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From Latin America to Northern Europe, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s Special Shape Rodeo featured balloon pilots from all over the world.
Almost 120 balloonists participated in Thursday morning’s rodeo, including a dinosaur named Steggy from Brazil.
Steggy’s pilot, George Ary, has made the long trek to Albuquerque for six years now. He has been a balloon pilot for 26 years.
Steggy, a bright blue Stegosaurus, is Ary’s newest balloon.
From the other side of the Atlantic, Benoit Lambert brought two fan-favorite “Star Wars”-themed balloons from Belgium.
In 2006, Lambert received permission from Lucasfilm Ltd. to create a massive Darth Vader balloon. Due to its global success, he was authorized to make a Yoda balloon about eight years later.
Lambert’s “Star Wars”-themed balloons are among the most popular at the Balloon Fiesta. His team has to close the area off with ropes to keep the crowd back since so many people gather around them.
While Darth Vader didn’t get a chance to soar the skies Thursday, a huge crowd cheered as the Yoda balloon – piloted by Lambert – took off.
Lambert and his team take the duo across such continents as Europe, Asia and Australia. They have been Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta regulars for 15 years.
Alex Barends, who lives just north of Belgium in the Netherlands, brought an interesting character to the fiesta this year.
Mister Globie, a Dutch children’s book character created by Barends, was brought to life by his crew at the field Thursday.
Globie was created initially by Barends to help teach kids environmental awareness.
He has attended the fiesta as a spectator previously, but this is his first year at the event as a pilot.
“It’s just a feeling,” Barends said to a person who asked him if there was a measure or mark to let him know when the balloon is ready to fly. “I’ve been a pilot for 24 years now and I just know, it’s based on experience.”
Some special shapes pilots didn’t have as far to travel.
Scott Monahan and his twin brother, Todd, who own Monahan Airways, made their annual 36-hour road trip from New York for this year’s fiesta. This is their 15th year making the trip.
“It’s amazing, especially to be able to fly all around the world and different places provide different opportunities,” Scott Monahan said. “This is like home to us.”
Tigers, sloths and unicorns are some of the balloon shapes the twins brought for display Thursday morning. Scott Monahan, who designed some of the balloons, said it’s all about giving them a personality.
He got the idea for his unicorn balloon after his 4-year-old daughter brought home a drawing she made in kindergarten.
He designed it and eventually had it made in Brazil, he said. The bright pink unicorn got the chance to fly Thursday morning during the Special Shapes Rodeo.
“Balloons are really made to fly; they don’t like staying on the ground,” Monahan said when the possibility of ascension was still up in the air.
More than 20 countries are represented at this year’s fiesta, Tom Garrity, a fiesta spokesman, said.