Albuquerque Balloon Museum – The History, Science, Sport, and Art of Ballooning

Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Long known for it’s annual balloon fiesta, Albuquerque, New Mexico’s climate is especially supportive of the aviation type known as Ballooning. Over the years, I’ve taken only a couple of rides in hot air balloons, and I’ve attended the Balloon Fiesta once. Last November, I was to learn that Albuquerque has a first class museum dedicated to ballooning. The large building is home to some balloons of historical significance, and many models of early balloon airships along with panels that tell the stories of their pioneering aviators.

The official name of the museum is The Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum. Even for non-aviators, a visit to this museum is an enjoyable past-time. The history of early ballooning features some larger than life explorers and aviators. Open daily, for $6 USD or less at this writing, you can spend an hour or a day learning about these unique airships.

One such story of interest featured the flight of Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries as they attempted to cross the English Channel. Their balloon flight took place on January 7, 1785, and was the first to cross the channel, and the first international flight. The hydrogen-filled balloon was 26 feet in diameter. As it turned out, they barely made it across having to drop much of their gear into the channel as the balloon descended near the surface of the water. A lucky air current near the French coastline carried them to a safe landing in a forest near Calais, France.

One section of the museum features actual balloon gondolas and envelopes that were used in historic exploratory missions. Each mission is well documented for those who wish to delve deeply into details on a topic of interest to the viewer.

At Lakehurst, New Jersey’s Naval Air Station, the airship Los Angeles was moored on a high mast. Shortly after 1:30 PM on August 25, 1927, a cold air front moved in quickly and lifted the ship’s tail to vertical before the mast could be reoriented to turn the ship into the wind. The ship suffered minor damage in the incident. There are several photos of this event posted online, but this photo and story is featured here at the museum.

One of the neatest features I found at the museum caused me to stop and spend some “quality time” attempting to “fly” a balloon using their simulator. I climbed into a “gondola” where the pilot’s controls were clearly marked and I was able to launch and land the balloon safely. OK, so the landing wasn’t “pretty”, but we came down safely. My best score: 25/25 for takeoff, 40/50 for navigation, and 7.6/25 for landing. Total score, 72.6/100. OK, it was a bumpy landing, but at least no one was hurt. Let’s just say that we won’t talk about my other attempts. >grin<

One particular display held some personal significance to me. My family immigrated from Luxembourg many generations ago. It turns out that the folks of the Grand Duchy have historically been involved in ballooning. Maybe if I were born in an earlier generation, I’d have been a balloonist instead of an airplane pilot. Who knows?

I submit for your review, a gallery of images captured at the museum. As regular readers are painfully aware, I include my stock warning that if your browser supports it, you can click on an image in the gallery to enlarge it and to scroll through.

John Steiner

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