Posts Tagged ‘Angeles City Flying Club’


When I was young, Dad introduced me to the concept of the bucket list.  This was shortly after one of our first SCUBA dives together, exploring a submerged mountain, watching a cuttlefish changing color in front of us like a rotund neon starship.  I remember the salt taste in my mouth, the ache in my nose from the awkwardly-fitted children’s dive mask as I told Dad that this was the closest we’d ever get to being astronauts.

I didn’t see the look on his face, absorbed as I was by the waves lapping against our banca.  I talked about how it was zero gravity, strange alien creatures, life support equipment.  Adventure.


SEAL Team Sicks


I would later find out that Dad was checking “astronaut” off his bucket list, that list of things one must do before one dies.  This year, he checked off “Fly a Spitfire,” and that’s our previous story.





When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was to be a pilot.  My first movie was either Star Wars or Top Gun, which explains a lot.  Mom complained on a trip to Disneyland that the only toys I ever asked for were airplanes.  The first item on my bucket list was there from the start.

I became more sensible, of course.  I grew up.  Learned to be responsible.  The school newspaper.  The honors section.  Dad and I built model airplanes.  I decided I wanted to be a teacher.  Not a legend, like my mentor, Dr. Onofre Pagsanghan (Mr Pagsi to his students).  Just a teacher.  A good one, someday.  Maybe.

I was as surprised as anyone when I lifted off the runway in 2006, in a genuine, bona fide airplane (I had learned to pronounce “Cessna” correctly at the age of three).  I laughed out loud and swatted at the empty air beside me where my instructor should have been.  Solo flight.

It took me two circuits to realize why the plane was pulling to the left.


Carlo in 1049 Sep 16, 2006


There is a very specific feeling, somewhere between disbelief, joy, and satisfaction, when you do something that was on your list.  This is one pleasure that young people don’t realize they have –- to feel something new for the first time.  The first time you influence someone’s life in a big way.  The first heady rush of sexual attraction, at once so natural and unfamiliar.  And of course, the first time you cross something off your bucket list.  You need to savor that feeling, memorize it.  Because here’s a secret:  you will sometimes feel this feeling at the most unexpected times.




I thought I would be as old as Mr Pagsi by the time anyone thought to call me legendary.  When Celadon awarded me their Legendary Teacher award at the age of 27, I felt it again.  I didn’t particularly feel that I deserved it.  But I felt that rush of joy.  Another item off my list.  One that I had stopped taking seriously some time before.




Sometimes, life tells you in subtle ways that you are doing something you were meant to do.  Sometimes, you won’t realize that something was on your bucket list until life gives it to you.

I teach the Ateneo de Manila University’s Introduction to Ateneo Culture and Traditions class, which helps incoming freshmen adjust to college life.  Sort of like a cut-rate guidance counsellor.  I was expecting a bit of good fun, a little extra cash, a chance to brag about my being a fourth-generation Atenean.

What I got instead was a young woman who burst into tears during what should have been a routine consultation.  Her Dad had a stroke.  A student begged for advice on what to tell her cousins, whose mother was dying of cancer.  In my first year of teaching, in a very conservative Catholic high school, someone snuck a message into an essay.  Sir Rivera, I’m gay.  What do I do?  A young woman, eyes no longer quite so young, talked about her baby boy.

There’s something of a formula for these situations.  You listen without judging. You use all your art to convince them that they’re not evil or worthless.  You name-drop a guidance counsellor.  Then you say farewell, and give them a hug if you’re young and foolish enough, and that’s where the formula breaks down, because nothing in a teacher’s preparations prepares you for the feeling that comes next.  I wanted to tell these kids-not-kids that they would be alright.  I wanted to do more for them.  I felt an urge to prove to them that the world is a good place.  I felt…





Sometimes, life gives you something that you never realized you were meant to do.  Sometimes something you’d cast aside as a silly dream.  Sometimes something you’d never really considered.  So that’s why it’s important to check things off your bucket list.  Not just for the experience itself.  But so that you learn to recognize that feeling, to understand that at this moment, life is giving you something Important.

