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A delightful glow: How a beloved Balloon Fiesta tradition began

glow
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Everyone who loves balloon glows owes thanks to Albuquerque pilot Scott Appelman, who suggested that glows be included in Balloon Fiesta in 1987.

“I was one of three pilots who did a night tether glow during a balloon event in Durango at the end of 1986,” Appelman explains. “It was terrific. I still have a photo of that glow in my office. At the time I was an Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta board member. I came back to Albuquerque and pitched the idea of balloon glows to the rest of the board.”

Appelman wasn’t sure how many pilots would be interested in an event that involved balloons lighting their burners and staying on the ground. When word of the new event spread throughout the balloon community, 375 pilots applied to be in the first balloon glow. Two hundred and twenty-five of them were selected to participate.

“I remember that first allburn,” says Appelman. “We had no idea how many people would show up. I couldn’t believe it. There were 100,000 people on the field watching the balloons all lit up. It was a proud moment for me.”

Glows draw thousands of families to Balloon Fiesta Park. Three hundred balloons are on the field each evening. Crews are anxious to meet and greet visitors and to answer questions about their balloons.

Albuquerque pilot Dave Tennis participates in at least one glow every year. He understands the look of amazement that he sees on the faces of children and adults as they watch all the balloons light up.

“That’s the exciting part, seeing their faces,” he says. “Then they get up close and realize how big these balloons really are. Some people ask questions about everything in the balloon and what it does. I encourage questions. I like talking about my balloon.”

Tennis, a helicopter pilot who teaches members of the U.S. Air Force how to fly the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey multi-mission tiltrotor aircraft, credits his wife, Debbie Tennis, with encouraging him to buy his own balloon.

“She crews with me, so anyone who comes by our balloon will get a chance to talk with her, too,” Tennis says. “We joke that she’s the air boss and owner and I get to fly the balloon.”

When Tennis isn’t participating in a glow, he often can be found picnicking with Debbie on the grounds.

Two of the glows are reserved for special shape balloons. Some of the balloons that have participated in past Balloon Fiestas look like flying houses, cars, cacti, bottles, cans and critters.

“Balloon glows are personal experiences for visitors because they can interact with the pilots,” says Appelman. “So many balloon events don’t allow people on the field, but this is one where everyone is walking around the field getting as close to the balloons as they want to get. Visitors really like balloon glows, but it’s also a hit with pilots and their crews.”

Visitors are encouraged to arrive at Balloon Fiesta Park when the gates open at 3 p.m. so they can avoid last-minute traffic. After the completion of the glows at 8 p.m., a 20-minute AfterGlow Fireworks Show, presented by the Albuquerque Journal, caps off the night, adding an extra-special ending to a magical day.

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