The CoolRVers are actually a couple of retirees, Judy and Luke Rinehimer and our 5 year old German Shepherd Dog, Miss Shady Lady. We are "extended-time" travelers with a home in Cool, California. Thanks for following along with us as we travel North America in our "rolling condo", enjoying the RV lifestyle. Your comments are always welcomed.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

"Z" IS FOR ZEBRAS (#AtoZChallenge)

Today is the last day of the "A to Z Bloggers Challenge" and for our letter of the day I am writing   "Z IS FOR ZEBRAS".


When you first read this blog title you probably thought about zebras you have seen in zoos, on safari, or on National Geographic television. The ZEBRAS I am featuring today, however, are on-the-field as Launch Directors during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. We have attended the ABQ Fiesta since 2006 as active "crew members" with the Boomers RV Club and have enjoyed our interactions with these characters.

As you can tell from today's photos, the Zebra "uniform" is more that just black and white referee shirts. Zebras are a fun group of Launch Directors (LD) that display their nicknames in unique ways. Today you'll learn all about the Fiesta Zebras!

Following is a description of what the Fiesta website describes as the duties of Zebras.

What do Launch Directors do? 
A Launch Director is the first person of contact for the pilots and crews on the field. In their black and white attire LDs, aka Zebras, are rather prominent ambassadors of Fiesta. The LDs work with the pilots to conduct a Safe Coordinated Launch. Even well before daylight, the LDs walk their rows to greet pilots and crews. They remind the pilots about the 3 Row Rule. During inflations, the LDs look for proper tie offs and anything out of the ordinary. The flight operations kick off when the Balloon of the Day launches as the National Anthem is played from the stage. At the conclusion of the anthem, the LDs are able to start launching the first wave. Each LD has a conversation with the pilot about the launch. The discussion may include overhead traffic, layers of wind, false lift warnings, and other topics necessary for a successful launch. The Launch Card (chit) is collected and then the LD clears the spectators down wind and reestablishes eye contact with the pilot. When the airspace above the balloon is clear the LD blows the whistle and gives thumbs up for launch. The LD stays in position until the balloon is above head level and in controlled flight. The LD waves or salutes while wishing a safe flight for the pilot and crew. LDs take this time to observe the balloon’s flight to be prepared for the next launch. Then it is on to the next balloon to repeat the launch process. After all the balloons are launched we shift our hats to become Landing Assistants. When the permission is granted to allow landings on the launch field, the LDs help the incoming balloons land safely until balloon crews arrive.
During the glows, we provide contact with the pilots, check tie offs, collect chits and help with lost parents.
In 2016 the Fiesta organizers were looking for ZITs - Zebras ITraining.

"Zebras" practicing "thumbs up" for the camera during a ZIT gathering


Here are photos of Zebras interacting with "our pilots".  Prior to a Fiesta pilot preparing to launch, they meet with Zebras to learn about current procedures and special conditions that may occur on the launch field.



Launching has to be very systematic when 600-900 balloons lift off during a "Mass Ascension". As each assigned grid row prepares to launch, the Zebras use their loud whistles to clear the thousands of spectators out of the way of the launching hot air balloons.  They also watch for congestion of other balloons above the current launch site.

Zebra patrolling the competition field rope line


Not all spectators understand what happens during a cold and hot air inflation prior to launching. Each pilot has "crew" to help prepare the grid space for laying out the "envelope" (balloon fabric), assembling the basket and clearing the space after launching in preparation for the "chase" to find and retrieve the balloon. Sometimes voices can become loud and directive!

Pilot Daniel Liberti shouts out commands while a Zebra checks the launch grid area.


Have you noticed the clothing enhancements that the Zebras embrace?  Somewhere among my thousands of Fiesta photos on my various computers I have a wonderful photo of a group of Zebras with headgear, "tails" and very young children ZITs.  I will add it later in the comments if I come across it.  It is "perfect" !!!

Tails, gloves, hats, and even Zebra shoes

Not always "serious" attire

What to wear to a "Glow".  I don't think this is all "official" issue.


Our long-time "Crew Chief" and friend Theresa Liberti, better known as "Momma T", was totally surprised one year when her husband and Pilot Mike Liberti unveiled a banner on his Morningstar balloon that honored "T's" late parents.  She was in tears, along with the rest of us, as this Zebra embraced her and guided her over to the basket.  "T" NEVER flies and everyone insisted that she at least climb into the basket for photos.  More tears!!!
An emotional unveiling

Daughter Michelle comforts Momma T

Yes, a rare photo of "T" in the basket as Mike threatens to launch.

Pilot Mike Liberti and T in the basket
Mike provides a "helping" (?) hand getting T out of the basket!!!



Emily Bloomquist said...

Wow Judy, the Zebras are busy people! How sweet what Mike did for Momma T.

Congratulations on successfully completing the A to Z! You did it! Way to go!

Emily | My Life In Ecuador

jcw3rd said...

Well done. Thanks for an enjoyable series.