I could only watch the aerobatic displays with envy. But Carlo and I did actually fly an aerial dogfight, against the Navy, Malaysia and SEAir! Well, sort of.
The balloon bursting boondoggle – airplanes prowling above the crowd and hunting down helium-fattened prey.
Most pilots quail at colliding with an object in an airplane!
But there we were, chasing drifting targets that bobbed and weaved with every breath of wind.
Eleven airplanes joined the 4-day balloon-bursting competition.
They chased over a hundred party balloons, one by one, and killed 34 of them.
Who was the best of the best, Top Gun?
The defending champions were the Philippine Navy, led by Lieutenant Commander Lued “Patriot” L. of the Philippine Fleet’s Naval Air Group.
The Navy pilots — focused and keenly competitive — had won the trophy for 2 straight years.
They fielded two aircraft — Navy 330 flown by LCDR Lued and LTJG Rodiaro “Hot Rod” B., and Navy 324 flown by LT Edie “Archer” D. and LTJG Dennis “Marauder” R.
Cool crew, always respectful and friendly. People who you wish would be your friends forever.
Captains Peter B. and Anton R. of Omni Aviation were rookies, competing for the first time.
Peter, a student pilot at Omni and a founding member of the Philippine Flight Simulator Group, flew with me on Thursday for tips.
So I did my best to hit only one balloon that day 😛
On Friday, Peter and Anton (an instructor at Omni ) joined the fray in Omni’s RP-C8832.
They stunned us by taking out 4 out of 4 balloons, 100% kill rate!
The Navy had major competition now!
The Navy flyboys fought back Saturday.
LT Edie killed 4 of 6 targets. He even bulls-eyed one balloon dead center on the point of his propeller spinner!
It doesn’t get better than that.
Also competing were the Philippine Coast Guard with LT Reimond S. (1 Kill) in command of an Islander.
LT Reimond flew civilian Islanders before joining the Coast Guard.
He hit his balloon on his first pass. Not easy with a heavy twin, propellers off to the side.
Captain Pancho C. (2 Kills) flew RP-C1914, his Bellanca Citabria.
Pancho is a hardworking Let 410 pilot for the airline SEAir. He took time off from a brutal flying schedule to compete at the Fiesta.
What is it about pilots? They take time off from flying . . . to fly.
Another airplane joined the contest on Saturday, a sexy Beech Sierra with winglets, RP-C1038.
The soft-spoken pilot, Captain Robert L., simply walked up to our fence line and asked to join the contest.
He got 3 kills!
Other contenders were the Philippine National Police with Captains Mar T. and Noel D., both from the PNP Special Action Force, in RP-C8680.
Capt Noel wanted so much to join the proficiency test, and I’m glad their CO authorized it.
Then there was Captain C.K. Beh, a heart surgeon. He flew a twin-engined Piper Seneca all the way from Malaysia!
He joined the contest on Sunday, good naturedly radioing the ground crew to please launch the balloons closer to his airplane’s flight path!
Each pilot buzzed the show line one by one, and radioed on the ground crew to “Release the balloon now-Now-NOW!”.
Here, on Saturday, Carlo releases one with his customary elan.
It was hysterical.
Some pilots never saw the prey. They zigzagged half a mile away to find a target while the balloon escaped unseen behind them, bobbing merrily in the prop wash.
The wind was fickle, teasing and unpredictable, adding to the fun.
The crowd loved it. Some of them actually cheered for the balloons 😀
When Carlo and I flew Sunday, one balloon (barely visible in photo) miraculously made it past RP-C1513’s propeller and bounced off the wing.
That was one tough rubber!
On Saturday we had a TV crew film the entire contest.
Ten-year old Sam Turingan joined us on the field, and later interviewed me for the GMA News Q TV program “Kids on Q”.
By Sunday, Navy 330 had 7 kills, and Navy 324 was tied with Omni’s 8832 at 5 kills each.
On the final round, LCDR “Patriot” Lued hit his 8th balloon on his first pass.
Then, on his second pass a helicoil blew out and his engine lost a cylinder.
In one continuous maneuver, he hit his 9th and last balloon, then landed his airplane on the runway below.
I razzed him later about being shot down by the vengeful balloon, but LCDR Lued proved his superior proficiency yet again, ‘three-peating’ First Place, his third championship in a row.
Navy 324 and Omni 8832 matched each other kill for kill and tied for second place.
Carlo and I gatecrashed the final round and killed 4 of 5 balloons.
We were in it just for fun, though, since this was an event I was running 🙂
Carlo and I awarded ourselves balloon kill markings, drawn on Carlo’s glass window with a red grease pencil.
It’s not Top Gun, but it does showcase pilot proficiency and precise airplane control. Plus good-natured competition, fodder for hangar flying stories and “pogi” points for months to come.
A week later, the Navy sent me a picture of their dunking pool back at Sangley air base.
The new trophy holders were no longer part of the great unwashed.
Every pilot got an “Air Warfare Pilot” cap with special embroidery on the back.
The caps were prized souvenirs and quickly ran out.
And the big secret to hitting the balloons? Why, it’s just like landing airplanes — close your eyes and let the force be with you.
Those red marks on the windshield? Nah, just random grease pencil marks.
Next: The Hovering Helio and skydiving at the Fiesta
All aerobatic images by Princess
Balloon bursting and other pictures by Carlo, Dionex, Jaime Unson, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy (pass cursor over photos to see individual credits).
Posted from Bangkok, Mar 6, 2008.