Patrolling the Rio Grande in Albuquerque During Balloon Fiesta

Every year, Albuquerque, New Mexico hosts the AIBF-Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Since the early 90's, hovercrafts have played an important role in keeping the event fun and safe. The Rio Grande runs South along the front range of the Sandia Mountains, and the combination of the river valley and mountain range in close proximity provides for a unique atmospheric condition for the balloonists called "The Box." Cool morning air flows down the river valley at a low altitude, while warm air flows up river in an upper layer. This allows the ballon pilots to ascend and fly North, then descend and fly South.

While flying South, many balloonists maneuver towards the river to perform a maneuver called the "Splash-'N-Dash." They touch their baskets to the surface of the water, and take-off again. By manipulating the temperatures of their envelopes, they can skip their way down the river for several miles, rise out of the valley and return to the North to repeat the process.

Hovercrafts from the Albuquerque Police Department and from volunteers patrol the river and monitor the balloons, and take media out for photo shoots. If a balloon runs low on fuel, or becomes disabled in the trees and brush, the hovercrafts can divide the balloon into its components and transport it to a safe extraction point since most of the river is inaccessable by vehicle. Prior to the intruduction of hovercrafts to the Rio Grande, helicopers were required to extract stranded balloons at great expense to the pilots. But now, the all-volunteer and uniformed members of the patrol perform safety-related services for tee-shirts and balloon pins!

Here's a pretty good narrative written by Norm Lincoln and published in the Hoverclub of America's newsletter "Hovernews."