How it Started
From a small gathering of 13 balloons in 1972, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has grown to become the largest balloon event in the world. Held each year during the first week in
October, the Balloon Fiesta now features about 600 balloons and 700 pilots.
The first gathering of 13 balloons in 1972 was held in the parking lot of Coronado Center Mall in Albuquerque. The following year, 13 countries took part in the "First World Hot Air Balloon Championship", the world's largest ballooning event, held at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. By 1978 Albuquerque was playing host to 273 entries. The number of balloons steadily increased, with 600 in 1988 and 903 balloons in 1999. The organizers of the Balloon Fiesta registered more than 1000 balloons in the year 2000. Due to shrinking landing site availability, the number of hot air balloons is now limited.
In 1972 there were about 10,000 guests that viewed the first Balloon Fiesta. Hundreds of thousands of guests visit Balloon Fiesta each year, and hundreds of thousands more fans watch the balloons from outlying areas and on TV. New in 2017, fans around the world can now watch the event online via Balloon Fiesta Live!, a professionally-produced live stream, with expert commentary, of all the flying events. To accommodate the increases in balloons and guests, the Balloon Fiesta’s home field has grown from a corner in a mall parking lot, to its present home, a permanent site which is more than 350 acres.
The Balloon Fiesta has not only grown in numbers of balloons and guests but in the number of unique events as well. In addition to the spectacular Mass Ascensions, the Balloon Fiesta has added the annual Balloon Glow, the Night Magic Glow™, and the Special Shape Rodeo™. These additions have grown to become guest favorites. To preserve the magic of these spectacular events, it is estimated that more than 25 million still photographs are taken of the Balloon Fiesta, repeatedly earning it the title “the world’s most photographed event.”
Gas balloons became part of the Balloon Fiesta in 1981. In 1993, and again in 1999, AIBF hosted the annual Coupe de Gordon Bennett, the world's oldest and most prestigious gas balloon race that dates back to 1912. In 1994, The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta hosted the 8th World Gas Balloon Championship and in 1995, Balloon Fiesta launched America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, a distance race that dates back to 1912.
The genesis of the 1st balloon Fiesta occurred while planning the KOB 50th Anniversary party the following spring, Susan Johnson, then promotional director for the station, was looking for a
centerpiece of her own to celebrate this important birthday for the station. She found Sid Cutter flying the "club" balloon which had been purchased by the founders of the Albuquerque
Aerostat Ascension Association (now the largest local balloon club in the world). The relationship between KOB and Sid Cutter was cemented and the idea of a balloon race began to take shape.
With very little time, but an enormous wealth of enthusiasm, Sid Cutter, Don, and Mike Draper and Tom Rutherford of KOB, set about putting together the largest balloon race in the world at that time, and invited 21 balloons to attend the event.
Last-minute cancellations and a miserable storm in the Midwest limited the participants to 13 balloons, but each and everyone was given red carpet treatment and put on a show for some 10,000-20,000 spectators that Albuquerque would never forget. The pilots came from Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Texas and they left with the impression that Albuquerque was a wonderful place to fly and that it had about the most hospitable bunch of people you'd ever want to find.
1972- 13 balloons gather at Coronado Center to celebrate KOB’s 50th Anniversary
1973- Albuquerque hosts the First World Hot Air Balloon Championship at the Fairgrounds
1975- Event moves from February to October and from Fairgrounds to Simms Field
1976- AIBF Incorporates as a non-profit
1978- First KeyGrab competition
1979- Number of balloons tops 300
1980- First appearance of Parachutists
1981- First Gas Balloon race, Cutter Field is a new launch area
1984- Park N Ride begins (Coronado only)
1986- Fiesta Park (Alameda and Paseo del Norte) launch site with snow on the last day
1987- First Balloon Glow
1988- Last Fiesta Gas Balloon Race, number of hot air balloons-600
1989- First Special Shapes Rodeo
1992- Kodak becomes title sponsor at 21st Balloon Fiesta
1993- 37th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race
1994-8th World Gas Balloon Championship
1995- First America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race
1996- 25th Balloon Fiesta, First Dawn Patrol Show, Sivage Thomas “House Grab” move to current Balloon Fiesta Park field
1997- First Flight of Nations and Night Magic Glow
1999- 43rd Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race
2000- 1019 balloons registered, a launch record
2001- NM Challenge event, last year for Kodak as title sponsor, launch field is completely grassed, President’s compound RV lot becomes available to the public
2002- Admission raised to $5, parking is also $5
2003- Gondola Club created, Holiday Fiesta event
2004- First Fiesta Challenge, 2nd and last year for Holiday Fiesta
2005- 49th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race, Albuquerque Aloft begins
2006- Posters produced by AIBF instead of Procreations, last Fiesta Challenge, Chain Saw Carving begins
2008- 52nd Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race
2009- Chaser’s Club created, group tours operation comes in-house
2011- Founder Sid Cutter passes away
2014- First Music Fiesta after years of different artist performances, Sid Cutter Pilots’ Pavilion opens
2017- Balloon Fiesta Live! premiers as a live stream of the entire event
2018- Drone footage part of Balloon Fiesta Live! and marketing program
2020- Entire Balloon Fiesta Postponed due to Public Health concerns