Chasing Airplanes and Pilots

Boarding an airliner was just the start of more exciting times for the traveler in me. That was how I defined "flying" for the longest time. But the moment I started chasing after the airplanes themselves, I realized that there was another whole new world out there that I was missing out on.

I could not believe I was talking to a real pilot. I could always listen to one saying hello from the cockpit, but never had a chance to reply. This particular pilot happened to be someone who knows a lot about the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Carlo is one of the authors of the blog Flying in Crosswinds, and a conversation with him, for me, bridged the gap between flying as a traveler (primarily to get to a destination on a commercial airline) and flying as a passion (where flying in itself is one of the greatest experiences you can have).

"Do you know how your fish gets to the market?" This question caught me off guard. "Do you know who makes sure that our crops get fertilized?" Trucks and farmers instantly popped in my head but since our topic was airplanes, a questionable "Airplanes? Really?" was all I could muster as he explained the country's vital need for aircraft fish deliveries and airborne crop dusting. "You know," I said, "it never occurred to me as something I would even ask myself."

Discoveries like these never come out in normal everyday conversations with people. I just knew at that point that our conversation about airplanes and the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was going to take me to an unexplored side of life happening around me.

Carlo is a licensed private pilot (he has the equivalent of a non-pro driver's license when it comes to flying) and is one of the "air bosses" in this year's Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. An air boss is a pilot who makes sure that the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta runs smoothly. Only with an air boss's approval and coordination can anything fly during the Fiesta.

This post is really a tribute to the "Everything That Flies" part during the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta so that I can provide a little insight as to what the Fiesta is really all about. It is not just all about the hot air balloons.

1. I wanted to know the real purpose and goal of the fiesta. Here's what I found out.

Starting sixteen years ago, Mr. Joy Roa, who owns an aviation company called Air Ads, would gather his balloonist friends from all over the world to fly their hot air balloons in the Philippines. This would take place every February, when the weather was perfect for flying.  His birthday was right around that time, and of course, it was a fun way to celebrate Valentine's Day with family! This annual gathering of friends attracted a number of people from all over the Philippines who are passionate about anything that flies. Every year, people from the industry from sport parachustists to military pilots would volunteer to show the crowd what they have and what they can do. The gathering became the Fiesta, the largest gathering of Philippine aviators and pilots in the Philippines. 

2. Today during the Fiesta, one can see different kinds of things that fly, or fall. 

Among them are planes, helicopters, jet-powered remote-controlled airplanes, ultralights, hang-gliders, sport parachutists, skydivers, paragliders, gliders, microlites, stunt kites, hot air balloons and many more. An automotive drift team and the 4WD-equipped balloon chase crews can be found on the ground.

3. There is a free tour booth that I didn't know about in the Fiesta. A pilot volunteer would tell you all about the Fiesta and bring you closer to the action. The flying school booths are all out for enthusiasts and for those who want to learn how to fly.

4. The organizers do the Fiesta out of passion and their love for flying. The Fiesta crowd is Filipino and they want to inspire young Filipinos to become our future aviators. Many young people actually consider being a pilot but don't know where to start.

5. Tips on what to bring during the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta - sunblock, shades, hats, binoculars, chairs, tents or mats (banig).

I want to leave my readers with these last few words we had during my conversation with Carlo. I asked him for the last time, "What do you want to tell people about the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta?"

"The Fiesta," he says, "is a launch pad; its goal has always been for us to share our passion for aviation.  It's an honest-to-goodness international airshow - a cause for nationalism, pride and joy.  If it's your dream to fly in the Philippines, a lot of people will help you, and this is a great place to find them."

Talking to a pilot about his love for flying made me realize that I shouldn't limit myself to physically go to a place when I say traveling. Even a conversation can definitely take you somewhere. I haven't even begun telling you about the places he's been and about being a pilot yet. For those of you going to next year's Fiesta, you should know that while you're there, you can actually walk up to a pilot and say hi. They have a ton of things to tell you about a kind of "flying" that we don't normally hear about.

- Originally wriiten on March 1, 2011 (Tuesday)

Chasing Airplanes and Pilots - My Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Experience