I attended a marvelous free show on Sunday at Albuquerque's Balloon Museum. The Google Earth satellite image shows the museum building at the bottom with the field to the north that is the launch site for the annual Balloon Fiesta.
The event was cosponsored with the soaring museum located to the east of the city at Moriarty. The balloon museum has recently expanded its coverage to the various types of soaring including the traditional sail planes, along with the kite-like forms.
The center-piece of the event was a series of jumps from a helicopter by teams of sky divers using wing suits and small para-gliders allowing great speed and manuverability.
A couple fellows who are relative newcomers to the sport demonstrated how the flexible canopies are raised to begin a flight. When they have reached the highest skill level, they will be able to go the summit of the Sandia Mountains in the background and start their flights by stepping off a cliff a mile above the valley floor. The canopy, shrouds and control lines fit into the backpack along with an emergency parachute, and the whole thing only weighs about fifty pounds. The entry-level cost of the equipment is about three thousand dollars.
A large group of radio-control enthusiasts come every day to the balloon museum to fly their electric-powered aircraft. The planes are built of very light-weight foam and plastic. The tiny electric motors are powered by rechargeable batteries which can keep the planes in the air for ten to twenty minutes. Some of the larger craft can reach speeds of eighty miles per hour.
The miniature craft like the tiny helicopter above can easily be flown indoors; a ready-to-fly kit can be had for about $100. The larger chopper models require more space, a great deal of skill to operate, and their cost can run into the thousands.