Inside the Stagecoach
October 8, 2015

Up, up and away — in stagecoach balloons!

Wells Fargo’s stagecoach balloon program takes the brand aloft at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and other events across the U.S. each year.

A lot of people know Wells Fargo from the stagecoach and horses that appear in ads, parades, and more.

But did you know our stagecoach “flies” in one of the oldest corporate hot air balloon programs in the U.S.? And that the company is the longest-running sponsor of the world’s top event for balloonists?

The company’s balloon fleet includes two traditional, round balloons that take flight each year at the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® — the largest gathering of balloonists in the world — plus at a handful of other events across the U.S. each year.

And Wells Fargo also has a special stagecoach-shaped balloon known as “¢ent’r Stage.”

“¢ent’r Stage balloon is one of the top five special shapes that Fiestagoers cite as their favorites in surveys each year,” says Julie Koontz, who manages the program. “The other two balloons are round balloons that can be flown in a wider variety of wind conditions so those are the ones most people see us launch around the U.S. in our other events.”

Volunteers prepare to launch Wells Fargo's ¢ent’r Stage balloon
The volunteer ground crew prepares ¢ent’r Stage.

Founded in 1986 by a predecessor bank and based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wells Fargo’s corporate balloon program is largely staffed by volunteers. Only the pilots, who are specifically selected because of their corporate ballooning experience, are paid.

The program usually makes its farthest trip east each October to the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville, North Carolina. The balloons also take flight each September in The Great Forest Park Balloon Race in St. Louis. But mostly the balloon fleet travels to events within driving distance in Colorado, Nevada, and elsewhere in New Mexico, totaling about eight events each year.

How to get a balloon airborne

Volunteer crew members are key to each flight’s success. The round balloons have five-member crews; ¢ent’r Stage, the largest balloon, requires a crew of 25. The crews assemble the balloon in a four-step process:

  • Spreading a tarp on the ground.
  • Removing the balloon from the cart.
  • Laying the balloon out on the tarp.
  • Connecting the Velcro tabs sewn into the fabric.

The pilot inflates the balloon with cold air as it fills up on its side, and then turns on the burners to blow hot air into the balloon envelope to bring the balloon upright before launch. Depending on winds and weather, balloons can reach an altitude of 1,500–2,000 feet, with flights lasting from a half-hour to an hour.

Longtime volunteers

Scott Kent, a business analyst for Wells Fargo Capital Finance in Tempe, Arizona, is among scores of volunteers who travel from other states to volunteer at the Fiesta. He proposed to his wife aboard a balloon there in 2002 and began volunteering in 2007.

“As a member of the chase crew, I help inflate, chase, and take down the balloon that I’m assigned,” Scott says. “During the festival I always hear people talk about the stagecoach balloon. Wells Fargo’s balloon program is a great tradition and experience for everyone.”

View of Wells Fargo's ¢ent’r Stage balloon at launch from the air
¢ent’r Stage is one of the most popular “special shape” balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.