My suspension of disbelief has been broken since about 2006.  Nothing seems impossible anymore.  My cup runneth over.

And for the record, “astronaut” is still on my list.



DSC_0118 (2)



Posted from Manila

January 7, 2015


Thank you to Johans Lucena for Carlo’s photo at Reach for the Sky 2





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Carlo has a excellent article on Bucket lists.  He was ready for a New Year’s Day publication.  I’ve held it up because I wanted to find the perfect photos for the article.  Soon, I promise, Carl – this week.

To pass the time, here’s a quick, very short story.



It’s January 3, 2015.  Carlo and I have just logged 4.5 flying hours.  We have been flying a wonderful group of aviation and flight simulator enthusiasts – former student pilots, current student pilots, future student pilots, R/C flyers, scale model builders, photographers, Facebook friends, fathers and sons.  Carlo and I are just using up fuel now, enjoying quiet time together in the sunset sky over Woodland Airpark.  We are happy-tired. 




The hat I am wearing has been with me for 10 years.  I got it at the 2005 Hiller airshow at San Carlos airport in California.  

I lost that hat four days ago.  I misplaced it after flying with an old friend last December 30.  We are both Presidents of the only two flying clubs in the country. 




The hat recalls a P-51C Mustang fighter airplane named "Berlin Express" flown by Bill Overstreet, an American World War II pilot.  Overstreet was a squadron mate of Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier as a test pilot after the war.  Overstreet named his airplane "Berlin Express"  because his 357th Fighter Group regularly flew to Berlin as fighter escort for B-17 bomber missions, deep into wartime Germany.




Overstreet flew in a dogfight over France in early 1944 against a Messerschmitt Bf-109.  The German pilot flew directly over occupied Paris so that the German gun batteries could shoot Overstreet’s Mustang off the Messerschmitt’s tail. 

His engine already hit and damaged, the German flew under the Eiffel tower in a desperate attempt to evade Overstreet.  Overstreet followed under the Eiffel tower, kept firing, and won the duel. 


"The Berlin Express Arrives in Paris"


Exactly a year ago, on January 3, 2014, Bill Overstreet, the pilot of Berlin Express, passed away.  He was 92 years old. 

Today, January 3, 2015, another pilot found and returned my ‘Berlin Express’ hat to me.


I should stop losing things.



Posted from Manila

03 January, 2015


William Overstreet’s obituaries:





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“Goose, you see a trailer?”
”Negative, Merlin.  Looks like he’s a single.” 
”Take it easy, Maverick.  I don’t like this shit.  I’m breaking high and right, see if he’s really alone."

— My friend Rick’s Facebook comment on the photo below.  


Bogey 9 o'clock level, where did HE come from?!








Rick was quoting from the movie TOPGUN.  I thought of other flying stories, like A Higher Call and Thunderbolt.  Tales of chivalry on both sides.  My childhood imagination, fuelled by weekly doses of “Twelve O’clock High” came rushing back.  When you see a German airplane outside your cockpit window, he wasn’t there to greet you, “Guten Tag, meine Herren, dies ist ein guter Tag für mich!”


A Higher Call


Rolf flashed past our wingtip and effortlessly arced back to our 9 o’clock. 




Dogfights are won by airplanes with high instantaneous roll rates and sustained turn rates.  The faster you roll, the tighter your turn, the more likely you’ll get the other guy.  Energy keeps even vertical turns tight and fast.  Glider pilots are masters at managing energy.  Rolf flies aerobatics in gliders.   




Even worse, Rolf was not flying a glider.  Rolf’s D.4 Fascination looks fast even on the groundDesigned by aerobatic pilot Wolfgang Dallach, it reflects the low-slung looks of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 or Focke-Wolf 190D, Luftwaffe fighters from World War II. 




