America's Challenge Updates
Jim Byrd - 2020 Heritage Award Winner
July 14, 2020
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) Heritage Award recognizes individuals who have made significant and long-time contributions to Balloon Fiesta through preservation of AIBF corporate or event history, promotion, communication, or educational activities, or through other innovations that have been shown to help achieve AIBF’s mission statement. This year’s recipient is one of the Balloon Fiesta’s earliest volunteers and has contributed as a pilot, official, and all-around good guy.
Jim Byrd – also known to many as Jimmy -- began his ballooning career in March 1973 when he joined the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (AAAA) as a non-flying club member. His dad, the legendary J.W. Byrd, had joined as a flying member a month earlier. Jim was an active participant in everything ballooning, including AAAA and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) events. Jim helped Sid Cutter with all of Sid’s projects, so much so that Sid offered Jim free pilot instruction from himself and two of his employees, Gary Higman and Greg Wilson. Jim received his pilot certificate from Sid in February 4, 1974, the first FAA check-ride Sid ever did. He was an active pilot for 20 years before largely retiring from flying as pilot-in-command, having instructed many student pilots and accumulated about 550 hours.
Jim was Assistant Safety Officer for AIBF in 1984 and 1985, but is best known for his contributions to competition scoring. After receiving a degree in Computer Science, and with encouragement from his dad, Jim wrote the first software for scoring balloon races in 1990, which was used by both AAAA and the Balloon Fiesta. The next year, he updated and rewrote that program. AIBF used that program all through the 1990s and 2000s to score its competitions.
Jim rewrote the Balloon Fiesta scoring program many times over the years. Five years ago, he began working with Mike Gilligan to enhance the competition scoring software that both of them had worked on. They tested the new program in North Carolina at a 60-balloon race sanctioned by the Balloon Federation of America (BFA). Then they expanded the software for AIBF, because Balloon Fiesta competition rules are somewhat different from those of the BFA.
Using and adapting his software, Jim has also been involved in scoring almost all the America’s Challenge gas balloon races. He succeeded his father as the America’s Challenge chief scoring officer after his father passed away in 2007, a position he still holds.
Jim is a quiet, non-assuming person whose chief claim to fame is helping other people (he is a retired Albuquerque Fire Department Captain). He is awarded the 2020 Heritage Award for long-standing important and excellent work with AIBF.
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