Natl. Commander Takes Inaugural Ride in N. Mexico Wing Hot Air Balloon
Lt. Col. Jay T. Tourtel
Public Affairs Officer
New Mexico Wing
Maj. Gen. Mark E. Smith became the first Civil Air Patrol national commander to ride in New Mexico Wing’s new hot-air balloon, Integrity, at the 46th Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta last month at Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque.
The former New Mexico Wing and Southwest Region commander participated in the opening mass ascension the first day of the Fiesta, accompanied by the balloon crew and Cadet Col. Jodie Gawthorp of the Indiana Wing.
“I was pleased to fly with the New Mexico Wing’s hot air balloon team,” he said. “The opportunity to fly during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta during its morning Mass Ascension of 600-plus balloons was exciting.
“However, even better than the beauty of the flight was the professionalism of the New Mexico Wing’s crew," Smith added. "Led by pilots Lt. Col. (William) Fitzpatrick and Maj. (Jessica) Makin, several cadets and senior members ensured the launch, flight and recovery of the hot air balloon Integrity was conducted in a flawless manner. Well done!”
The Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 with a small gathering of 13 balloons in the parking lot of Albuquerque’s Coronado Mall. Some 4½ decades later, the number of balloons averages 600, with as many as 1,000 registered in 2000.
On the closing day of the Fiesta, Col. Mike Lee, New Mexico Wing commander and Smith’s successor in that post, participated in the final Mass Ascension of the Fiesta.
“It was a pleasure to fly the national commander in Integrity and to expand our reach beyond New Mexico Wing,” Lee said.