German machines are engineered for purposeful efficiency — BMW motor cars, Leica and Zeiss optics, the Deutscher fußball team that deconstructed the cathedral of Brazilian football last Tuesday.  German aviation pioneers have names that are famous even now:  Bölkow, Dornier, Extra, Langewiesche.




So we were up against a German aerobatic glider pilot in a German airplane designed by another German aerobatic pilot.  Deutschland über alles.

Carlo is a much better English Lit professor than an aeronautical engineer.  He was about to get more education.   



“This is a great shot, Carl, I should be a photographer!”



Rolf again pulled low to our front and crossed our path left to right.  I felt Carlo roll into a right turn.  Ha!  Even mild-mannered English Lit professors have ruthless fighter pilots lurking inside.  He was pulling lead, closing.  

“C’mon, Mav, do some of that pilot shit!” 

But Carl was writing checks a Cessna can’t cash.




“Are you trying to shoot me down?”  Clearly, Rolf’s eyes were locked on us through that bubble canopy.  Fighter pilot dictum:  lose sight, lose the fight.  

“He saw you Carl.”

Carlo’s determined grin stayed fixed on his face.  He tightened our turn, pulling 2 Gs as the German airplane’s nose pitched up.




Suddenly Rolf arced tight inside our own turn and whipped past high above us.  Carlo unloaded and rolled wings level.

“When you see a Messerschmitt, Carl, and we’re flying a truck, dive for the weeds.  Where is he?”




“Behind us, Dad.” 

We were toast.  



Rolf’s pure pursuit curve smoothly slotted onto our tail.  Ratatatat! 

We went down in flames.  Rolf gave us a Westphalian wave.  Then he banked away, RTB.







Carlo flew down Germany’s Röhr river and skipped our bouncing bomb onto the Sorpe dam. 




Except that we didn’t.  We were shot down before our bomb run.  We had tried to dogfight a Messerschmitt with a Lancaster bomber.  If we had survived in another era, the air group commander would have banished Carlo to flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog poo out of Hong Kong.

Carlo flew a beautiful crosswind landing back at Woodland.   Then we had a beer.  Rolf was already working on the water heater in one of our guest rooms.


Now you know why the Sorpe dam survived the war.



Posted from Christchurch, New Zealand

11 July, 2014




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Shameful.  Six months between stories.  My excuses are a move to Singapore and demands of explosive business growth in the most burgeoning region in the world.
I travel alone over 200 days a year.  During one harrowing 12-day period last month, I spent each of twelve consecutive nights in a different city – ranging from Nashville TN to Dunedin, New Zealand, and two nights on trans-oceanic flights on B777s and A380s, surrounded by strangers.
I crave time in our little Cessna 152, flying with Carlo.
It was already drizzling when we took off.  It wasn’t quite a thunderstorm – no vicious lightning or thunder.  Nor was it the long, dreary monsoon downpour that recalls limping piano lessons, restless childhood hours trapped indoors, the summer vacation wasting away. 
No, this was a summer cloudburst, that ones that had us running into the streets as children, shivering deliciously under gushing downspouts before the sun sent temperatures soaring into the mid-30s again.
Huge raindrops smacked the windshield as we lifted off the grass.  Carlo, flying from the right seat, started an instrument climb.  The sun streamed through shafts of rain.  We orbited over the field.  Cloudbursts quickly move on.  It is best to stay in one spot and wait them out.  I set navcom 1 to the ILS at Clark, as a precaution.

Switching nav1 to the Clark ILS       
Carlo flew a perfect orbit.  You can see below his VSI perfectly horizontal.  Level at 900 feet, our entry altitude at Woodland Airfield.
    Carlo level at 900 feet, in an out of rain
The rain shafts moved on.  Visibility jumped to a bazillion kilometers and the air sparkled.  We jolted through some turbulence.  I thought of microbursts and shear and mountain waves across the top of Mt Arayat, three kilometers away.
Our wing-mounted GoPro camera shakes off the raindrops    
Time for an approach.  The smoke plumes from ground fires streamed in different directions, hugging the rice fields flat.  I pointed to one plume, on the horizon.  Horizontal.



