Update 1:20 PM MDT (1920Z) Saturday, October 07, 2017
The eight teams competing in the America’s Challenge distance race for gas balloons are beginning preparations for a late Saturday afternoon launch. It should be a spectacular evening at Balloon Fiesta Park as the gas balloons depart on their journey across America, followed by the Twilight Twinkle Balloon Glow and a terrific fireworks display.
We are very pleased to let you know the America’s Challenge launch and all tonight’s festivities will be streamed live on Balloon Fiesta TV, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s new online channel. You can access the feed from the Balloon Fiesta website, balloonfiesta.com (link on the right-hand side of the page). This is the first time we’ve tried this, and we hope it will allow our friends around the world who cannot be at Balloon Fiesta Park the opportunity to see the launch.
During the 12 noon (1800z) briefing, meteorologist Randy Lefevre advised the pilots they should still be able to track between two weather systems trailing across the United States, one along the east coast and another approaching from the west. The remnants of Hurricane Nate will be caught up in the eastern system. Although the teams’ trajectories should keep them to the west of the wet weather, the pilots and their meteorologists will be monitoring the storm’s progress closely as the race progresses. The projected trajectories still suggest possibilities for flights toward the Midwest and on to the East Coast and Canada.
In the next hour or so, the teams will begin moving onto the launch field to begin preparations for the flight. The pilots will carefully lay out and check their equipment, fill the balloon with hydrogen, and load sandbags and all the equipment and essentials they will need for the duration of a flight that could last as much as three days.
If all goes on schedule, defending champions Peter Cuneo and Barbara Fricke’s balloon (Team 1) will be moved onto the launch platform at Balloon Fiesta Park at exactly 6 PM MDT (1800Z). Launchmaster Thomas Hora will work with the pilots to “weigh off” the balloon to make sure it is buoyant and will safely clear the field. Once Team 1’s balloon ascends, each balloon is “walked” to the platform in turn, so that all the balloons take off from exactly the same spot. By tradition, the national anthem of each team’s country is played when the first team from that country takes off.
Once the balloons are aloft, they should move towards eastern and northeastern New Mexico, and overnight the strategies concocted by some of the best balloonists in the world will start to unfold. You can monitor the balloons’ progress in real time via live tracking and our updates at balloonfiesta.com or via the free iPhone and Android Balloon Fiesta apps.