Monday, February 21, 2011

16th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival

It may not be the number or magnificence that awed us all;                                          
but the peace that enveloped the crowd watching a balloon quietly go.
their flight seemed to evoke a multitude of emotions not only awe,
like the feeling of triumph when a mountaineer conquered a peak
or is it man grinning victorious to the clouds who seemed to speak
looking down at him as they go lazily by
the sky that once mocked him that he can never fly!

The 16th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta or the PIHABF was first organized in 1994 in an effort to make hot air ballooning a common aviation sport in the Philippines.  This event was also foreseen to popularize aviation in the country which can further draw tourists from all over. The Fiesta was pioneered by the Department of Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor along with Korean businessman and hot-air balloon pilot, Mr. Sung Kee Park and British Airways General Manager, Mr. John Emery, and German aviation enthusiast Max Motschmann (Clark-Subic Marketing).  After 16 years, the hot air balloon event yet again draws waves of crowds in its four-day event to marvel at these gentle giants.

The PIHABF coincided with this year’s “Centennial Year of Airplanes in  Philippine Skies” which added interesting highlights in this event. Exhibits from aviation organizations, the Air force and flying schools  provided a window to wide-eyed visitors like me on the history of flying and aviation in the country.

Opening the excitement for the day is the flight of the motored paragliders.  They flew like a bird. It thrilled me to see one flying with a Philippine flag, saying simply that the pinoys are out there too! Powered paragliding or paramotoring is a form of ultralight aviation where the pilot has a motor attached to their backs that provided the thrust needed to take off from level land. Paragliding seems like an easy sport.  A paraglider wing is made of rip-stop nylon and the pilot suspended clipped into a seat-like harness by kevlar lines. According to the paragliding authority, it is easy to launch, easy to land and stay on air for 3 hours or more, climb elevations of up to 15,000 feet and go vast distances.  Paragliders enthusiasts in the country go to sites such as Montalban, Abra de Ilog and Dingalan or wherever the terrain and weather permits them. They say that if the idea of watching the sunset up high in the air in a comfortable seat suits you, then paragliding must be for you. Hmm…I like sunsets, must put that down in things-I-need-to-do-before-I-die list.

According to Clark Subic Marketing, among the participating countries in the previous events are the Philippines, Sweden, United States, Hungary, Thailand, Malaysia, Germany, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Finland, Japan, Switzerland, England and South Korea.  For this year, there were twenty balloons that took flight. In my excitement, I forgot to ask which country belonged to which balloon. Not even sure if I’ve taken pictures on all of them really.

Balloon inflation is dependent on weather and wind conditions. Hot Air balloons need a relatively cold air environment for them to rise. Remember Physics 101? Calm winds, on the other hand, guarantee great flights. Balloonists generally prefer winds less than 10 mph and the clouds at least 2,000 feet above the ground.  The organizers reserve the right to cancel any activity due to bad wind conditions. Now there! It left me praying for the winds to stop awhile just enough for the balloon to take flight.

The day itself is rather dreary. We were already there before dawn. Thought we were early at 4 am, ha! Hundreds were already there. Was expecting a sunlit balloon flight, but the clouds wouldn’t let up. They covered the skies gray.  But grey skies or not, the horizon are lit up with colourful balloons one by one rising up as the crowd cheered. This pirate is definitely ready to fly!

This is the first time I attended a hot Air Balloon festival. Gone are the days that hot air balloons are in typical spherical-cone-at-the-bottom form.  I heard from last year they had animals as balloons.

This year, as one by one the balloons took form….

each time a balloon rose, the crowds cheered, myriads of cameras clicked including mine….

While my settings reeled at the tricky backlit sky….desperately trying to get at least correct exposures of the magnificent giants while they take to the skies…

Up they went…one by one….how graceful and peaceful they seemed to fly….
While the flurry of activities and the huff puff of this balloon propane burner seemed otherwordly as one watched a balloon quietly fly.  

Most hot air balloons are made of ripstop nylon coated inside with polymer to contain the hot air.  Baskets or gondolas are made from wicker with a weave similar to household wicker furniture. They are reinforced with metal tubes or aircraft cables and a wood floorboard. The wicker weave is what gives a balloon it's strength and flexibility at landing.
Like a true-blue celebrity…Darth Vader ariseth, and the crowds went wild! Clearly, this balloon is this year’s people’s choice award if there is such a prize….

But there were also more interesting balloons to boot…like this pair of upside down-down-side up FESTOs  (as what I called them…)

You've seen this pirate before....

And my favorite....Mr. Snowman...finally, he lifted off...mocking this mere-of-a-size paraglider....

My friend captured these balloons in flight....

Still pictures of my friend, who was smart enough to take pictures amidst the tricky unforgiving backlit sky...while i fumbled about with my camera trying to figure out what to do..But then stopping just to enjoy the view.

As the balloons flew away that early morning, spectators scattered throughout the grounds…sprawled on the grass in tents or on mats.  While waiting for the balloons to come back, the crowds enjoyed the food, the exhibits, the flight tour and the kites….

