Forty years after Sid Cutter founded the Balloon Fiesta, 555 balloons will grace the sky in his honor. This year's event is dedicated to Cutter, 77, who died in May from stomach cancer, and includes airborne tributes to the Albuquerque balloonist who started it all.
“Sid was a very classy guy,” says Don Edwards, event director for the Balloon Fiesta. “He was world famous in the ballooning community. He started this fiesta in 1972 with only 13 balloons, and he won several national championships.” Cutter occupies several hall-of-fame slots and holds some of the highest honors in the sport, including the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in aviation and the Diplôme de Montgolfier.
The son of aviation pioneers William and Virginia Dillon Cutter, he accumulated more than 22,000 hours of flying time since taking up ballooning in 1971. In addition to creating the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Cutter founded the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association—the largest balloon club in the world.
Cutter attended last year's fiesta despite his health concerns. Edward says Saturday morning will be all about the “father of the Balloon Fiesta,” whose enthusiasm for aviation and outlook on life put Albuquerque on the ballooning map—and won him a worldwide circle of friends.
Last April, Cutter held a “living reception” as a last hurrah. He was always one for larger-than-life exploits. “This was classic Sid,” says Edwards. “He knew he was terminally ill, and about a month before he died he threw this huge party. Guests from all over the states came to celebrate his life.”
The Missing Man Formation is a military tradition to honor a fallen soldier. The salute is typically performed by four planes that break a V-shape formation when one plane peels off to the west, symbolizing the pilot’s departure. Cutter's signature Earth balloons, from his World Balloon company, will make up the formation for the opening ceremonies on Saturday, Oct. 1, a few minutes before 7 a.m. Each pilot will also release white weather balloons. Elza “Skeeter” Paul, an old friend, will steer the balloon that veers west.
On Tuesday, Oct. 4, pilots will get the chance to test their skill by aiming to drop bags into a boat on the launch field during the Sid Cutter Memorial Competition. The competition mimics the conditions of the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship, which Cutter won in 1978 and 1986.
The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is also mounting an exhibition honoring the world-famous balloonist. Celebrating Sid! opens on Saturday and displays Cutter’s prize-winning contraptions as well as his numerous trophies and awards. His “Good Beer Blimp” alone is worth the admission.