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‘Pipe Pilot’ only one from Italy at ABQ Balloon Fiesta

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s Note: To celebrate 2013’s “Year of Italian Culture,” Davide Arminio, an Italian journalist studying in Albuquerque, is finding stories with an Italian connection in New Mexico.



IMG_9887There is only one Italian in Albuquerque’s 2013 Fiesta and he’s known as the “pipe pilot.”

Paolo Bonanno is called that because of his habit of smoking while flying.


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He’s a seven-time award-winning Italian ballooning champion, and pilots the “Ariel”.

This is his first trip to New Mexico, even though his ballooning career dates back to 1980.

It all started with a bet.

Bonanno studied electronics and worked in an aviation company. Then he began working on his own, designing and building automatic machines. He bet a friend that he could, with his own hands, make a hot air balloon in 15 days.

He did it in 13 days, took off in the balloon and discovered that he loved it.

He is now one of Italy’s most renowned Italian balloonists – mainly because he designs balloon components (valves, burners, etc.) as well as the balloons themselves.

And he’s a major partner of of the well-known balloon-making company, Cameron Balloons, based in Michigan. On his desk are some 6,000 sketches and some 9,000 component projects.


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“The experience in aviation is at the base of my attention for safety,” he said. “In everything I do there must be at least two levels of security.”

But sometimes chance brings pleasant surprises.

As Bonanno landed in the North Valley after his fiesta morning flight on Tuesday, a woman came out off a nearby house, approaching Bonanno and the crew, taking pictures and asking where they and the pilot were from.

To the surprise and delight of all, the woman was Italian too, spending some days here hosted by a friend. Coffee and biscuits for the pilot and crew and some chats in Italian closely followed.

After Albuquerque, Bonanno is heading to Leon, Mexico, for more balloon competition. He then will fly back to Mondovì, his home town, where in January he will join the well known annual Raduno balloon rally.