Like the balloon bursting event, skydiving was a crowd pleaser at the Fiesta. Sixty-six skydivers from the Philippine Air Force, Army, Marines, and National Police jumped out of 28 aircraft sorties by five aircraft. They were joined by six civilian skydivers from three countries, 215 jumps in all.
Impressive statistics. Yet the best number here is zero. Zero accidents and zero reserve parachute deployments at the 12th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
The Philippine Army skydiving team jumped the Philippine flag every sunrise. This heavy flag would span four parked cars. The jumpers were flown by Army pilot Major Alex A. in “Army 072,” a Cessna 172.
Maj. Alex was a sharp aviator. On Sunday I briefed him for an 0555 engine start and an 0625 TOT over the drop zone, one minute before sunrise.
He hit every time hack on the dot — on the dot. Disciplined flying.
The day before, the flag jump was delayed an hour.
The wind muscled at us, 16 knots gusting to 26. We held the airplane on the ground, and again at altitude, until our skydiving safety officer OK’d the jump.
Descending with that BIG flag in those winds was like towing it behind a car at over 50 kilometers per hour.
Atypically, as the sun rose, the wind got worse. After two more jumps, we regretfully grounded skydiving for the day.
Our Skydiving Event Director hosted a “boodle fight” for skydivers and pilots instead, at the 505th Search and Rescue Squadron hangar.
“Ready on the right…?”
Here, Philippine Army skydiver Major Jess D., does a “dirt dive ” — formation practice — with two other Army skydivers.
Sgt Pangga F., rightmost, is one of our flag jumpers.
Maj. Jess recently deployed to the Sudan as part of the Philippine contingent there.
At the Fiesta, he helped us pool aircraft from four different service branches of the Armed Forces to lift a mix of skydivers from the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Police.
Every morning at 0530, Fr. Ronnie A. (with the helmet-mounted camera on the right), a PNP skydiver, gathered all the skydivers on the field for a short prayer.
It was a comforting routine, and some of us who were not skydivers began to attend also.
The Army and Air Force teams flew these house-of-cards formations — CRW or Canopy Relative Work.
Two or more skydivers stack up in the air, with the higher skydiver wrapping his ankles around the risers of the lower skydiver, so that both jumpers go down mated to each other. Is that kinky or what?!
The crowd loved these, especially when the skydivers flew the formation all the way to the ground.
The Army skydivers also flew a “downplane” formation, legs locked together, canopies sideslipping in a heart-stopping descent.
This one had the audience “Ooohing”.
We had four jump aircraft, and we worked them hard most of the day. Many of our lifts were unscheduled — we plugged idle time with skydiving.
At times we had four lifts in the air at once, converging on the same jump altitude over the same drop zone.
We briefed the pilots for different climb corridors and sequenced them by time-to-climb, for separation.
The jump pilots were led by Army Maj Alex A. in the Army Cessna 172, , the PNP’s PCI Alex C. in an AS350 helicopter, PCG’s LCDR John E. in the Coast Guard Islander, Navy LT Leah G. in the Naval Air Group Islander, and Air Force Capt Jorge P. in the Air Force Search and Rescue UH-1H Huey helicopter.
Great aviators and team players all — professional, always accomodating and most of all, safe.
The Skydiving Event Director was Gigi A.
A USPA C-license holder with over 350 jumps logged in Asia and the US, Gigi is the only active female (if you squint 😛 ) skydiver in the Philippines.
This was her first stint as our Skydiving Event Director.
For the first time in the Fiesta, military and civilian skydiving were managed as a single, unified event.
Gigi integrated a grab bag of aircraft from four service branches of the Armed Forces into one lift pool.
She recruited an old friend and ex-USAF Combat Controller as skydiving safety officer, crafted procedures to mitigate risk, and personally organized every load manifest.
Not one of the testosterone-laden hooyah macho skydivers questioned her. Clearly an indictment about who really wears pants in the Philippines 🙂
Gigi was always hustling us for more skydiver lifts, more skydiving time slots, more pilot briefings.
We threw her every free slot we could scavenge from the schedule.
It was hard to turn her down, really. The crowd loved the skydivers.
On Sunday, 75 skydivers and static line jumpers poured out of an Air Force C-130.
The C-130 staged out of Villamor Air Base in Manila, so the skydivers commuted overnight from Clark.
When the C-130 unloaded thirty-plus parachutes out of both side doors at 1,200 feet, it was the Band of Brothers reincarnated.
Then forty-plus skydivers stepped off the cargo ramp from 10,000 feet, free-falling thousands of feet before popping their canopies.
The first skydivers landing in the video are the civilian Thai team — Capt. Pow, Khun Muoy, Khun Jak. Their small, fast canopies made for dive-bomber descents and snappy landings.
A cacophony of colorful canopies popping open in the skies above us. The audience loved it!
That made delaying four UPS cargo flights out of Clark almost worth it 🙂
Flag jump photos by Princess and Tonet, videos by Julio, other photos by Dong Vytiaco, the Naval Air Group and Robbie Ruiz.
Pass your mouse cursor over the pictures for individual photography credits and captions.
Next: Julio Rescued At Sea!
Posted from Bangkok, March 20, 2008.