Hot air balloon fest puts PH on aerial tourism map
ANGELES CITY, Philippines - A floating bus, men dangling from parachutes, and military training jets dot the sky.
The view sounds fantastical and it is.
From February 21 to 24, paragliders, skydivers, helicopters, kites, jets, and hot air balloons take to the sky for the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Not surprisingly, the annual event is also known as "the weekend of everything that flies."
32 hot air balloons from 15 different countries participated in the event according to event organizer Joy Roa.
"[It's] the biggest participation in the history of the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta to date," said Arnel Paciano D. Casanova, president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, in a statement.
Visitors have come from as far as Belgium, England, Poland, the United States, and the Netherlands to chart hot air balloons in the yearly aviation event.
Aimed at putting the Philippines on the map for aerial tourism, the event is supported by the Department of Tourism, the Clark Development Corporation, the Clark International Airport Corporation, and the Bases Conversion Development Authority.
An orchestra in the air
A special sight this 2013 is the acrobatic performance of the world-renowned Breitling Jet Team, which considers itself "the world's largest professional civilian flight team." The team was brought to Manila by jewelry and timepiece brand Lucerne.
Composed largely of former fighter pilots from France, the skilled crews steered 7 L-39 C Albatros aircrafts — Czech-made twin-seater military training jets — through a daunting series of tricks.
They looped through the air, barrel-rolled, and dove straight down together, splitting apart at exactly the same moment.
Watch a video on the team's stunts here:
Actor Dingdong Dantes was a passenger in one of the Breitling flights. He described the experience as "exciting and nerve wracking." He added that his dad used to fly planes and that he always dreamed of being a pilot since he was a child.
Dantes was in professional hands but there are always risks at every corner, explained Breitling pilot Patrick Marchand. Breitling said in a press statement that pilots flying upside down may be subjected to 9 times the amount of pressure on a typical human body, causing "immense strain on the muscles to keep blood flowing evenly throughout the body."
The pilots' lives depend on working together as a team. Marchand said they are all extremely close and he intuitively recognizes his teammates' voices over the radio.
He called their team "a symphony in the sky" for whom precision is of utmost importance.
Captain Jacques Bothelin agreed. "I'm the conductor," he laughed. When he dives, his wingmen follow no matter what, he explained to Rappler.
Like musicians, they all have to be in perfect sync for the performance to come off without a hitch, added Marchand.
Here are photos from the Breitling Jet Team's shows on February 21 at 8:30am and 10:30am:
(Watch out for video and more stories on the 18th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and the Breitling Jet Team. If you're in the event, tweet your photos and tag @rapplerdotcom. Use the hashtag #PHTravel.)