When you attend the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, you won’t find a zebra like you find at the zoo; but you might find two other types of zebras!

Hot air balloons come in all shapes, sizes and colors…including ones resembling zebras as you can see in the photo. These ‘special shape’ balloons are a growing breed and have their own sessions for ascensions (i.e. liftoff). From Advertising to Adventure, special shape balloons offer everything from messages to merriment to memories for their owners.

However, you will also find 56-58 other ‘zebras’ at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta as well. These ZEBRAS are Launch Directors or flight officials responsible for flight safety. Launch Directors (LDs) are the first person of contact for the pilots and crews on the field. In their black and white attire LDs, aka Zebras, are rather prominent ambassadors of Fiesta. The LDs work with the pilots to conduct a Safe Coordinated Launch. Even well before daylight, the LDs walk their rows to greet pilots and crews. During inflations, the LDs look for proper tie offs and anything out of the ordinary. The LDs launch the balloons in waves of 3 rows. Each LD has a conversation with the pilot about the launch. The discussion may include overhead traffic, layers of wind, false lift warnings, and other topics necessary for a successful launch. The Launch Card (chit) is collected and then the LD clears the spectators down wind and reestablishes eye contact with the pilot. When the airspace above the balloon is clear the LD blows the whistle and gives thumbs up for launch. The LD stays in position until the balloon is above head level and in controlled flight. The LD waves or salutes while wishing a safe flight for the pilot and crew. LDs take this time to observe the balloon’s flight to be prepared for the next launch. Then it is on to the next balloon to repeat the launch process. After all the balloons are launched, zebras shift their hats to become Landing Assistants. When the permission is granted to allow landings on the launch field, the LDs help the incoming balloons land safely until balloon crews arrive.

So look for Zebras in the air….and on the ground!

If you head to the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and want to make the most of your time, order a copy of the Fun Excursions In a Box Guide…