From the time the New Mexico True balloon was just a design on paper my wife Jennifer and I were in love with. We had an idea that it would be admired, but we weren’t really prepared for just how popular the balloon would True-Lee be.
I will never forget the debut of the New Mexico True balloon at the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. As we pulled in that first morning the entire crew was filled with the excitement of “True-Lee New Mexico” being inflated and flown at the world’s largest balloon event.
While many of our pilot and crew friends had seen a few photos of our maiden flight in Gallup’s Red Rocks, this was really to be the balloon’s big debut.
We got to our launch site and I walked to the pilot briefing. I have flown at Fiesta for more than 20 years and I am always in awe of the huge crowds. As I walked back I began to look for our truck and trailer. The closer I got the more I began to wonder… “had we not parked in the right launch site, did we have to move…where is my truck?”
Finally, after getting to the adjacent launch site, I could barely see the front of our truck and the top of our trailer. Our entire launch site was surrounded by thousands of spectators.
I spotted my wife and she quickly made her way to me and said “you have got to see this to believe it!”
She grabbed my hand and we made our way through the masses and climbed up into the bed of our truck.
“Look!” my wife said. Before us were hundreds and hundreds of people, all waiting patiently around the perimeter of the tarp where our balloon was laid out.
Balloon Fiesta had given each pilot 500 trading cards. In all my years at Fiesta we have never given them all away during the event. This year would be very different.
While a member of my crew organized a line for the cards, other crew members were outlining the balloon on the tarp to keep the ever-growing crowd from stepping on the fabric.
As I began the process of inflating the balloon, cameras were firing all around me. I climbed into the basket, lit the burners and began to fill the balloon with hot air.
As this beautiful giant began to rise I could hear the crowd gasp and cheer over the loud roar of the burners.
Once it was upright the huge crowd pushed into where it had been laid out. Our “Zebra” flight director approached and said…"It’s gorgeous”.
She then cleared a path through the crowd and with a thumbs-up launched us into the blue of the New Mexico sky. The crowd’s roar was thunderous.
The rest of fiesta found us making many new friends thanks to a balloon that is as beautiful, unique and, iconic as our incredible state. I am and will always remain New Mexico True.
Bill Lee - CEO, Gallup McKinley County Chamber of Commerce, Proudly flying “True-Lee New Mexico” - X-Treme-Lee Fun Balloon Adventures