The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a nine day festival that attracts nearly 1 million spectators. Savannah Bradley is a 4th-generation balloon pilot, but her family legacy hasn’t insulated her from the difficulty of being a young woman in a sport dominated by men.
Apr 18, 2024 — 2 min read



Savannah Bradley is a fourth-generation balloon pilot.

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Speaker 1: I would like to remind you that if you haven't flown here before, we do have some very unique box winds. I want you to really pay attention to your surroundings. Keep your heads up and out of the basket so you can watch the balloons around you.

Savannah Bradley: Tower is 1, 2, 0, 0.3. I almost have tunnel vision just because I'm so focused on what's going on. The moment that I'm cleared for takeoff, I don't even have to look at my instruments. It's almost like I have this innate feeling like you're one with the wind and you just know what it's doing. I've been around this my whole life. The first time I went in a balloon was when I was five months old. My first solo flight was on my 14th birthday. I remember being very nervous. I knew there were a lot of eyes on me and I didn't want to screw up. It probably wasn't about until 15 minutes into the flight that I realized I was alone and that I had to do everything.

Speaker 1: Ten four. So you're not going to cross the river?

Savannah Bradley: No. We already crossed the river and we're back on the east side close to the field. It never really seemed like anything extraordinary to me. It was just something I loved and something that I had grown up doing. I'm Savannah Noel Bradley. I'm 18 and I'm a balloon pilot. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the biggest balloon festival in the world. Pilots come from all over the world to be a part of this, and we bring about a million people through the gates during the entire week.

It has a huge economic impact on our town, and it just brings the community together. One thing that is very unique about this fiesta is that the spectators, they can come around the balloons and they're not partitioned off. It's a lot of fun to talk to them and just teach 'em about ballooning. Albuquerque is a great place to fly because of the amazing weather we have here. We can pretty much fly 300 days a year. It's fascinating to me because you could be going a hundred miles an hour, but you're moving with the wind, so the flame will still go straight up. Sometimes I really feel like I don't fit in being a woman in hot air ballooning, not only a woman, but a young woman, is very atypical. It's really two sides of a coin to be a female in a man's sport. On one side, it makes me feel more empowered because I can be a part of that and still be a strong, independent woman. But at the same time, there's the other side of it where the men in the profession may see me as lesser just because I'm a woman.

After a while, I just accepted that I know what I can do. I know I'm a good pilot, and I just stop letting it bother me. I want to not only prove that it is possible for a woman to do it, but it is possible for virtually anyone. Everyone deals with struggles in their life. I believe it definitely defines you and helps you be a better person.

Ballooning and my family started with my great-grandfather, Jim Dutrow, and he was one of the pioneer balloonists in Colorado, and he taught my dad how to fly. My dad has 64 world records. His most recent accomplishment was the transpacific flight with his Russian co-pilot. They were in the air for eight hours shy of a week, and they broke both the absolute distance and duration record. He just inspires me so much. I definitely want to break my dad's records and fly over the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. It's almost like this want and need to keep these records in the family. A lot of people look up to my dad and I kind of want to be that next inspiration in my generation.


Producer and Director

Evan Groll

Director of Photography

Nick Kraus


Satva Leung


The Square “Only In Albuquerque: Rooted” series highlights five Indigenous-owned businesses and explores how culture and heritage shape each entrepreneur's work.

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