Food is not a problem since food stalls line the perimeter from end to end…and so are souvenir shops.  Look at these miniature balloons….kids and kids at heart love them to bits…

But the program did not end with the hot air balloon flight.  The Festival program is filled with aerobatic exhibitions, fly bys, light aircraft competitions and skydiving exhibitions….

Skydivers were a sort of celebrities around here….they came from different countries including skydivers of our own.  They huddled and received instructions pre-flight. They took time to wave to spectators like me…and gave hi-fives to everyone!

The skydivers took off and jumped from as high as 10,000 feet…..landing on the field with accurate grace. I didn’t get good pictures the first time. Anyway, they have another jump later at noon.

In between programs, kites rule the skies….

From all ages, kites seemed like the favorite past time….even those who have never touched a kite before, like me.

If not kites, anything that moves with air were in.

Another event of the day was the exhibition of remote controlled plane exhibitions…but these planes are not toysRadio controlled aeromodelling, or RC is a hobby that can be both relaxing and serious. The Raptor YF22 definitely sounded real….i thought it was manned. Then I saw that it was just this small.

Aeromodelling and RC exhibitions are considered a serious sport since it has an engineering and science aspect to it. It develops skill and coordination, but most of all, it is also fun. 

This is a replica of the Wright brothers’ first aero-plane exhibited by one of the flying schools in the country.

Visitors are also encouraged to participate in aero sports…though I don’t know what they called this one….

But they sure are fun to watch….like riding the wind

There was also an exhibition by a Filipino champion in kite flying. He hails from San Diego, California and his kite rhythmically danced throughout his love song routines.

Another well-applauded event is the balloon bursting competition participated by different flying divisions from the air force, coast guard and flying organizations.  It was really coincidental since the only good shot I had was the plane of Maj. Phillip Soria, PCG 684 while making a low pass for the balloon target.  I met Maj. Soria at AIM two days too late, or I would have taken a good shot of the balloon while bursting! Haha! Geez….he got four out of five balloons…not bad!

Rescue choppers also took flight for the rescue demonstration.  I heard that the program invited volunteers to ride the chopper to experience the thrill and urgency of a rescue mission…

Then the skydivers came back.  This time I took time to admire their grace upfront.

Their chutes are as brightly colored as their dive suits....

The skydivers were awesome. They never failed to capture the crowd.  There was a girl among them. She is Thai.

Each of them taking turns to land, with every successful landing, crowds cheered. 

As one by one the skydivers came to land....

Until the last one gently lands...skydivers rule the day!

This event is a demonstration of rescue techniques and tactics.  Civilian volunteers, including a child, act out as victims while the rescue teams approach the wreckage, assess the victims status, assign an appropriate flag (alive, need immediate medical assistance, dead. etc.) then execute swiftly their routines in not more than 5 minutes.  Good sweep of a heart stopping demonstration. 

There were other events that were educational and interesting.  The DJ is one lively human that entertained the crowd with the day's events.  But one striking feature of that DJ is his knowledge of aviation techniques, tactics and moves....especially during Capt. Manalili's aerobatic exhibition...his turns, dips and climbs were all described in full technical detail by the DJ himself.  Made me think the DJ is a pilot too! Capt. Manalili's aerobatic displays were thrilling i forgot to take pictures! his manoeuvres were breathtaking....

As the sun started to set, the crowds were awakened by a host of gentle rumbles of motors flying through the air.  The flight of the paragliders were a signal that the balloons are coming....

Here they come again, raising the excitement of the crowd....

And here they come at last, the stars of the festival....especially our old buddy Darth.  Crowds cheered when the balloons stood in full regalia...ready for the night glow!

The Hot Air Balloon Night Glow. Nothing rivals the beauty of a fully lit balloon, amidst the blue twilight background of the approaching night! Darth Vader looked menacing in its glowing light!

My friend captured this amazing and menacing look of Darth Vader, the balloon...methinks i hear him breathe heavily, nah! that was just the DJ....

As one by one glowed with the hot air effect, they seemed to come alive!

The balloons, with their different lights....were an awesome spectacle.

Offered a totally different view from the early morning flight.  At night, their glow gave new meaning to light

I would have loved seeing all these balloons in flight, a-glow at night....

But the wind made it impossible for some to lift off....but i guess I have to be content in watching all these gentle giants glow....

And come alive under the starry dark night....

They seem to breathe, as each one took turns in delighting the crowd...I waited for a chance to capture them all aglow, but they seem to follow a rhythm...very much like breathing

Oh well, my senses would have drowned if all of these beauties lit up all at once and flood the night with their iridescent glow...

And as one by one the balloons grew is the time to say goodbye

They all seemed to dance and wave the crowd goodbye, a perfect climax indeed...and a proud bow at show's end.

Yes, one by one they deflated. Like actors exhausted after a day's show. So sad to see the show ending, but twas a perfect night cap for a wonderful day at the field.  I'm glad we made this trip. It more than gave us a wonderful glimpse of these gentle giants who once ruled the skies and took man in many of his early flights....

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