This year’s Balloon Fiesta was the setting for a victory flight of sorts for the Albuquerque man and his Russian copilot who set world records this year with a gas balloon flight across the Pacific Ocean.
It’s the first Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta since Two Eagles pilots Troy Bradley of Albuquerque and Leonid Tiukhtyaev of Moscow, Russia, made history with the flight in January.
The 6,600-mile, 160-hour helium balloon flight from Japan to Mexico set records for duration and distance, and the two pilots gave short speeches during the pilots’ briefing that preceded Saturday morning’s mass ascension.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev said the fiesta provided the chance to tell stories of their voyage to pilots and friends from around the world who are in Albuquerque for the annual nine-day event that ends today.
“That’s the fun part, have a beer and talk about it afterwards,” Bradley said.
Tiukhtyaev was visiting with his daughter and granddaughter, and raved about the fiesta, which he hasn’t been to in several years. He said he’ll be back next year.
“The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a world-famous show,” he said. “I see all my friends, gas balloon pilots and other pilots. Albuquerque, I believe, is the capital of balloonists.”
Bradley said he had his mind on making that record-setting flight across the Pacific for 15 years.
“It’s a little surreal that it’s actually over,” said Tami Bradley, Troy’s wife and a crew member for the Two Eagles flight.
Bradley and Tiukhtyaev said they have their eyes set on another project the Two Eagles team will take on, but they aren’t ready to announce what that will be.
During Saturday’s mass ascension, Bradley piloted a balloon full of paying clients. Everyone but him was making their first balloon ride. A crowd surrounding the balloon cheered as it took off.
Bradley, a longtime balloon pilot with a record-breaking résumé, said that, even after taking part in 34 Fiestas, he is still in awe of the mass ascension.
“When you see 600 balloons flying at the same time,” Bradley said, “it really does never get old.”
It was a great day for a flight and Balloon Fiesta Park was packed with people who saw the favorite balloons – including those shaped like bees, penguins, a pig, a cow, Darth Vader and Yoda – take off. It was the eighth straight day the balloons were able to take to the air.
Tiukhtyaev was just a passenger on the flights he took at the Fiesta this year, something unusual for him.
“It’s interesting to be a passenger,” Tiukhtyaev said. “Because, if I’m not a pilot, I have more time to speak about (the flight) and to see.”