Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Maiden Voyage.(Balloon Fiesta)

Byline: Franchesca Stevens

Trio earns notoriety as the first women to pilot hot air balloons west of the Mississippi River

One autumn, now 29 years ago, Joan Florance was invited to come out and learn to fly. Her friend, Loretto Black, had gotten a big big birthday present from her husband.

It was a hot air balloon featuring a smiling blackbird. The balloon was bright yellow and six stories high.

Florance, now 70, remembers her first answer. "I said, 'I can't. I'm afraid of heights.' And (Loretto) said, 'Now, you're going to learn, Joan. I expect you to be there.' "

Florance was invited along with Bev Grady to fly with Loretto. On weekends that fall in 1971 the three women glided The Blackbird through the crisp, clear morning air over the West Mesa.

"We had (flying) lessons every weekend weather permitting," Florance said. "We would fly out on the West Mesa. Rio Rancho was just a little dot on the map. I mean, there was nothing out there in those days. And there was plenty of room for us to fly and not get tangled up in wires or buildings or anything like that. …

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