ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – This year’s Balloon Fiesta will have a first. The U.S. Women’s National Championship will be held here, and women balloonists hope the event can take the sport of ballooning to new heights for women.
Elisa Trillanes said her husband, who’s been a balloon pilot for almost 25 years, got her interested in being more than a member of the chase crew.
“He kept trying to convince me, fly the balloon, fly the balloon,” she said.
Trillanes has now been a balloon pilot for two-and-a-half years.
“One day he finally said, ‘Here,’ and handed me the controls, and I was hooked,” she recalled.
Trillanes was hooked on the thrill of flying, and now she is competing. She just returned last month from the Women’s Hot Air Balloon World Championship in Lithuania.
“It was amazing,” Trillanes said. “I learned an enormous amount not only about myself, but about my balloon, the different things that my balloon can really handle and what I as a pilot can handle.”
She will also be competing in this year’s 2016 U.S. Women’s National Championship, which will be held in conjunction with this year’s Balloon Fiesta.
“Having it here in my own backyard where I know the flying area is fantastic,” she said.
Balloon Fiesta Event Director Paul Petrehn said, “It was back in 1999 that the Balloon Federation of America last recognized a U.S. Women’s National Champion, so it hasn’t happened since then.”
“They may have a single part task or they have a five or six-part task,” he said. “They have a series of markers to throw at targets, physically targets on the ground, or they might have GPS oriented tasks to accumulate points throughout the five days of competition,” Petrehn explained.
Women make up generally about 10 to 15 percent of pilots at Balloon Fiesta, but many balloonists hope to get those numbers higher.
“I think it’s a fantastic event to get more women interested in competitive ballooning,” said Tillanes, whose balloon is named “Skinny Stuff.”
Out of the 16 competitors, the four women from Albuquerque, in addition to Trillanes, are Charity Blanchard and her balloon “Blew By You.” Flying “Sandia Sunrise II” will be Barbara Fricke. Susan Oldenburg will compete with the balloon “J.A.M.”