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The University of New Mexico reveals its first hot air balloon

The University of New Mexico's "Cherry on Top" hot air balloon on Johnson Field
Mia Casas
The University of New Mexico's "Cherry on Top" hot air balloon on Johnson Field

The University of New Mexico unveiled its very first hot air balloon with a student celebration this morning. About 300 students and staff gathered at Johnson Field with burritos and coffee to watch the newest addition to the hot air ballooning capital of the world.

As the sun inched up over the Sandias, students lined up for breakfast as they watched the “Cherry on Top” rise from the grass. UNM intended to do tethered balloon rides for students, but windy weather made lifting off too risky.

The university has wanted its own balloon for decades, but the cost was too high. With the help of Scott Appelman, UNM alumni and president of Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Company, that changed this year.

“A balloon like this is fairly expensive and we basically bought the balloon, they put the artwork on it, and then we're gonna fly it for the next couple years. We're happy to do it. And like I said, it's truly New Mexico,” said Appelman.

A hot air balloon of this size costs about $70,000. Rainbow Ryders took on that initial cost and UNM paid $20,000 for the Lobo decals.

The university has a four-year contract with Rainbow Ryders to renew and maintain the balloon at an annual cost of about $18,000. Director of Marketing for UNM, Ethan Rule says the funds will come from the university’s advertising budget.

“People have talked about it for so long. And I understand why. So now to see it as a reality. I mean, it's kind of a dream come true,” said Rule.

Rainbow Ryders will be flying the balloon during Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta, which starts on Saturday. The balloon will also fly over Phoenix and Colorado Springs to expose new audiences to the Lobos.

Mia Casas is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Journalism and Theatre at the University of New Mexico. She comes to KUNM through an internship with the New Mexico Local News Fund and is staying on as a student reporter as of fall 2023.
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