On January 8, 2011 the Angeles City Flying Club fulfilled dreams of flight for 39 special children. The Philippine Air Force, the Philippine Navy and private pilots volunteered their aircraft, fuel and time. SM, Pampanga’s Best, Photography with a Difference and a bevy of print and broadcast media swarmed on Woodland airfield to lead, support and cover the event.
TV and newspaper coverage of the event was generous, and photos have bloomed across Facebook, Photobucket, Multiply, YouTube.
I thought I would share a pilot’s perspective. How does one fly with a special child?
I know little about disabilities like Down Syndrome or ADD or autism. An autistic child knows more about autism than I do.
So it was with some deliberation that I volunteered to fly children that day. In a Cessna 152, the passenger has access to the entire cockpit. Could I manage a child with special needs, and fly an airplane at the same time?
I never found out.
“Woodland, this is Navy 320, good morning.”
Woodland airfield, an ultralight base, is an uncontrolled airfield. No control tower. The airfield keeps a radio listening watch on 131.35 MHz. Woodland pilots advise each other of their position and intention. ‘Honesty system’.
“Woodland, this is Navy 320, five miles southeast of the airfield.”
Even though he knew we had no air traffic control, the Navy pilot wanted to talk to someone on the ground before bringing in his 1,600-kilogram twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander into a tiny 550-meter grass airstrip.
Like me, Tony Willis, General Manager of the Angeles City Flying Club, had a handheld radio. But he was incredibly busy all over the airfield ensuring that everything was right for the kids and their parents.
I guess I was destined to be ‘Woodland Alpha’.
Besides, Navy 320 sounded like my kumpadre, Navy Lieutenant “Hot Rod” Babera, who like other Naval Air Group pilots fly SAR — Search and Rescue missions. One day I might have to call him on the radio and I would want him to respond!
“Navy 320, this is Woodland Alpha, magandang umaga sir, continue approach, report runway in sight, wind calm.”
It was the first of maybe a thousand radio calls that day. I never did get to fly.
I wasn’t an air traffic controller. I wasn’t authorized to clear aircraft to do anything. But I could give advisories.
“Navy 320, wind calm, runway 08 in use, you may land.”
Right on their heels was “Stinger 507”, a Huey gunship, with a twist. On board was a familiar red-suited fellow.
You couldn’t keep the kids away, after that. As soon as the Huey’s rotors were secured, the kids were all over the airfield, and the airplanes.
I was watching one boy in particular. With his mom Mafe, visually-impaired JC Lee intently explored an S-12 ultralight. Hard to tell who was guiding who.
On his own now, ‘looking’ at the horizontal stab. I wanted to tell him to lift that elevator up. And swing the rudder from side-to-side. It won’t hurt you.
Tail boom now. Then, clasping his hands. He gets it already: Airplane.
On he goes, seeing an airplane far more clearly than any of us ever have.
As JC reached for the wing (the heart of any airplane!) the S-12 looked like it was lifting up, reaching for the sky.
My own son Carlo, himself also a private pilot, and a teacher of literature at our alma mater, the Ateneo, has another pilot’s quote on his desk: “It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Saint-Exupéry sure got that right.
I thought about the important invisible force called ‘lift’, and the wing that makes the magic possible, and a boy who can reach higher than any of us because he is unfettered by the need to see with his eyes.
We were so lucky. We were all learning a lot that day.
And now it was time to take them flying . . . !
Posted from Bangkok, January 22, 2010.
As usual, mouse over the pictures with your cursor to read the captions!
Next: Reach for the Sky. Time for the kids to take the pilots flying!