Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
It normally takes four to five weeks to assemble a standard size hot air balloon wrap, but Andy Baird, general manager of Michigan-based Cameron Balloons, is determined to do it in nine days, and he does it in front of visitors to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The big reveal will take place on Sunday, the ninth and final day of the holiday, when the envelope is inflated during the morning mass ascent, and visitors will finally be able to see the artwork adorning the bright yellow fabric and find out who ordered its construction.
“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 hot air balloon mecca, ”Baird said. “Every year, hundreds of pilots and crews make the annual pilgrimage to this event, so what better place to give birth to a balloon than here.”
Among those who make the annual pilgrimage is Baird, a pilot for over 35 years. This is the 27th fiesta in which he has flown a balloon, he said.
This year, he also brought a five-person Cameron Balloons sewing team and industrial-grade sewing machines, which were set up in front of large windows in the Sid Cutter pilot’s lodge.
“This is the first time that a staff member has attended a fiesta,” said Baird. “Our production schedule is such that they can all go out and enjoy the mass launch for a bit, and then get back to work.”
And that’s a fair amount of work, considering the mammoth size of the 90,000 cubic foot envelope. “Imagine 90,000 basketballs in a bag. This is how he is tall. It’s eight stories and 57 feet wide, so it’s huge, ”Baird said.
It’s also a sort of puzzle with 800 pieces, including 400 fabric panels and 400 other smaller pieces, many of which will be put together to form the art adorning the balloon.
“It’s not that different than sewing a pair of jeans,” said Debbie Branch, a member of the team, who has been sewing hot air balloons for 35 years. “You always have the same type of balance marks, or graduations, so you know where one part meets the next. You just have to match that mark as you go, ”she said.
The trickier part is sewing what are called French flap seams, interlocking seams that create a strong bond between the pieces of 1.9 ounce nylon ripstop.
The fabric, Baird said, is similar to what is often used in tent making, “but it’s the type of nylon fiber that is used, its construction, the type of coating, the type of finishes, the how the dye is formulated. , all of these things are balloon specific for our specifications.
The cost of assembling a balloon wrap of the type being worked on at the fiesta starts at around $ 25,000, Baird said.
Branch, who sews about 25 hot air balloon wraps a year, said the job was anything but boring. “I find something different every day – whether it’s a different ball, a different part of the ball, or different colors, shapes or art. It is very rewarding.