The Angeles City Flying Club weather station is on top of Hangar 1.  I looked up our website on my BlackBerry, and sure enough, the wind was 25 knots, gusting to 28.  Crosswind, though all three of our windsocks pointed in three different directions.

The maximum demonstrated crosswind on a Cessna 152 is 12 knots.
I told Carlo he still had the airplane.  I wasn’t about to embarrass myself. 
Carlo flew a magnificent approach.  He crabbed 15 degrees into the wind throughout the pattern, then canted the airplane into a sideslip on short final.


As he flared, you can clearly hear my mumble in the cockpit video – “Sh*t, he’s going to grease it on.”
Of course he wanted to do it again.  There was a group of R/C flyers sheltering from the gale, in the lee of Hangar 3.  They were gawking at us.  A Cessna 152 isn’t much larger than a radio-controlled airplane.
Carlo did three approaches.  All greasers.  The wind shifted on the last short final, and he got a freebie headwind.  He nailed that, too.


I suggested he might quit while he was ahead.  Our faces were sore from laughing and grinning non-stop.  Did I mention I love flying with Carlo? 
As they pushed the airplane into Hangar 3, I took a photo of the windsock.  The wind had shredded it completely.

Later, Mike taught Carlo to walk bowlegged.  Because he had BIG brass ones.

I tried to take credit for all the landings.  “I used my autopilot to fly coupled approaches to our CAT III ILS at Woodland Airpark.  I use every resource, and I was totally in command.”  Nobody believed me.
Posted from Venice, Italy
May 26, 2014

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Walter Mitty’s Fifth Kill


“I’m at your five o’clock, Mike.  Maintain heading.”  Then I decided to shoot him down.



It was easy to spot him, with all that yellow paint.  I charged my guns.  This would be my fifth kill. 




He was headed for the mountain.  He would have to climb or turn.  Either way I would have him as he slowed down. 

Now.  I held the triggers down for a 3-second burst.  The Lewis guns chattered busily over my engine’s roar.

He was quick, pulling back instantly into a hard climb.  A loop, I thought, and then he would come down on my six o’clock, firing.  I should have seen his hard left rudder input, but he had startled me.


Pitch to inverted, then 45-degree downline in the opposite direction while rolling upright.


I lost him above my wing.  Not good. Lose sight, lose the fight.

I twisted my neck to check my six o’clock, the hair standing on the back of my neck.  I saw him flash past.  He was inverted, rolling upright on the down line.  A half Cuban Eight.  He flashed past my left wingtip, rolling perfectly about his longitudinal axis, diving away.  He wasn’t going to fight. 

I followed as he dove for no man’s land between the trenches far below us.

Then he pulled up from the dive and flew straight and level.  I throttled back quickly, careful not to get out in front of his guns.  I was at his four o’clock.  Why was he flying straight and level?  All I had to do was roll left and empty my cartridge clips into his airplane.  Dead duck.





Then I hesitated.  They were waving at me.  There was a girl in the front seat.  A girl?  This was the Western Front, 1918.  Right?

“Tonet, I’m going to give you my belly now.”  And Mike peeled off, headed back for Angeles City Flying Club’s Woodland Airpark.  Wait.  This was 2012.  I wasn’t a hotshot World War I ace.  Enough daydreaming.  I had to land the Cessna and catch dinner in Manila with my sons.





As I flew over the flughafen, I saw the other airplanes of Staffelführer Manfred’s Jagdstaffel 11.  I saw Herr Hautpmann Zotter’s Little Red Fokker.  I reached into the sack at my feet for my first bomb… .





Posted from Manila, January 1, 2013.



