Ballooning in Albuquerque
goes back to 1882. Just two years after the
Railroad arrived in Albuquerque, “Professor” Park
Van Tassel, owner of the Elite Saloon, had bought a
balloon for $850. The balloon of black, rubberized
cloth was 38 feet in diameter with a volume of
30,000 cubic feet.
The first ascension in
was planned for the Fourth of July. All day long on
July 3, Albuquerque Gas Works manufactured the
Professor’s fuel, which was coal gas (a mixture of
hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide) by burning
coal in a low-oxygen environment.
Inflation of the balloon began at on July 3. The next morning a
crowd gathered on Second
between Railroad (Central) and Gold avenues. They
waited and waited. Finally, they went on to other
events at the Territorial Fairgrounds near
Word went out that the balloon would launch at
People boarded mule-drawn street cars and made their
way back to Second Street.
The balloon was only two-thirds full, but it was
good enough. The Professor climbed aboard, untied
bags of sand from the basket,
and the “City of Albuquerque”
rose above rooftops and floated slowly to the south.
Then it appeared to stop its lateral movement and
shot straight up among the clouds where another
current of air pushed the balloon in a northwesterly
It was the phenomenon that would become known to
modern balloonists as the Albuquerque Box, in which
air currents move one direction at a lower elevation
and another direction at a higher elevation. The
balloon rose high in the air until it was no bigger
than a derby hat and soon reached a point over
where it began to descend. The Professor landed in a
cornfield at the rear of the Fairgrounds.A number of men on horseback rushed to help
the aeronaut and then emptied the balloon and loaded
up the airship. They returned to the Elite Saloon
for a lively party. The first ballooning adventure
was a great success.
Plans were made for Van Tassel to fly again during
the second annual New Mexico Territorial Fair,
scheduled to begin
Sept. 18, 1882. On
Sept. 21, 100
men towed the balloon towards the fairgrounds, but
it got away from them, rose quickly about a mile
high and burst directly over the Fairgrounds. That
was the end of Van Tassel’s balloon.
In 1889, again during the New Mexico Territorial
Fair, Professor Thomas Scott Baldwin made a
3,000-foot ascension following two failed attempts
the previous days.On
Sept. 18, 1890, a Professor Elmo only
rose 200 feet above Albuquerque
and escaped serious injury when it fell to the
Ten years later, again at the fair, a Professor Zeno
became tangled in the ropes of his balloon, and the
wind blew his parachute, which had opened, and him
into the air.
The next balloon pilot’s luck wasn’t any better. On
the last day of the 1907 fair, Joseph Blondin flew
solo in his poorly filled balloon. The day before, a
company of 25 cavalrymen tried to fill the bag with
hydrogen made from iron filings and sulfuric acid in
a wooden vat. When that wasn’t satisfactory, the
soldiers walked the partially filled balloon two
miles through the South
Valley to the city gas
plant in order to continue filling it with coal gas.
the next day the bag appeared full, and the men
walked the balloon back to the fairgrounds. After it
lifted off, Aeronaut Blondin flew 18 miles up the
Near the village
irate farmers shot at him eight times but missed.
The balloon landed safely near Corrales.
Afterward Blondin sold his balloon to Roy Stamm, a
local fruit wholesaler who was secretary of the 1907
Fair Association, and went back to prospecting.
At the 1909 fair, Stamm and Blondin, with a 10-man
crew, set to work with a wooden tank generator to
produce hydrogen, which had at one point sprayed
Stamm with acid. After 30 hours of inflation, the
tethered balloon rose, where it could be seen by
President Taft from his special train. The first
passengers were the ground crew of
soldiers, followed by hundreds of men, women and
children who paid $1 to ride – a lot of money in
those days – for 10 minutes on a 500-foot tether.
The two couldn’t provide a real balloon launch
during the fair, but afterward, they rose into the
air from a vacant lot at Sixth and Railroad
(Central). A large, cheering crowd, including Mayor
Felix Lester, watched as the basket cleared the
electric wire of the trolley. It rose a mile above
Albuquerque, floated over the
mountains and was lost from view.
On the other side, the warm air of
caused the balloon to rise to 13,000 feet.As the aeronauts passed over the
village of Estancia,
they were shot at again. The balloon appeared to be
headed for Vaughn but soon dropped and landed at the
base of Pedernal Hills in
They returned by wagon to Estancia and rode the
train back to Albuquerque,
bringing the balloon and gondola with them.
A two-hour flight had turned into a three-day return
In the late 1950s a
government research program built a hot-air balloon
of man-made fibers and filled it with air heated by
a propane flame. The modern hot air balloon was
In summer 1971 Sid and Bill Cutter, owners of Cutter
Flying Service, bought a hot–air balloon from Raven
Industries. Sid first flew it for their mother’s
birthday party being celebrated in the company’s
hangar at Albuquerque
The Cutters named the balloon “Betsy Ross.” It was
the first hot-air balloon flight over
Albuquerque. Maxie Anderson
later acquired the balloon.
In November Sid, Maxie and seven of their friends
founded the local balloon club, Albuquerque
Aerostat Ascension Association, which they
nick-named the Quad A.
They signed up members to learn to fly. The Quad A
bought a club balloon they named “Roadrunner.”It was first flown in early January 1972.
Sid Cutter began organizing the first hot-air
balloon rally in New Mexico.
The sponsor was KOB Radio, which wanted to celebrate
its 50th anniversary with an unusual
number of balloons ever assembled had been 19 in
organizers intended to surpass that number.
They signed up 21 balloonists from
Texas to join the
balloonists in April of 1972. But they didn’t arrive
in time, so 13 balloons inflated on a chilly
Saturday morning on the dirt parking lot west of
Center. KOB announcer
Tom Rutherford had stirred up excitement, and 20,000
people came to watch. Albuquerqueans were thrilled
watching the brightly colored hot-air balloons, most
trailing advertising banners, drifted away from the
In this crowd was Don Kersten,an official of the Balloon Federation of
America. The Federation Aeronautique Internationale
had directed him to choose a site for the first
world hot-air ballooning championship. He was so
impressed with Albuquerque
that he encouraged the city to submit a bid to host
the International Festival. Sid Cutter and Tom
Rutherford organized World Balloon Championships
Inc. and submitted the only bid to be a host city.
They learned later that
Albuquerque was the only city
In February 1973 Albuquerque
hosted its second Balloon Fiesta in conjunction with
the first World Hot Air Balloon Championship at the
State Fairgrounds, with 138 balloons flying from 13