You would have expected the USAF Academy to have numerous opportunities for cadets to fly all types of aircraft during their four years at the Academy. As I worked through my education at the Academy from 1972-1976, I was surprised how limited, and competitive, the actual flying opportunities were for the average cadet. One of my goals was to get as much flying as possible during my four years, and I was lucky to get selected for the soaring program, where I received my Private, Commercial and Instructor ratings. I was able to get jump wings through seven free-fall jumps, and joined the aero club for powered time, when I could afford it, along with the T-41 screening program, which only provided a few hours.
There was one flying activity, however, that any cadet could enjoy, as long as they were willing to crew for awhile, and were also willing to get up at 5:30 AM on weekend mornings. That available flying activity was hot air ballooning.
In the mid-70's, the Academy acquired a Piccard AX-6 hot air balloon, named the 'FP Lahm', a blue and black balloon. Through support from Don Piccard, two other hot air balloons were acquired, providing three balloons for cadet flying through the mid-70's. 'Falcon-A' was another AX-6, with brilliant red, white and blue colors, and USAF Academy lettering on the side.
Although the Balloon Club was advertised and made available for all, only a small subset of the cadet population stuck with the hot air balloon club through the early morning wakeups and apprentice period of helping launch, chase and recover balloons as we flew along the front range of the Rockies.
In 1975 and 1976, the Hot Air Balloon Club began a number of trips to Colorado ballooning events, then made a number of excursions to the Mecca of hot air ballooning - Albuquerque.
By the time of the October 1975 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I had crewed enough to earn a few training flights, and had about 7.5 hours of ballooning under my belt. Along with a few other cadets, plus our officer instructors, we headed to Albuquerque, eager to fly in a mass ascension during the Fiesta.
With Dave May, a fellow Class of 1976 cadet, I was privileged to launch in the largest hot air balloon mass ascension to date, and one of the first with over 100 balloons in the air at one time, on 12 October 1975. The photos convey some of the wonder and stupendous views from a mass ascension while climbing with all the other balloons. This mass ascension set the stage for ever-increasing numbers of balloons in mass ascensions at Albuquerque.