To really experience Balloon Fiesta we recommend everyone who is able volunteer to crew at least once. Crewing a balloon is not strenuous work but it is physical labor. You have to be able to lift 50 lbs, run short distance and traverse uneven ground. But the excitement of helping to inflate the balloon, watch it take flight, chase it on the ground as it travels through the air and then retrieve and pack up the balloon is worth the effort. Balloon launches begin by assembling the gondola and laying out the balloon. Two crew members, one on each side of the opening of the balloon, hold the balloon open to allow air to pass into the balloon. A large fan is used to blow cold air into the balloon. As the balloon inflates, crew members pull the bottom of the balloon out to aid in the inflation.
Crew members hold robes keeping the balloon in place
The balloon pilot directs all of the activites during the inflation. Crew members can be asked to hold robes, pull the balloon out as it cold inflates, hold the balloon open during cold inflate, or act as goodwill ambassadors for the balloon by passing out cards and pins. During balloon fiesta all of this takes place in close quarters with other balloons inflating all around you. Care must be taken not to walk on any balloon as this can cause the balloon to tear, or to get tangled in any robes laying on the ground.
The most dramatic part of any inflation comes when the pilot fires the burners. In an effort to save fuel pilots usually don't fire the burners until they have been told they will be the next wave to go. During Balloon Fiesta ground crew, called Zebras, give the pilot the go ahead to launch.
At the word from the Zebra, the balloon lifts into the air. The chase crew quickly packs up everything on the ground and leaves the field. Chase crews use radios and visual contact to follow the progress of the balloon. Because balloons are at the mercy of the wind thay usually cannot designate a landing area prior to launch. During this launch the pilot put the balloon down in an alfalfa field in Corrales, not far from the inn. It was a popular landing spot that day as about a dozen balloons touched down while we packed up.