ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – They are the stars of the show, special shape hot air balloons draw big crowds to Balloon Fiesta. While there will be many returning this year, there are also 12 new balloons to keep an eye out for.
“But every once in a while, you can hear somebody yelling ‘I love Smokey Bear,’ and we get a big crowd around him because he is such a fun balloon,” says the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon, Beth Wright-Smith.
Smokey Bear, Airabelle, the Bees, and of course, Darth Vader and Yoda are crowd favorites. They’re part of the 107 special shapes returning to Balloon Fiesta this year, with a dozen making their debut.
Plenty of new animals will dot the sky, including Bella the Bulldog making the trek from the United Kingdom. Lulu will visit from Pennsylvania, Milkway comes from Oklahoma, a colorful bird named Pico flies in from the United Kingdom and it’s the only place to see a huge, green elephant.
First in flight is sure to stand out as well is a balloon called Seabed, taking people underwater from the sky. Magic Luna promises to be cosmic and people should also watch out for Vampirella, and a giant clock.
The Fiesta will feature two new dinosaur balloons, one featuring a baby T-Rex hatching from an egg. “I started watching these ballooning YouTube videos and lo and behold, I saw a really old one and it happened to be a dinosaur coming out of the egg,” says pilot Rex Jennings.
That’s what inspired Jennings from Vernal, Utah to come up with this creation. “It’s pretty popular. Here in Vernal, is the dinosaur capital as far as we are concerned,” Jennings says.
Jennings says Baby T-Rex is fun to fly but there are some challenges. “Flying a special shape, you can’t just land it anywhere, you need a bigger area,” he says. “And you got a tail that is sticking out that you go to be concerned about.”
Wright-Smith also knows those difficulties. A pilot for 45 years, she’s flown some of the most popular special shapes. “The Creamland cow, the tyrannosaurus Rex, a monster head – the hardest part with the cow is that the legs hang down so you can’t see 360 degrees, you can see between the legs,” says Wright-Smith.
She now flies the Smokey Bear balloon. “Smokey Bear is only about 600 pounds, say only compared to some of the other ones I’ve flown,” she says.
Special Shapes are heavier and more expensive than regular balloons. “Even the simple special shapes are going to be at least double what a regular shape is but more of them are going to be considerably more than that,” Wright-Smith says. “But for example, the stagecoach was almost $250,000.”
Wright-Smith has seen a lot of changes through the decades at Fiesta, including the creation of special shapes rodeos and glowdeos. “And back then, there weren’t any special shapes there. And very, very, very few women I think there were four or that I know of in ballooning when I started,” she says.
She enjoys the happiness Smokey Bear brings to families during Fiesta. “Flying a balloon is different every time. You can fly from the same place. Ten days in a row and your flight will be different every time,” says Wright-Smith.
While many of the special shapes will be flying throughout Balloon Fiesta, Thursday and Friday are reserved for special shapes.