Albuquerque loves hot air ballooning. The city is home to the world’s largest hot air balloon festival (a nine day event where 1,000 pilots launch more than 700 balloons) and a balloon museum the size of an airport hangar (59,000 sq. ft.). At the museum (located on Balloon Museum Drive near Balloon Fiesta Park), visitors learn the history of the sport/pastime/art (first manned balloon flight went up in 1783!), how these cheerful airships are controlled (more gadgets involved than you think) and some of the more interesting triumphs and tragedies. The museum introduces great characters who’ve had their share of both, like US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger who was the first to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic in a gas balloon (he also held the record for the highest parachute jump, from 102,800 ft.) but years later, while serving as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, was shot down and spent 11 months as a POW in in the so-called Hanoi Hilton prison. That’s the same place where John McCain did his Vietcong time.
For fans of Kittinger, other skybound heroes, and the pure beauty of graceful flight, the Balloon Museum is a must see. But despite its easy beauty, ballooning remains a dangerous deal. Just ask NFL wide-receiver Donté Stallworth whose balloon struck power lines just last month. He was nearly electrocuted.