A Day at the Air Show: The 12th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
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Perhaps an argument with my
wife over the ungodly hour we were setting off was not the most auspicious way
to begin a day trip to Pampanga. We left the apartment at three in the morning,
traveling with a grand sum of two hours of shuteye between us. We have to get
I had been to this event
eleven years before, in 1997, back when I was young. It was my first-ever field reporting assignment for the
newspaper I worked for, the first time I was ever bestowed a media pass and a
tape recorder. I flew to
To add quaintness to my neophyte journalist experience, I was billeted by my paper at a cheap motel in the sleazy part of town. This would be my base of operations for the next three days. Iâd leave the motel before sunup to cover the dayâs activities and return in the evening to organize my notes and write my copy. Pinch me, I thought. Iâm on an honest-to-goodness assignment.
This was only the fourth fiesta since its inception in 1994. Few concessionaires were about, and the audience was mostly made up of Angeles residents. There were no big crowds back then. The fiesta did not have the benefit of a massive information campaign and Internet bloggers firing up interest. Even so, despite its humble scale, the event attracted thirty balloon teams from around the globe, and I was supposed to go up with one of them. âSupposedâ being the operative word. My ex-editor dropped by unexpectedly and invoked seniority to snatch the ride from my grasp. Determined to fly, by any means possible, I managed to snag a flight on an ultralight. The fact that I had to leave the fiesta, find another airfield and pay my way to get my feet off the ground never bothered me. I just had to fly, so I made it happen.
Now, eleven years and eight fiestas later, no amount of grim determination and will power was going to get me to the airfield before . A fine Saturday morning, but where were the balloons? Had they already left? I woke up my wife and our friend in the back seat and told them, I think the balloons are gone.
For the sake of those whoâve never been to the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, a typical day starts off at dawn. Balloons are inflated just before the sun clears the horizon and take flight at around . They linger in the sky over the airfield for a few minutes before they drift away on winds and are chased by 4x4 jeeps of the Angeles City Four Wheelers Club. The balloons either fly back in late in the afternoon or are hauled back and reinflated for a short evening flight. Why so early? Because hot air is more buoyant when the air is cooler. For balloons to take off safely, wind should not exceed a maximum 3kph.
The man on the loudspeaker announced that winds were whipping at a 12kph clip. We had not missed the morning launch. The balloons were grounded. A few attempts were made to do a cold inflation, but to no avail. The wind simply wasnât cooperating and the morning launch was called off.
Despite the fiestaâs
balloon-centric name, the event is a full-fledged air show. A fiesta of
âeverything that fliesâ says the banner. When they say âeverythingâ they arenât
kidding. From kites to helicopters, ultralights to model planes, even rockets
and jets, all manner of flying things other than balloons have their 15 (or
more) minutes of fame in front of a cheering audience. Fearless soldiers fall
out of the sky for daredevil sky diving performances. Master flyers of the Kite
Association of the
On the ground this year were
booths for the various branches of the Armed Forces of the
The main event, of course,
would still be the balloons and we stuck around for the afternoon launch.
Having had our fill of rockets and helicopters and cam-whoring with guns on a
jeep, we wanted to see some hot air balloons. The crews were busy with
preparations, their balloons unfurled and their propane tanks topped up. We
watched the orange wind sock, still turgid with wind, and waited for it to go
limp. We waited and waited and waited. Despite frantic attempts by teams to
inflate several balloons, the weather would have its way and deny the audience
a balloon-filled dusk sky. With music playing over the loudspeakers, the pilots
instead performed a synchronized burn, sending plumes of fire into the air from
their propane burners in time with the music. The audience had traveled too
great a distance and waited too long a time to be denied a spectacle. Like the
burning oil wells in Desert Storm
Balloons fly on the whims of the wind. The next morning, Sunday the fourth day, the balloons flew. But, we werenât there anymore. Disappointed? Sure, but not entirely. It wasnât a day wasted. I had my fill of aviation sights and sounds, but most importantly, I had seen the balloons up close. And, though they never flew, I witnessed the camaraderie and teamwork it takes to loft these giant beasts into the sky. Weâll be there again next year, but my wife insists that I finagle her a media pass so she can actually go out on the field. She also insists I sacrifice a goat to the four winds to make sure the weather cooperates. I tell you, I just might.