Inside the Basket - Rodney May, Balloon Fiesta Board of Director and Remote Control Balloon Pilot
Rodney May is on the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors, as well as a remote control balloon operator.
In this month’s Inside the Basket, he gives a look at how he became introduced to the sport, what remote control balloons are and how guests can see them at the 51st Balloon Fiesta.
1. Give a brief overview of your Balloon Fiesta role and how you came to be involved with the organization.
I started volunteering at Balloon Fiesta in the early 1980s helping move pilot registration things from the old Balloon Fiesta office on Hawkins to the old Holiday Inn Midtown, which served as the Balloon Fiesta headquarters. My wife and I purchased a balloon in 1985 and I received my private certificate in 1986 and flew that same year in Balloon Fiesta. I was recruited to become a field official in 1989 and then was elected to the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors in 1991 where I still serve today.
2. In addition to being on the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors and a balloon pilot, you are also a Remote Control (RC) Balloon Operator. How did you get into RC balloons?
It really began at the 2021 Balloon Fiesta when we actually set up an event dedicated to the RC balloons, Fiesta de Los Globitos. My wife, our daughter who was in from Atlanta, and I were wandering around watching them set up and fly. We were also intrigued by how realistic some of the basket and burner systems were and started talking about how fun it would be to have one of our own. We got in touch with one of the people who builds RCs and by May 2022 we had our own.
3. You had your regular hot air balloon, replicated as a miniature RC balloon. How does the RC version differ from your normal hot air balloon?
From an appearance standpoint, other than being 1/3 scale, the envelope looks exactly like our big balloon system and the basket is very similar in appearance. The envelope volume is about 2,800 cu ft vs 90,000 cu ft. There are some simplifications with our RC, such as just having a rip panel to deflate instead of a parachute top, there is only one burner instead of two, obviously instead of being in the basket and operating the burner, we use an RC transmitter to operate the burner while standing on the ground, and the balloon is always on a tether line while flying. The RCs are rapidly getting more sophisticated as the sport grows with features like independently operated, dual burners and parachute tops that can operate while flying, as well as more detailed special shapes envelopes being built and flown.
4. RC balloons first made their debut at Balloon Fiesta in 2021. What has been your favorite part of adding these to Balloon Fiesta and how can guests see RC balloons during their visit?
I like it because it provides a different take on traditional hot-air ballooning. Since the systems are much smaller and stay tethered near the ground, it seems like we are much more approachable by people, particularly children, who are interested in asking questions.
There are four scheduled events for the Fiesta de Los Globitos, the first Sunday morning, Wednesday morning, Friday morning, and the last Saturday evening for a glow. As details are finalized, more information will be available on the Balloon Fiesta website.
5. What tips do you have for those interested in becoming an RC operator?
Feel free to talk with any of the pilots that are at the event. Everyone is very enthusiastic about growing the sport and talking to people about it. There is an Albuquerque club, Enchanted Model Balloons, that has a website with information about the sport, as well as links to YouTube videos from one of the members showing how the systems are built.
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