In this Oct. 8, 2011 photo, the “Carousel” hot air balloon is shown at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The 41st annual event is set to begin Saturday and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the country and the global. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Hundreds of balloons took to the sky above Albuquerque on Sunday in a flawless mass launch at the annual hot-air balloon festival.
The launches at the 41st Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta came a day later than expected after high winds grounded flights on Saturday.
Early “dawn patrol” launches were followed by two waves of mass ascensions. Traditional balloons were joined by others shaped like Darth Vader, Cosmo the Astronaut and superheros.
Nearly 500 balloons floated north and east of the west Albuquerque event site, Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said.
Five hydrogen balloons in the cross-country America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race took off later in the evening, followed by tethered balloons for a twilight glow event.
The balloons in the cross-county challenge race could make it all the way to the East Coast if conditions are favorable, Garrity said.
More than 550 pilots signed up to fly balloons at the fiesta, according to director Don Edwards. That’s slightly higher than in most years, he said.
The nine-day event drew slightly more than 700,000 spectators last year and continues through next Sunday