Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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by Kevin Kawai 

Imagine looking upward and seeing a myriad of colorful shapes and characters taking flight and floating gently into the blue twilight - like lollipops dangling from the sky. This can only mean it's time for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! With over 600 hot air balloons, AIBF is the largest ballooning event on the planet. The Balloon Fiesta Park is over 360 acres with a launch field of over 78 acres. AIBF staff claims this area is as large as 54 football fields strung together! Judging by the grounds that stretches as far as the eye could see, they aren't kidding! Unlike a football stadium though, there are no viewing bleachers, but guests are permitted to walk onto the field and get up close and personal with the balloons, talk to the pilots and chase crews, browse sponsor exhibits, shop along Main Street and even get a chance to ride in the balloons. AIBF is definitely a fun-filled event for people of all ages, and it's common for attendance to top 800,000 guests for the entire 9 day event!

The 2010 schedule consisted of a multitude of balloon related attractions including: Dawn Patrol, where balloons are launched in the dark until there is enough light for the pilots to see their landing sites; Mass Ascensions, where all participating balloons are launched in two waves that fills the sky with a variety of different colors; Balloon Glows, where all burners are ignited at the same time which creates a breathtaking light show at dawn and dusk; Special Shape Rodeo/Glowdeo, where balloons shaped in colorful characters such as bumble bees, octopus, kangaroos, lady bugs, Pepsi Can, Space Shuttle, etc, are displayed; and the crowd pleasing After Glow Fireworks show, which is one of the loudest and most impressive firework shows around.

Marketing Coordinator, Yasmine Rios; Graphic Designer, Christy Ziemer; and I, flew out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend this grand spectacle and to exhibit our latest binoculars and spotting scopes to a new audience. In addition, we also brought along several computerized and noncomputerized telescopes and hosted daytime/nighttime star parties. Our original plan was to hold only 1 evening star party, but that quickly went by the wayside, as we noticed guests were already waiting for us to arrive each morning and afternoon to begin the observing sessions. How could we not oblige? Throughout the AIBF, we encouraged guests to try out our latest optical products. Many took advantage of this opportunity to get a closer look at all the balloons in flight and those on static display. How exciting it was to see burners shooting out flames to fill the balloons with hot air - and all from a safe distance. As the Sun rose, the first rays of light illuminated the balloons and turned them into a sparkling glow of colors. We used our CPC 800 (equipped with a solar filter) to track the featureless Sun until it rose high enough for us to turn our attention towards Venus. With a simple go-to command, Venus became visible in the telescope. Many guests believed they were looking at a thin crescent Moon in broad daylight! You can imagine how surprised they felt once they learned they were actually viewing Earth's twin! The Special Shape Glowdeo took place during the evening sessions and crowds swelled to record numbers as everyone began to converge in and around the launch field. Jupiter rose in the eastern twilight and would become the night's showcase object. With all our telescopes now aimed at the gas giant, guests marveled at the wealth of detail easily discernable under moments of steady seeing, including a transit. Long lines formed quickly and at times, we wished we could've brought along an additional representative to help us accommodate all the people. At the conclusion of each night's launch sessions, the AfterGlow Fireworks show took place on and off the launch field. Never before have we seen such well choreographed fireworks displays which always kept the audience wanting to see more.

The 2010 AIBF was unquestionably a successful show, and Christy, Yasmine and I all agreed this was one of the most exciting events we had exhibited at this year. Next year, we hope to return back to AIBF to showcase new products and have the opportunity to ride in one of the hot air balloons. On behalf of Celestron, we would like to thank our AIBF Vendor Team Leader, Janie Jordan and her crew for making sure we were accommodated and up and running. In the beginning, it was quite difficult to clearly understand why a hot air balloon festival could be so appealing to draw in many people in the wee hours of the morning or late in the afternoon. Now we know. Until then..