Gas balloons or spy balloons? Balloon Fiesta officials explain the difference

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In just a few days, Albuquerque’s sky will fill up with balloons of all shapes and sizes.

This year, more than a dozen balloons will compete in the annual Gordon Bennett gas balloon race. 

Balloon Fiesta officials are making sure the annual race doesn’t raise any alarms by explaining the difference between a gas balloon and a spy balloon.

“Balloon Fiesta this year was happy to have been selected to host the 66th Gordon Bennett cup,” said Tom Garrity a Balloon Fiesta spokesperson. 

In this international race, pilots fly in special gas powered balloons designed for racing long distances — some traveling more than 2,000 miles.

“Balloon teams that have launched from Albuquerque have flown as far as Wisconsin and up into Quebec, Canada. So, you know, they can go a variety of different distances, they’ve also flown out to New York, and other parts of the northeast,” said Garrity. 

From a distance, these balloons closely resemble to a different balloon that got international attention earlier this year. 

“We understand that there might be some confusion, as these balloons are flying over the central part of the United States into Canada, the same areas where there were some non-sport balloons flying earlier this year and last year,” Garrity said. 

Garrity and his team are working on awareness campaigns that will air across the country during the gas balloon race. The goal is letting people know about the gas powered balloons, and how to spot the difference.

“The most obvious is that these balloons will be carrying their flags of origin,” said Garrity. “But also because all of these gas balloons will have colored sandbags around the entire gondola.”

This year’s race has 17 teams from nine countries. China is not competing.

“The rest of the teams are all now starting to arrive in Albuquerque, and all of them are excited to fly, you know, such a great distance, the potential of a great distance, all within one country,” said Garrity. 

Another precaution fiesta reps are taking is letting law enforcement agencies along the projected flight path know about the race.

So, if they get a call from someone worried the Chinese government is spying on their neighborhood, they can let people know there is nothing to be concerned about.