The 2023 Balloon Fiesta unofficially kicked off Friday morning at schools all over the Metro, including Rio Rancho.

Students, parents, family and teachers got a preview of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta as more than 200 hot air balloons launched from elementary schools.

Albuquerque Aloft, which began in 2005, brings the joy of ballooning directly to children in their school playgrounds. This year’s event is the unofficial start of the nine-day Balloon Fiesta, which begins Oct. 7.

Parents, students and teachers had the opportunity to meet the pilots and crew, and watch and learn how a balloon flies.

While the event is called Albuquerque Aloft, every Rio Rancho elementary school participated in the event.

Three balloons were on campus at Rio Rancho Elementary School.

Kandy Land pilot Rachel Zimmer said she and her crew have been looking forward to this event and the Fiesta for months.

“We’re very excited. Our team, we love to bring smiles to people’s faces from everywhere, and we do the best we can to put on the best show,” Zimmer said. “We start preparing for Fiesta in August.”

None of the three balloons launched Friday, but smiling students and parents still packed the schoolyard. “This is so much fun. A lot of the times this is the only time these kids are able to see a balloon up close and personal,” Zimmer said. “We don’t try to launch; we stay on the ground so that kids can touch the balloons and be around and learn more. It’s fun. It’s very educational for them, and when they come up, we allow them to get in the basket and look up into the balloon and we teach them all about what’s in the balloon and how it works.”