ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It takes a lot of coordination to inflate and launch hundreds of balloons at one time. For nearly half a century, zebras, chase crews, and pilots have gotten the process down pat.
It’s a sight that’s hard to miss and the beauty is something that keeps people coming back for more. In order to get to that point, there’s a lot that has to be done. “We help the pilots get off the field in a safe coordinated launch,” says Michelle Healy, the Chief Launch Director.
They’re called the Launch Directors, or zebras. “Why are we called zebras? Because we wear black and white stripes,” says Healy.
The zebras let the pilots know when it’s safe to take off. With hundreds of balloons in the sky, zebras launch balloons by using a process called the “Three Row Rule.”
“As the balloons lay out, the pilots three rows back will watch,” says Healy.
As far as the pilots, they’re the ones who fly the balloons. However, they can’t do that job alone. They rely on their chase crews.
“They follow the pilot while they’re flying, and the chase crew is on the ground,” says Healy. “They’re there to help the pilot set the balloon down safely and pack it away, which is most important,” she continues.
This trio is what makes Balloon Fiesta the success that it is year after year. If it’s your first time, questions are encouraged.
“Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque is different because you get to visit with the pilots, the crew, and the launch directors,” says Healy.
This year, officials say there are 580 pilots registered to fly.