They converged on a field 70 kilometers from the town of Woodstock. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker, Santana, Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Janis Joplin. They expected 50,000 people for three days of peace and music. Over half a million came, and stayed for four days.
At Woodstock in 1969, the first band to sign up for the festival is still one of my favorites. Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Two years ago Carlo and I were working the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta as Air Boss, managing aircraft movement and flight operations. Our security guy called me to the crowd fence line. A man stood there. He was from Missouri, USA.
He had classic control-line airplane models and he could really make them fly. It was a flashback to the 1970s.
He wasn’t on the schedule, but he was such a hit with the crowd that we used him as a gap filler for all four days. A walk-in performer.
Another year, we had a 30-minute gap because high winds grounded the rocketry team and skydivers. Carlo ran off looking for ultralight pilots willing to brave the gusts. He came back with an entire marching band and synchronized military drill team. Ouido time!
Every performer at the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is an artist, skydiver, enthusiast, sportsman or pilot. Most perform for free. There is a 12-hour non-stop program, daily. And if weather wipes out our schedule, we make up gigs on the spot.
It really is the Woodstock of aviation.
Once, a fighter jet was training nearby. We radioed the pilot, asking if he could do a low pass. The military jock let his hair down with three aileron rolls over the showline. The crowd loved it. Jimi Hendrix couldn’t have matched that for sheer decibel dynamite. The next year, the Air Force sent four airplanes.
The international airport operates normally throughout the Fiesta. Commercial and military flights pause only for our aerobatic flight displays and hot air balloons. Very few flights are delayed.
One year we had to delay a Cebu Pacific A320 departure. On the radio, we politely pointed out a week-old NOTAM, a Notice to Airmen, that said the airport was closed for an hour, to give way to hot air balloons. The Airbus pilot sputtered, “WHAT BALLOONS?!” Outside his windshield, over twenty hot air behemoths, each the size of a 6-story building, drifted across the runway.
That Captain sure didn’t get with the beat.
That year also, the ‘Meynard and Bill’ aerobatic flight display slipped past their NOTAM period. A FedEx freight dog marked time on the ramp. Now, it’s a felony to hold Cebu Pacific, whose routine departure delays are biblical anyway. It’s a high crime to delay FedEx, whose hub connections are measured in minutes.
We orbited the aerobatic airplanes as FedEx departed. To fill the gap, the airport firemen did a fire-fighting demo and gleefully smothered a burning tire with tons of foam, and sprayed the overheated crowd with water. Then Meynard and Bill blasted into their aerobatic gig with snarling snap rolls, Cuban Eights, hammerheads. It was like having cops as a front act for Santana. Wild.
At our Woodstock, the Air Boss is the choreographer, and Air Traffic Control is the musical director. Known collectively on the Tower frequency as ‘Fiesta Alpha’, our partnership burned through three or four Icom radio batteries daily.
Flag jump 06.20, paragliders and hot air balloons 06.30, ultralights flour-bombing a drift car at 07.30, aerobatics at 08.00. By the time most people woke up on a weekend, we had moved more aircraft than the airport handled on a normal day. Safely.
We had foreign performers — a Cessna 182 from Malaysia. Turboprop Malibus from Japan and Singapore. Cessna Caravan from Thailand. Every airplane flying in the Fiesta wants low passes for their curtain call.
One year, a pilot at the fence line asked to join the balloon-bursting competition, a crowd-favorite event. He had a Beech Sierra, a sexy airplane. Despite its size, he chased party balloons in front of the crowd, topping the day’s scorecard with three kills. Another walk-in performer.
We’ve raced ultralights against a Ducati bike, while monster scale radio-controlled jets screamed by.
Last year we paired synchronized kite flying with Rolf’s aerobatic glider in an aerial ballet that had the crowd ooohing and aaahing.
It really is a four-day rock concert, versus, say, the rigid theme park script of the Singapore Airshow.
The next Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, now the biggest sport aviation event in Asia, starts Thursday, February 9, at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport. Join us for four days of peace, way cool and jet fuel. Hippie beads and tie-dyed shirts optional.
Posted February 4, 2012, from San Francisco, California