By Jess Kelsey
A Mustang man will return to the skies as he takes flight in his hot air balloon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Oct. 7 -15.
Lee Little and his balloon, Phenix, are attending the annual festival along with hundreds of others from all over the world to celebrate the art of ballooning.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a world-renowned attraction where hundreds of balloons take flight at the Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“From its modest beginnings in 1972 with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot, the Balloon Fiesta has grown to multiple events launching year-round at the custom-designed, 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park,” according to the event’s website. “Our signature event remains Balloon Fiesta – which, with almost 600 balloons, is the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.”
Little has been involved with ballooning since 1983 when he worked as part of a crew on a balloon.
“I eventually became a crew chief for a gentleman and that same gentleman taught me how to fly,” said Little. “I then eventually bought a balloon.”
His first balloon was named Little Heaven, adding his last name to the balloon’s original name of just Heaven.
Little’s next balloon was a “competition-style” balloon which he named Basket Case.
“It’s a fun thing naming your balloon,” said Little.
Little’s current balloon, Phenix, uses the “mythological spelling of the mythical bird” that can be reborn from it’s ashes, said Little.
“This balloon was a balloon that was reborn, that’s why I gave it the name Phenix,” said Little.
Little and his balloons have flown in numerous areas, including New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.
One of Little’s favorite ballooning experiences was during a festival in Hugo, Oklahoma. Little had received permission to land on someone’s property following his flight, and when he landed, children came running out of a nearby house to look at the balloon.
“It brought a smile to my face,” said Little.
Little and his crew had about 30 minutes before sundown so they decided to give the children short rides in the balloon.
“They had a grin that went ear to ear,” said Little. “That was something they will never ever forget.”
Little also partook in the largest ballooning event at Albuquerque, when in 2000, the event had more than 1,000 balloons participating. They have since placed a limit on participating balloons in recent years due to safety concerns, but Little said this event was “spectacular.”
“If you could just imagine 1,000 balloons in the air with all the different colors and the sun shining thought, it was like a giant rainbow up there,” said Little.
Little said ballooning, to him, is the most serene experience one can have.
“I enjoy it because it’s just like being in an open cockpit on an airplane, except you aren’t going from here to here, you’re just hanging there,” said Little. “Sometimes it can be quiet slow, and sometimes it can be quiet quick. You just never know. The views are just absolutely beautiful up there. To me, it’s a level of calmness that I don’t think you can experience from any other vantage point. It’s really, really neat. It’s something you have to experience.”
This year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s theme is “Inflate your Imagination.” For more information on the annual event, visit http://www.balloonfiesta.com.