This yearís Thunderbird Balloon Classic was a welcomed change to an event that has been around for over twenty years. The biggest change was the move from Glendale to Scottsdale, Arizona. It went from a dirt field at an airport, to a green grass polo field and a much nicer flying area.
At Friday evenings pilot check-in and briefing Bob Romaneschi voiced concern that the launch field might not be completely ready because of a thunderstorm that had flooded the field a few days earlier. Launch spots had to be juggled around since some of the field was under water, a strange concept in Arizona. Saturday morning turned out to be as good as any I have flown in Arizona. We were in the first wave, flew northwest of the field, did a passenger change and flew back to the field for the second wave. We did the same thing again and ended up back at the field for the third wave of special shaped balloons. The box was as good as any in Albuquerque and made for great flying and photo opportunities.
Saturday evening the organizers scheduled a Desert Glow at the polo fields. Again the winds were cooperative and the largest crowd in the history of Thunderbird viewed the spectacular. We made the mistake of grabbing dinner before the Glow, got caught in traffic for over one hour, and finally gave up and headed back to the hotel when we figured that it would take us another hour to get to the field.
Sunday morning was a little overcast and cooler than Saturday. The box was gone, but the winds provided around 120 degrees of maneuverability. After the flight the awards were given out back at the field. In the shapes division Steve Crapo placed 1st, Jim Ryan placed 2nd, and Ed Rowley placed 3rd. Overall winner for the regular balloons was Owen Keown, 2nd place was Tom Heal, and 3rd place was Phil Glebe. A drawing was held for the pilots that participated in the Desert Glow and David Bradeley won a trip for two to any destination American Airlines flies in Europe. Second prize went to Linda Nelis who won a trip for two to any destination American Airlines flies in the USA. These were great prizes to motivate the pilots into glowing their balloons.
A lot of pilots were getting tired of the Thunderbird Balloon Classic while it was being held out at the Glendale airport, but I didnít hear one complaint about launching from such great facility in Scottsdale. This move was the shot in the arm that Thunderbird needed to keep it going another twenty years.
For other comments about this event see Postflight on page 34. Editor