Ballooning is a Sport?

I went to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta last weekend and I was amazed to see all the sights. The morning launch, the evening flicker, the entire atmosphere was just a blast. I was even more surprised about the sport of ballooning. Yes, it is a sport.

Over on the far side of the field was 4 balloons that were racing to the east coast. This is serious business. Four balloons were filled with hydrogen, not helium, to complete this race. Weight, wind speeds on different levels, height, etc. is all figured into this race. Borders are also in considerations depending on the upper airstream and with Covid this could be issue, so is the border crossing for these pilots. An estimated 5 days would be the length on this race…. Too long for this reporter to be in a basket.

While waiting for the next event, I was able to talk with Bill “Wild Bill” Dobbs of Kamas Utah about his balloon El Tigre. I wanted to question him about his name “Wild Bill” and owning a balloon, but I decided that would not be very smart.

Wild Bill loves this sport and looks like he will continue for years to come. Wild Bill began his life as a motorcycle racer. At the age of 30, he decided that motorcycle racing was for the younger men. His girlfriend took him to a balloon race and he was hooked. He wanted to still compete and ballooning was that way he chose to continue. 49 years later, Will Bill has won 5 new cars and looking to win something in Albuquerque. 

Over $250,000 in cash and prizes were up for grabs this year at the Balloon Fiesta. Cash, a new motorcycle, a big vehicle and much more were for those who could win. Wild Bill and his chase crew was willing to come from Utah and try to win more prizes. The Balloon Fiesta takes care of the participants. From hotel rooms, propane, meals, etc. these balloonists come from all over to participate. 

The equipment is key. We loved looking at all the balloons, but there is a science and cost behind this sport. In the 70s you could buy a balloon from $8,000 – $12,000. Today the investment is greater. Wild Bill’s rig is about $40,000 and the balloon was from Czechoslovakia and his girlfriend’s setup was about $42,000.

She won 4th place in the women’s National contest a few weeks ago and finished in the top 10 in a men’s race. When asked about the cost of putting up balloon in the air and Wild Bill says $100 each time and about 30 gallons and hour.

I did bring up the danger of ballooning, but Wild Bill really did not want to talk about that. I am sure most people will not talk. He does take his job very seriously and his chase team does also. He has not been hurt in the last 49 years and not planning on it now. 

As I finished with Wild Bill, he handed me his card…. His playing card. All balloonist has cards that they give out at each show. What a great event for families and what a sport for those brave enough to fly high in a balloon.

Bill Coon Reporting