‘La Ristra’ is an Aerostar RX-8, built at Aerostar International in Sioux Falls, South Dakota The balloon is made of 4300 yards of Aeromax diamond weave, rip-stop fabric and 13 miles of thread. It took 6 months to sew it together. With 56 chiles, ‘La Ristra’ stands 128 feet tall and 70 feet wide when inflated. The envelope weighs in at 800 lbs. ‘La Ristra’s’ maiden flight was at the 1997 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and, as of 2009, it has 140 total flight hours.
‘La Ristra’ represents chile as it is correctly spelled, meaning a pepper grown in the Rio Grande River Valley in New Mexico. Every September 80% of the crop is harvested while green, leaving the rest to turn red on the plant. The red chiles are then harvested and strung together to dry — thus creating a “ristra,” or string of red peppers. Ristras are used for decoration, especially around the holidays, or the chiles are crushed to make red pepper seasoning. Chopped and processed, ‘La Ristra’ would make 17 million, 4 ounce jars of salsa.