The Mansion House is the Philippine version of Camp David.
Ironically, this Presidential retreat in Baguio is used most during the cool Christmas holidays.
When the President spends Christmas week there, a gaggle of Presidential aircraft descends onto Loakan airport.
During these Yuletide deployments, Loakan, with its runway edged by cliffs and ravines, looks even more like an aircraft carrier.
Helicopters crowd the tiny ramp. Interesting aircraft, even more interesting people. Last NewYear’s Eve, I met PCI Ruel Z. there. He flies a Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil for the Philippine National Police.
Also there at Christmas time are sleek, slippery twins, turboprops and assorted Bells and Agustas of mendicants, court jesters and imperial magicians who decorate any palace entourage.
Parking maxes out when the daily Spirit flight comes in.
Carlo and I RONed at Baguio in Christmas, 2006. Carlo checked the airplane as I chatted with the President of Aboitiz Transport’s 2Go. He had just arrived on a fabulous King Air, a twin turbo-prop slightly bigger than an Imperial Star Destroyer.
He nodded at my tiny flying soda can, and said, “Is that your toy?” I stiffened a bit at “toy”, but he was looking wistfully at the Cessna 152. “Buti ka pa, you fly your own airplane.”
As we both gazed placidly at my ‘toy’, two dots appeared above it.
Two Air Force Hueys, with big machine guns in the doors, clattered noisily to the runway. They preened like models over the ramp, then air-taxiied to parking.
The rotor blast was terrific. Our airplane’s wings started rocking. The wheels were not chocked (chocks would be a great Christmas gift from readers here). I thought the tail might weather vane and start my soda can skittering into the Aboitiz King Air… .
Carlo grabbed the wing strut and held the the upwind wing down. When I ran up he was grinning like a winning wrestler.
I thought about complaining to the Air Force. As I evaluated my chances of surviving a chat with armed gunship pilots wearing Darth Vader helmets with dark visors, I noticed that we were parked on top of an interesting sign.
I decided to spare the gunship pilots my righteous wrath.
Last New Year’s Eve, I flew out of Baguio when “Bluebird”, the Presidential helicopter was on the ramp.
When I filed my flight plan, I briefed the tower controller that I would orbit the city to climb above the clouds, then depart over the mountaintops at 8,000 or 10,000 feet.
Baguio has great tower controllers.
One of them bought an aneroid barometer (on the desk at right) with his own money after the tower’s barometer died.
They are enthusiastic about general aviation, which automatically makes them heroes.
The controller on duty was the same one working the tower when the Air Force T-41 crashed here in 2005, and suggested I take off on runway 09 into the wind, instead of 27 with a tailwind.
After takeoff we took lots of pictures of Baguio.
Like most Filipinos, I treasure magical memories of childhood visits to Baguio.
Before SM built a mall and turned Baguio into Mandaluyong.
Climbing downwind, we overflew the ramp where Ruel’s helicopter and 5 others looked like toys.
Just off the end of the runway, Kennon road twisted violently around its tightest zigzags.
Burnham Lagoon, Session Road and the Cathedral, are easy to spot.
John Hay’s and the Baguio Country Club’s fairways skirt the Mansion House, dead center in the lower image below.
Ah, the “confession”.
I flew off to the southeast, leaving Baguio behind. Again I had a spiritual encounter. Spirit 760 called Baguio tower and was told to continue approach, and warned to remain clear of the Mansion House.
Sure enough, after I landed at Omni I got a text message asking me to phone Baguio Tower. Not good.
The Presidential Security Group had called the Tower about an airplane overflying the Mansion House. They took my name and tail number from the controller.
I fretted about it. There are no restricted or prohibited areas on Baguio charts. And the controller had no Notices to Airmen about temporary restrictions. It was not even clear whether the President was in Baguio at all.
The controller and I also agreed that I was cleared for my orbit in controlled airspace over the city to avoid weather. Weather avoidance is a safety-of-flight prerogative of the pilot in command.
My GPS track was clear of the Mansion House at a legal altitude, and I saved it to my laptop.
I’m still holding my breath.
Sometimes the hazards at Baguio have nothing to do with terrain or weather.
Posted from Manila, Sep 23, 2008
Next and last in the Baguio series: Loafing Off Loakan