ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – This year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta marks the 40th anniversary of the very first special shape balloon to fly at the event – Chic-I-Boom. The iconic image of Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda’s head, complete with fruit on her head, flying over the Balloon Fiesta is something etched into fiesta veterans’ memories.
The man who originally came up with the idea for the balloon, along with his partner Kirk Thomas, is a lifelong Balloon Museum Foundation Board member and former president of the International Ballooning Commission and Balloon Federation of America Jacques Soukup. Although he has been referred to as the ‘father of special shapes,’ by Aero-TV, he hesitates to adopt the title.
“I corrected [them] and said, ‘No, no, no. That’s [famed publisher] Malcolm Forbes. And [they] said, ‘No, no, no. He’s dead, you’re not,'” said Soukup. “Okay then, well he’s the grandfather.”
The idea for the first special shape came from a discussion Thomas and he had at breakfast at El Camino Restaurant on 4th Street after one of the days of the Balloon Fiesta in 1982. “We decided that balloonists took themselves too seriously, so let’s create something fun,” said Soukup. After brainstorming over a feast of champagne and Hatch green chile, Soukup and Thomas settled on Carmen Miranda. The balloon’s name is an homage to her famous song “Chica Chica Boom Chic.”
An artist rendering of the soon-to-be balloon was made in early 1983 and Soukup met with aeronautical engineer Don Cameron with Cameron Balloons in the United Kingdom. “We were in an old church and we wrapped an old, dirty t-shirt around [balloonist Tucker Comstock’s] head because [Cameron’s] rendition had the bananas way too small,” said Soukup. “We went down to the green grocer because you had greengrocer…They didn’t have any grapes, so we got chocolate-covered peanuts, we got bananas, we got a pear, we got an orange and we came back and put them on her head and said, ‘Look, that banana has to be at least 55-foot [sic] long on either side.'”
Chic-I-Boom’s first inflation and flight was done privately for the television show “That’s Incredible!” in 1983 and debuted to the public on the first Saturday of that year’s Balloon Fiesta. After the positive reaction Chic-I-Boom received, it wasn’t long before Soukup and Thomas thought of their next special shape. “We were in London at the time. Kirk was going to school and I was doing some study at the London School of Economics, we were at a Chinese restaurant and we said, “She needs a boyfriend,'” said Soukup.
That “boyfriend” to Chic-I-Boom would end up being Uncle Sam. He would make his debut on July 4, 1985, at a celebration in Greenville, South Carolina, and their “pet” would follow in 1986. “Kirk’s sister, Kim Thomas, was a Marine, and so hence, Chesty the Bulldog, the symbol of the Marine Corps, became their pet,” said Soukup.
After Soukup’s creations became well-known, he says most of the special shapes that followed immediately after were used for advertising or commercial means. “We were advertising nothing but the fun of ballooning and the enjoyment that the people had,” said Soukup.
Chic-I-Boom and Sam are now owned by the Balloon Museum Foundation and will be operated by Rainbow Ryders. For Chic-I-Boom’s 40th fiesta, the plan is to have her inflate either the Friday night before Balloon Fiesta begins at the hall of fame ceremony or on the morning of the first Saturday mass ascension.
Soukup said the special shape balloons and everyone involved, from the pilots to the designers, play an important role in ballooning. “They bring a lot, a lot of attention to our sport and a lot of enjoyment, and fun, and smiles – especially to kids of all ages – to their faces,” said Soukup. “[Special shape balloons are] difficult, they’re heavy…they’re challenging to inflate and deflate and it takes a big crew and volunteers and involves so many people, and a lot of those people go on to become balloon pilots, which is great.”
Twenty-eight balloons participated in the first Special Shape Rodeo held in 1989. The Balloon Fiesta starts on Oct. 7 and runs through Oct. 15. The Special Shape Rodeo will take place on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13.