Clark, or Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, never stopped commercial operations during the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. So Air Traffic Control was a critical resource. Our ATC partner was no less than the Tower Chief himself, call sign “Mike Oscar”.
MO worked side-by-side with us all four days. Then he went on duty in the Tower at night on Saturday and Sunday.
He never refused any aircraft movement. Unscheduled aircraft demos, more skydiving events, even unplanned flybys by Air Force S-211s.
Linked to Clark Tower on a discrete frequency, MO made sure we never interrupted commercial operations at Clark, and found a way to clear every show aircraft for flight.
MO was at our operations tent by oh-dark-30 every morning. He caught up on sleep with 5-min naps on any flat surface.
On Saturday night high winds grounded most non-aircraft events. We were worried about the mass parachute jump scheduled for Sunday morning.
The jump C-130 Hercules was staging out of Manila. We needed updated wind data to decide to go or abort the expensive lift.
MO was on duty in Clark Tower Saturday night, so he texted me weather reports every hour until dawn on Sunday.
Buddy, our Program Director and show announcer, strikes a classic Philippine pose to ensure MO gets some 😀
How many radios does it take to run an air show?
The only thing MO ever asked for was a radio, so I lent him both my handhelds to use.
He used up every battery I had. After that he used up all of Buddy’s.
On Saturday, when the wind was unraveling the Fiesta, MO and I heard the Tower clear RP-43 for landing.
Why was that call sign familiar?
Then I remembered. The Helio Courier!
The Helio Courier, an STOL aircraft, was once synonymous with the CIA and its proprietary “airline”, Air America.
Used extensively in the 1960s on rough mountain strips in Laos and Vietnam, the Helio will land at max gross weight with a ground roll of less than 200 meters, given the right wind conditions.
And Saturday’s winds, 16 knots gusting to 26, were perfect for a Short Takeoff Or Landing demo.
MO and I ran to the ramp and marshalled the Helio in ourselves. I met Brian Graham, the pilot, who has flown STOL demos for the Balloon Fiesta before.
MO, Brian and I walked out to inspect his landing site, the overrun of runway 02 Left, half a kilometer from the crowd.
Brian stopped after only 100 meters. Looking at the grass at his feet, he suggested that he might just takeoff and land on the grass right there.
We asked him if he was sure. He paced the grass, looking for ruts or holes. He said it was much better than some of the “airstrips” he has used.
MO made it happen. Clark Tower was advised that an airplane — a 3,000lb airplane — was to be cleared for takeoff on the grass in front of the crowd. The twin 10,000-foot concrete runways of Clark were a million miles away.
It was a hoot. The video shows it all. Two hundred meters, heck!! The airplane landed and rolled to a stop in less than twice its length.
Brian also flew slow pylon turns with the airplane nearly in a motionless hover. He bobbed the airplane up and down to demonstrate how the lift-enhancing leading edge slats moved in and out, triggered entirely by air flow, an ingenious design feature of this amazing airplane.
RP-43 works hard for JAARS, which provides aviation services to worldwide missions, and the Summer Institute of Linguistics Philippines, a mission organization that does research and documentation of indigenous languages and translates scripture into the vernacular.
SIL Philippines used to have a beautiful grass airfield at Nasuli, Bukidnon, which I have flown into with a good friend, Kevin. But that’s another story for another time.
Next: Coast Guard Search and Rescue, and Skydivers!
Photos by Carlo and Jaime Unson
Posted from Manila, Mar 16, 2008.