This is the companion article to “How do You Show An Airplane To A Visually-Impaired Child?”
As always, mouse over the pictures for captions, photo credits and the ‘inside story’.
John Chua, the indefatigable visionary who made this all come to pass, promised that everyone would get to fly. And everyone did, including parents, photographers, sponsors.
It was interesting to watch the kids and parents. When the Navy Islanders and the Air Force Huey arrived, the kids who were visually-impaired listened keenly and alertly to the entire event, while the parents gawked excitedly at the sights.
Before long, kids were exploring airplanes, getting into airplanes, sitting in airplanes.
Already, ultralights with their first special passengers were taxiing to the runway.
It got hectic. Later, we estimated that we had over 200 takeoffs and landings that day. I used up two radio batteries, and then some.
More airplanes were coming in. Navy 421, an R-22 helicopter, and Navy 311, a second Islander, arrived from Sangley air base. Then Darius Hizon came in with not one but two R-44s, four-seater helicopters that could take special children and their parents.
Everyone knows about the Hizon family and Pampanga’s Best. But few people know that Darius used to be severely acrophobic – scared of heights. He found it very difficult to fly even as a passenger.
Joy Roa of Air Ads cured Darius of his phobia, starting with a helicopter ride. Nowadays Darius can’t get enough of flying, especially in his own Robinson helicopter. And today Darius paid it forward, by fulfilling dreams of flight.
Another pilot story is that of Australian Jay Cook. A member of the Angeles City Flying Club, Jay is obsessive about safety, aircraft maintenance and piloting technique. He is very deliberate, reserved, almost taciturn. He is so concerned about everyone’s safety that we affectionately think of him as an Aussie Sheep Dog.
That day he flew Helmuth’s X-Air Hanuman, otherwise known as The Little Red Fokker, one of the most photogenic airplanes at Woodland.
Jay is always spring-loaded to abort any flight for safety reasons. And he almost never deviates from a plan. But that day he left the standard visual pattern on an uncharacteristic deviation.
Jay: “Woodland, 642.”
Tonet: “642, Woodland, go.”
Jay: “Woodland, this kid is havin’ a ball, 642 is leaving the pattern to go about 5 miles north, give him a longer ride.”
Tonet: “642, Woodland, copy that.”
I was smiling, because clearly his passenger Jeremy had something few of us had around Jay – charm 🙂
Even inside the most reserved of pilots, there is a little boy who wants to play. There were two boys in RP-S642 on that jaunt.
Stinger 507, the Huey gunship, and both R-44s flew several lifts of children and their parents. Marc Nelson of Sports Unlimited helped put some of the wheelchair children on board an R-44.
Navy 331, the Cessna 172, also flew several loads of children and parents. At one point, I remember the 172 taking off, five ultralights on close downwind leg, the big Huey extending on long downwind, both R-44s on final, Albert’s weight-shift microlight holding just south of the field, and the Navy R-22 hovering at 1,000 feet directly overhead with a media cameraman.
We could never have done this at Clark, which has a limit of 9 aircraft in the pattern.
But how could we stop? All you had to do was watch visually-impaired Gelo David scream for joy as the Huey lifted him off the planet Earth!
That afternoon, Navy 320 departed early, heading quickly for Sangley air base for a Search and Rescue mission – a ship was missing off Catanduanes. It was a reminder that these pilots flew for our country, and our people.
One of the thrills of the day, from a pilot’s perspective, was the departure of a twin-engine airplane from Woodland’s short runway. The radio call after takeoff said it all — “Go Navy!”
The Air Force Huey also departed for Clark, probably on the same mission, and with both R-44s also departing, the pace finally began to slow down.
Brant Shockley, one of the ultralight pilots, jogged by, leading a gaggle of kids to the mango orchard. How Tony and Brant even had the energy to organize a treasure hunt was beyond me. I myself was pooped!
One of the parents said it best: On this day, every child did whatever he or she wanted, whether it was leading the Philippine Air Force band or handling the M-60 machine gun on the Huey. Nobody told them to stop doing anything. Today was all about them. Today was their day.
“Woodland, Navy 331 is airborne, turning right for Sangley, switching frequency to Clark Tower.”
“Roger that, 331, switch to one one eight decimal seven, have a good day, maraming, maraming salamat!”
Suddenly, the radios were quiet. There were no more calls on 131.35. The airplanes were gone.
And the kids were gone. The day was over.
The next day, I was back at Woodland to fly with some friends. Jay “Sheep Dog” Cook bounced up the stairs to join us for lunch at the Club restaurant, full of funny stories and a rare, beaming smile. The rest of us looked at each other. Jay rarely has funny stories.
Apparently, the kids were still there, inside us all.
Posted from Bangkok, January 23, 2011