Elizabeth Wright-Smith, pilot of the special shape balloon ¢ent’r Stage, the Wells Fargo Stagecoach, has been a part of the ballooning world since she was a young child. Even before becoming a pilot and moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, she was involved with Balloon Fiesta.
In this month’s Inside the Basket, Beth shares her ballooning background and information about the special shape balloon that she pilots.
1. Give a brief overview of your background and how you became involved with Balloon Fiesta.
Not only am I a distant relative of the Wright Brothers, but my father became involved in ballooning in the mid-1960s when only a handful of pilots existed in the US. In 1973, I got out of 2 weeks of school, and came to the first World Championships with my parents. I earned my pilot certificate in 1978 and have since accumulated well over 4000 hours. Once I moved to Albuquerque I worked for World Balloon Corporation and Sid Cutter, so of course I flew at Balloon Fiesta, both corporate contracts and paid rides.
2. What is the current balloon that you pilot and what is your favorite part about piloting that balloon?
I fly many different balloons but the most popular and the most challenging is the Wells Fargo ¢ent’r Stage stagecoach. The balloon is incredible. The structure inside is a work of art and an amazing engineering feat. The reactions of the spectators and Wells Fargo guests to the balloon make it fun. It is also such a unique way for Wells Fargo to give back to the community by adding some fun to someone’s day who has a chance to see the balloon up close, and by donating rides to charity auctions for someone to get a ride in a Wells Fargo balloon. I love both of those aspects.
3. Is flying a special shaped balloon different from flying a regularly shaped hot air balloon? If so, how?
True Special Shapes are much harder to fly than regular tear drop-shaped balloons. The teardrop shape is the most aerodynamic for a balloon so if you have something that is far from that shape it has a lot of internal rigging that makes it heavy. That in itself makes it harder to handle. The stagecoach is so big and heavy it flies like a rock. It doesn’t float well as most balloons do.
4. What is your favorite part about participating in Balloon Fiesta?
I have three things I love about flying at Balloon Fiesta. First, I love being a part of the largest balloon festival in the world. Second, I love the reactions of the crowds. Third, I can see friends I only get to see once a year at Balloon Fiesta. All of those things make it special.
5. What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a special-shape balloon pilot?
When I said “true” special shape I am comparing them to “appendage” balloons. Those are balloons that are a regular teardrop shape but they have extra parts added to them. While those are harder to fly than a regular shape with no appendages, they are much easier to fly than something that isn’t the teardrop shape. If someone is interested in flying shapes, that’s where I’d start and work up to something more difficult to fly.