Coca Cola Day
5:45-6:45 a.m. • Dawn Patrol
7-11:45 a.m. • Flying Events presented by Coca-Cola
New Mexico Challenge Hot Air Balloon Race presented by Contractor's Bonding, Ltd.-Sandia Casino Black Jack Competition
It's impossible to line balloons up on the starting line and have them race to the finish, but balloonists have come up with some interesting forms of competition. In a ballooning competition, pilots must use the winds at different altitudes to steer the balloon to a target, usually a big "X" on the ground. The pilot then drops a marker from the balloon so that it lands as close to the center of the target as possible. Closest drop wins. On competition days, some balloons take off at Balloon Fiesta Park and fly to targets located north or south of the launch site. Other balloons launch at least a mile away from Balloon Fiesta Park and fly to targets at the park. The overall competition winners are determined by individual pilots' scores over all competition events flown during Fiesta week. The Sandia Casino Black Jack race uses a similar premise, but pilots must drop two markers on giant playing cards laid out on the field and score as close to "21" as possible.
The New Mexico Challenge is similar to the America's Challenge gas race in that the winner is the balloon that flies the furthest without breaking any rules. The New Mexico Challenge became part of the Fiesta about five years ago and is open to all Fiesta pilots. Balloons compete in three size classes. These flights take a lot of planning in determining how much propane to carry and what strategies to use, for example, to get around or over the Sandia Mountains. Previous New Mexico Challenge winners have landed as far away as the area south of Las Vegas, NM.