ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – This year will mark the 50ths anniversary of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The world’s premier hot air balloon event boasts as many as 550 balloons ascending at once. The nine-day event draws 800,000 visitors and is one of the most photographed events in the world.

The first Balloon Fiesta started in 1972 in the parking lot of what is now Coronado Center. Sid Cutter assembled 13 hot air balloons as part of an anniversary celebration for a local radio station.

A crowd of 20,000 people showed up for the event. The next year, Cutter moved the event to the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. The original 13 balloons jumped to 132.

Then in 1979, the Balloon Glow stared. About 300 pilots at the Balloon Fiesta, followed directions by radio to choreograph a glow and create patterns that could be seen from above. More than 40 years later, the Balloon Glow is a massive draw with three events during the Balloon Fiesta.

In 1989, the Special Shape Rodeo started. Special shape balloons like “Airabelle the Cow,” the Wells Fargo Stagecoach and the bumble bees are some crowd favorites.

Dr. Tom McConnell and his wife were at the second Balloon Fiesta in 1973. The couple was volunteering to crew for balloonists. “You can dress up in crazy outfits, any way you want to,” said McConnell

On the last day of the event in 1973, McConnell took his first balloon ride and was hooked. After his first flight in 1973, McConnell went on to fly his balloon called “The Zia” for decades. “You’re floating along with the breeze, so there’s no wind in your face. You’re going with the wind. And that part of it is really magical.”

That magical feeling that Dr. McConnell says will propel the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for decades to come. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta starts on October 1 and runs through October 9.