A sea of yellow and blue fabric surrounds Jenni Gaston as she helps build a balloon envelope at the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion in Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta on Wednesday. (Mike Sandoval / For the )
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It usually takes four to five weeks to put together a standard size hot air balloon envelope, but Andy Baird, general manager of Cameron Balloons of Michigan, is determined to do it in nine days and he does it in front of the eyes of visitors to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The big reveal will be on Sunday, the ninth and final day of the fiesta, when the envelope is inflated during the morning mass driveway and visitors can finally see the artwork adorning the bright yellow fabric and learn who commissioned the construction Has.
Andy Baird inspects the fabric of an envelope being sewn together at the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion in Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque on Wednesday. (Mike Sandoval / For the )
“The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the birthplace of ballooning in New Mexico and, in many ways, the birthplace of ballooning in the United States. It’s the Mecca of ballooning, ”said Baird. “Hundreds of pilots and crew members make the pilgrimage to this event every year, so there is no better place to give birth to a balloon than here.”
Among those making the annual pilgrimage is Baird, who has been a pilot for more than 35 years. This is the 27th fiesta where he has flown a balloon, he said.
That year he also brought a five-strong Cameron Balloons sewing team and industrial sewing machines set up in front of large windows in the Sid Cutter Pilots’ Pavilion.
“It’s the first time any of the staff has been to a fiesta,” said Baird. “Our production schedule is designed so that everyone can come out and enjoy a bit of the mass launch and then get back to work.”
And it’s a lot of work, considering the mammoth size of the 90,000 cubic foot envelope. “Imagine 90,000 basketballs in one bag. It is that big. It’s eight stories high and 57 feet wide, so it’s huge, ”said Baird.
It’s also something of an 800 piece puzzle, including 400 panels of fabric and another 400 smaller pieces, many of which are put together to form the art that adorns the balloon.
Debbie Branch sews two pieces of balloon fabric together at the Sid Cutter Pilot’s Pavilion in Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque on Wednesday. (Mike Sandoval / For the )
“It’s not much different than sewing jeans,” says team member Debbie Branch, who has been sewing hot air balloons for 35 years. “They still have the same balance marks or tick marks so you know where one piece meets the next. You just need to adjust that marker over time, ”she said.
The hardest part is sewing what is known as French felled seams, interlocking seams that create a strong bond between the 1.9-ounce ripstop nylon pieces.
The fabric, says Baird, is similar to what is often used to make tents, “but it’s the type of nylon fiber that is used, the construction, the type of coating, the type of equipment, the formulation of the dye” . , all of these things are specific to ballooning for our specifications. “
The cost of assembling a balloon envelope of the type being worked on at the Fiesta starts at about $ 25,000, Baird said.
Branch, who sews about 25 hot air balloon envelopes annually, says the work is anything but monotonous. “I find something different about it every day – be it a different balloon, a different part of the balloon or different colors, shapes or art. It’s very enjoyable. “