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Balloon Fiesta celebrates fifty years in the sky

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta took flight for the 50th time at Balloon Fiesta Park on Saturday, Oct. 1st, sending hundreds of hot air balloons up into the sky once again to enchant the thousands of visitors who will gather from the first through the ninth of the month.

The Fiesta is an event that attracts both balloonists and visitors from all around the world. The event being hosted in Albuqerque was no matter of chance: the so-called “Albuquerque Box,” a mix of weather patterns and landscape, provides perfect conditions for flying, according to the Fiesta’s website.

Bill Butler, who has piloted at the Fiesta for the past 25 years and goes by the name “Captain Bill,” said that it is an event you have to experience to understand and encouraged everyone to come out.

Also commemorating 25 years at the Fiesta are Nader Vadiee, a retired professor from the University of New Mexico, and Meran Vadiee, his wife. For the duration of the Fiesta, they will be selling Southwestern-style jewelry in the Artisan Goods tent.

“I'm very happy that they are sustaining this event. And it's a good promotion for Albuquerque visitors. This was a very insightful investment (for) the people who started this. Now we are celebrating the 50th year, which is great,” Nader Vadiee said.

A first for this year's festivities is an Aerial Drone Light Show at 5:45 a.m. on days of the festival, sponsored by Sandia Resort and Casino. This show features drones lighting up different images in the sky an hour and fifteen minutes before the balloons take flight. With the additional festivities and excitement for the 50th year, Nader Vadiee said he looks forward to the event, and hopes for a clear sky.

“It's a nice happy family event … Colorful, exciting, magnificent …  (You) meet a lot of nice people. You'll meet a lot of people from all over the world, from all over the United States. They appreciate art (and) have disposable money to buy art,” Nader Vadiee said.

Two of the balloons that float through the sky are depictions of Yoda and Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” series. For the past fifteen years, (seven for the newer Yoda balloon), members of various Star Wars cosplay groups have accompanied the Darth Vader balloon. These groups include members of the 501st Legion, the Rebel Legion, the Mandalorian Mercs and the Galactic Academy, according to Nina Marley, a member of the 501st Legion.

“This is just a whole bunch of Star Wars nerds who love Star Wars so much. We come out and help support community events through costuming,” Marley said.

Occasionally, customers are able to go up in the Vader balloon, according to Marley and Jenn Darnell, another member of the 501st Legion. The Yoda balloon’s Belgian pilot, Ben Oit, is also a member of the 501st Legion, but does not fly in costume, according to Darnell. The Vader balloon will only be making select appearances this year.

“(There’s) a lot more to see because of the 50th … (It’s) exciting: it's meeting up with friends, hanging and giving people good smiles in the mornings and good photos in the afternoon,” Darnell said.

Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at or on Twitter @maddogpukite

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