, each creating their own special path in the sky. I am partial to the Special Shape Rodeo Days and Special Shape Glowdeo because of my Special Shape Balloon - SquawkURs, a green parrot head.
3. In addition to piloting, you are also a navigator on the Balloon Fiesta trolley team. What does this position entail and what is your favorite part about being involved in this way?
I am team lead for the Trolleys. I have worked on them for over 4 years. This entails that the outside and the inside of the trolleys look their very best before the start of Fiesta. The trolleys shuffle around all the navigators throughout various parts of Fiesta field and I want to make sure they are in great shape to do so. I love making something older look like "new". We sand, strip, paint, clean, wax and all the other things that make the trolleys look good. I love working on the trolleys because I can work on them before Fiesta and it doesn't interfere with me flying my balloons.
4. You also have quite the Balloon Fiesta pin collection. Tell us more about your pins and what they mean to you.
I started collecting pins quite a few years ago. My first pin given to me was by a good friend, who's husband worked for Mountain Bell. It was the first glow pin back in 1987. I started buying pins and trading them. I also received quite a bit while crewing for Wells Fargo and other balloons. I was able to trade those pins as well. Before I knew it - I was hooked. I had hundreds of pins, which in turned into thousands of pins. Also, over the years, quite a few people have given me some of their collections. It's a very fun hobby - but I seem to be running out of wall space.
Thousands of pins are hung up throughout my house. A lot are in shadow boxes, some are framed sets, some on cork boards, and a lot are still in plastic bins and shoe boxes. Just like Balloon Fiesta, I have a love for my pins. I had my first pin made in 2012 - my Flamingo Glasses (Greeter) had 2 special shape balloons in the lenses - a reflection if you will. When I bought my first balloon -- it was a Special Shape so that gave me the opportunity to be creative and come up with some pretty neat designs. I like to have different sayings on my pins that correspond with SquawkURs. For example, bURd is the wURd, dURdy bURdy, pURdy bURdy, bURds of a feathUR, etc. As one would say when flying a balloon -- "the sky's the limit" and so are my pins. I love being creative.
5. What advice do you have for Balloon Fiesta guests visiting for the first time?
Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells. There is nothing more spectacular in the whole world like this event. Once you see all the balloons for the first time scattered all over the field and in the beautiful turquoise skies - you will fall in love as I did so many years ago.
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