LOOK UP ON ANY CLEAR DAY in Albuquerque, and you might spot a colorful globe drifting across the sky. “The balloons would land on the dirt road down the street from us,” says Michael Kerns, who grew up on the city’s west side. “As a little kid, I always thought they were so cool.”
Back then, Kerns got involved for the pins, rushing to the pilots after they landed to snag one of the treasured collectibles. “I’d ask if they need any help packing up,” he says. Kerns was 10 years old when one of the pilots, who’d remembered him from a few years before, invited him to join his team. Now 36 and taking balloon-pilot lessons, Kerns has been involved with ballooning ever since.
As a chase-crew member, Kerns has learned to adapt quickly from the ground to meet the balloon at the landing site. “You try to communicate with the pilot via radio,” Kerns says. “But sometimes plans change, and you have to just be able to roll with it.”
For those interested, Balloon Fiesta provides a great opportunity to join a crew as pilots from across the world, some traveling alone, converge on Albuquerque. “Balloon Fiesta will actually take volunteers and pair them up with balloons who don’t have crew,” he says. “Outside of that, if you see a balloon land near, pull over and stop and talk with them, and ask them if they need any help.”