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The Dawn Patrol

The Dawn Patrol debuted in October 1978

In 1977 I became interested in making a balloon flight before sunrise, while the sky was still black, and watch the sunrise from the air.

I was slowly (VERY SLOWLY!) researching the requirements to certify a balloon and pilot for night flight when fellow balloonist Ken O'Connor also became interested and spurred me into progress.

With participation from members of the Lockheed Balloon Club we built two sets of position lights and received supplemental type certificates to allow night flight operations with 3 balloons (Ken's, Lockheed Balloon Club's and mine). With assistance from the FAA Western Region Engineering Office - above and beyond the call of duty - we received the official paper work just in time to make the debut of The Dawn Patrol at the 1978 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

When the balloon burner is on, the entire balloon glows.  The Fire-2 burner of The Balloon Works (Barnes) balloons is a backup burner that puts out a very bright yellow flame and causes Barnes balloons to glow even brighter.  Our first indication of the impression we made came from the Albuquerque International Airport.  I carried an aircraft radio in case we drifted that direction in the dark.  I checked in with the tower after we launched and later in the flight heard the tower talking to an inbound flight.  The tower informed the pilots about the balloon operations and told them that when they cleared the Sandia Mountains and could see the north Rio Grande valley they would try to get the balloons to light up for the pilots and passengers.  We were 5 miles north of the airport but the tower was watching the show.  I was so excited about being asked!

We continued to fly The Dawn Patrol each year at Albuquerque but it really took off (no pun intended) when we first flew it at the Great Reno Balloon Race in 1984.  The second year in Reno, all the spectators knew what to expect and we found ourselves in traffic congestion driving to the launch field at 4:30 am!

The Dawn Patrol at Reno was choreographed so all the balloons inflated at the same time and then took off in sequence.  The wind conditions in Reno allowed the balloons to maneuver as a group and stay around the launch field.  Radio communications allowed us to coordinate simultaneous burns so that all the balloons light up at the same time.  When all the balloons light up, the number of camera flashes from the ground must be seen to be believed.

The Dawn Patrol continues to be a hallmark of the Great Reno Balloon Race and has become a part of many other rallies throughout the western US.  In recent years the Albuquerque Internationl Balloon Fiesta has also started promoting The Dawn Patrol.

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This page modified: July 09 2000 12:44:00.