Monday, February 14, 2011

flight line tour at the hot air balloon fiesta

The aerobatic shows and the flight demonstrations were all fascinating enough. However, a big yellow fence kept the audience a distance off the aircraft and the balloons. Thankfully, there's a guided flight line tour during the 16th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta offered by the Aviation Society of the Philippines. For an additional P250, people could walk along the flight line -- or the airplane parking lot, as I called it before the tour -- and learn a few things about what it's like to be pilot. Naturally, I wouldn't pass a chance to join a tour like that, specially since I've never been permitted to walk on a flight line before.

Donning the VIP passes (the yellow reflectorised vest), we started the tour with a look at ultralight planes inside a hangar. They all looked like dragonflies up in the sky (when I first saw them in a morning performance) but up close and personal, the simplest ones looked like trikes with wings! There's a more fancy one that looked like a pod from a science fiction movie. 

the kite-like ultralight
this space-pod-like ultralight 

From there, we made our way to the flight line where the other planes were tied down at. The tour guide taught us the anatomy of the airplane using terms in aviation. To make her point clearer, she brought us to planes with increasing degrees of complication. Throughout the tour, however, I was struck by Philippine civilian planes' registration number. They all began with RPC. Well, well, well... it looks like the planes and I have the same initials! Hehehe :)

philippine-registered (RP) civilian (C) plane

The Coast Guard staff were conducting what looked like a post-flight check-up when we arrived at their spot. We interviewed them about what it's like to be a member of the Coast Guard. It turns out that they're the emergency response team. Someone else flies the plane! And I thought that they had to know how to fly a plane AND how to give first aid to patients. This team of rescuers were involved in rescuing a lot of people during Typhoon Ketsana's (aka Ondoy) destructive trip across Luzon. 

the Coast Guard team paused and posed for the tour group.

The last planes we looked at during the tour were a set of fighter jets of the Philippine and of the US Air Forces. The Philippine set looked like Aermacchi S-211s, which are used in pilot training. They're not as cool as the F-16s featured in movies and seen on CNN, but maybe that's because the gear (and the artillery) had been taken off and the cockpits had been covered for display and safety purposes. When used on duty, I'm sure that these planes look more combat-ready than what's seen here.

the S-211 display... all the cool stuff in the cockpit were covered.

There only one more point in our guide's airplane anatomy lesson that we had to see (and I bet that it included a tour of the giant plane parked on the flight line because it involved the fuselage) but a whiff of fuel odour and black smoke billowing from the parade/demonstration grounds cut the tour short. The sirens of emergency rescue vehicles blared as we rushed back to the starting point of the tour. Strange, I thought, that the Coast Guards we saw earlier were still conducting routine checks on their plane as the tour group was shepherded off the ramp. The "emergency", it turned out, was a demonstration of search and rescue procedures! Now we know that in case of an emergency, extra personnel (or tourists just like us) are not allowed near any of the planes.

The tour is a a good way to go behind the scenes of the hot air balloon fiesta and learn more about aviation. Now, I understand a little bit more about aircraft because I've seen and come close to the real things rather than to the scale models. These are truly toys for the big boys (and girls).