The Dawn Patrol began in 1978 when two California balloonists developed position lighting systems that allowed them to fly at night. Dawn Patrol pilots take off in the dark and fly until it is light enough to see landing sites. Fellow balloonists appreciate the Dawn Patrol because they can watch the balloons and get an early idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes. On mass ascension days, about a dozen Dawn Patrol balloons perform the Dawn Patrol Show, a choreographed inflation and launch set to music that has been part of the Balloon Fiesta since 1996.
6:45-7 a.m. • Opening Ceremonies
7-8:30 a.m. • Mass Ascension
There's nothing quite as awe-inspiring—or disorienting—as the Mass Ascension.
Since the early days of the Balloon Fiesta, all participating balloons have launched en masse in one of the most spectacular displays of sound and color in all of aviation. During mass ascensions, balloons launch in two waves, led by a balloon flying the American flag to the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Launch directors, also known as “zebras” because of their black-and-white-striped outfits, serve as “traffic cops,” coordinating the launch so balloons leave the field in a safe and coordinated manner. Once they're all up, up and away, it can be difficult to find your bearings, so make sure the little ones haven't wandered.
12:30-7 p.m. • Fiesta del Vino-Wine Tasting
There's a separate admission required for this event.
2 p.m.-5 p.m. • America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race inflation begins
5-7 p.m. • Fiesta Challenge Competition Flight
6-7:15 p.m. • America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race presented by Warsteiner
The America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race is one of the most prestigious long-distance ballooning events in the world, and gives spectators a means to learn about another aspect of ballooning—long-duration gas balloon flight. Most Balloon Fiesta events feature hot-air balloons, which are usually able to stay aloft for only a couple of hours. Gas balloons, use lighter-than-air gases such as helium and hydrogen for lift, and can stay aloft for 60 hours or more. The balloon that flies the furthest—in accordance with the rules—wins. Some America's Challenge flights reach Canada and the East Coast of the United States. The gas balloons inflate in the late afternoon and take off in the early evening—timing that increases the balloons' flight duration.
Schedule information compiled by Michael Henningsen