FIJI Fraternity balloon
The FIJI fraternity funded, designed and commissioned the custom Black Diamond balloon.

The University of New Mexico Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity, better known as the FIJI Fraternity, along with their graduate chapter, has executed an ambitious plan to launch a FIJI Black Diamond hot air balloon at Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta, Saturday, Oct. 4 at 7 a.m. at Balloon Fiesta Park.

Celebrating the local chapter’s 50th anniversary, fraternity spokesperson Joe Carazzi said, “The group was inspired by the incomparable impact and appeal of Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta.”

The fraternity funded, designed and commissioned their own custom “Affinity” FIJI Black Diamond balloon with not only the purpose of celebrating and promoting Greek life, but also to provide a platform for the fraternity’s philanthropic efforts. For their inaugural year, they allied with the Wounded Warrior Project.

The road to the project’s success has not been easy and there is still a lot of work to do before their vision is achieved. The project started as nothing more than an idea, but after completing a comprehensive business plan, compiling a detailed budget analysis, and other due diligence, the group was able to successfully fund their project. Operational logistics were implemented with guidance from UNM Anderson School of Management graduate Scott Appleman, current president of Rainbow Ryders, a leading southwest hot air balloon operator.

Once funds for the project were secured, it was time for the fraternity to design and ultimately construct the balloon. As the name suggests, FIJI’s balloon is designed in the shape of a black diamond, the fraternity’s emblem since its founding in 1848. Once the design concept was decided, FIJI contracted Cameron Balloons, an international balloon manufacturer, who constructed the balloon in England. Once construction was complete, Cameron flight tested the balloon at its England headquarters before shipping it to their Ann Arbor, Mich. branch for further testing. Construction began in the beginning of May and the balloon was shipped to its home base of Albuquerque in early September.

With the balloon in hand and ready to debut for the Balloon Fiesta, FIJI is excited to push forward with larger goals for the project. As a proud supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, the FIJI business plan includes a possible tour of the balloon to many of the 126 FIJI Chapters around the U.S. Stretching its goals further, FIJI would also like to make tour stops at major events such as the Rose Bowl, Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 in support of the Wounded Warrior Project, and to showcase the philanthropic focus by members of the Greek community as a whole.

Current UNM undergraduate and FIJI member, Jeff Rieder said, “This is one of the best things we’ve done since I’ve been a member of FIJI, and we look forward to a big success for the Wounded Warrior Project, our local FIJI chapter and others across the nation as we reach out to our other chapters nationwide.”

FIJI is hosting a pre-launch dinner party Friday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. in the Sandia Resort and Casino Main Ballroom. The minimum donation for the dinner party is $49 for adults and $25 for children under 12.

The FIJI Black Diamond makes its public debut at the Balloon Fiesta alongside a live broadcast and social media use following the inaugural launch. Big 98.5 hosts a two radio show beginning at 6 a.m. live from the International Balloon Museum, featuring members from the Wounded Warrior Project, key project participants from UNM sororities and local FIJI members, as well as special guests to help celebrate the chapter’s 50th anniversary, including UNM FIJI chapter founders and the outgoing President of the FIJI National Headquarters.

Visit the FIJI Black Diamond website or their Facebook page for more information on the events and project. For those interested in donating to the Wounded Warrior Project, call the donation line at (855) 448-3997, text WWP to 90999 for a $10 donation or visit their website