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The Gift of the Magi



We waited to take off.  It was December 21, the day the world would end.  It was the second day of my 2-week home leave.  I had vowed to turn my BlackBerry off and fly every day — therapy for a disturbingly intense year at work.

But it was raining.  In one of the driest, coolest months of the year, a thunderstorm unloaded on Woodland Airfield.  As we ran for our hangars, I quipped that maybe there was something to this Mayan end-of-the-world thing.  The other pilots laughed nervously.





The world survived the brief thunderstorm.  Two Cessnas departed on a mission.  We would be honoring a debt to the tribal hamlet of Poon Bato.


Two years ago the president of our flying club made a forced landing, after his ultralight engine lost power.  He was over rugged, remote terrain — the lava and lahar fields west of Mt. Pinatubo.  He put the airplane down on a river bank in a perfect dead stick landing.  Other ultralight pilots orbited overhead.  Night was falling.





That was when the Aeta tribe people native to the Zambales mountains emerged from the darkening bush, to harbor and protect the downed pilot.  They came to his airplane with pots of rice and their own meager supplies.  He had started climbing a hill to get a cellphone signal.  The Aetas quickly stopped him – the place was named ‘Cobra island’ for a reason.

An overland rescue expedition was organized by the Angeles City Flying Club, with the help of the police detachment at Botolan town, three hours away by truck.  Airplane and pilot were recovered the following day after many challenges.  All that time the Aetas never left the pilot’s side and kept him safe and secure.


Since then the Angeles City Flying Club has expressed its deep gratitude by sending care packages of food, clothes and other goodies to the remote hamlet. 




Poon Bato is an Aeta hamlet on the Botolan river, which ebbs and floods repeatedly throughout the year.  It’s not easy to spot from the air.  The terrain changes constantly.  But a pilot can remember every detail of where he had to put his airplane down.  You don’t forget emergencies like that.




The Aetas live in small grass huts scattered sparsely on the flood plain.  The huts shelter both people and animals.  The plain is studded with what look like small Christmas trees.





Hills and trees pop up everywhere you turn.  After you pass over the huts, you do a full power chandelle, climbing and turning back for another fly-by.  Position reports by radio to the other airplane holding at high cover are vital.

Then it was the other airplane’s turn, short beeline for the hamlet, flashing over the lahar beds and the scrub.  And we were done. RTB.




As we did one last pass, the Aetas were standing beside two carabao carts, waving at us.





The world didn’t end on December 21.  Instead, we flew to a smaller world that has to be rebuilt after every typhoon, in the shadow of one of the most powerful volcanoes on earth.  We acknowledged a gift given by people who had very little to give but themselves.  Tribal people who came out of nowhere to shelter and protect a downed pilot in their grass huts, with their animals.  The Aeta Wise Men of Poon Bato.



Posted from Manila, December 25, 2012.

Mouse over the photos for captions and credits.

Thanks to Terry for the video captures from his GoPro camera.

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Bangkok, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Köln, Remagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bangkok.  Manila, Chicago, San Francisco, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore.  Manila, Nashville, San Francisco, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore.  Bangkok, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Bangkok, Manila.  My travel schedule for the last 60 days.  Oct 23 to Dec 23.  A lifetime of travel for many people.

Somewhere in there I squeezed in an annual inspection of the airplane, a test flight for a new airworthiness certificate, a condominium search in Singapore, and closing and transferring my office from Bangkok to Singapore.  And about eight thousand conference calls, budget meetings, business reviews.





The airplane was grounded for most of October, for re-registration, re-insurance and the annual inspection.  Carlo and I hardly flew.  Carlo too was swamped with work.  He is now a full-time English teacher at the Ateneo.  There was very little time to write, and no inspiration.


What there was too much of was business travel.


But there were some light moments.  I boarded an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Chicago on the eve of the US Presidential Elections.  The Captain, wearing a tie plastered with American flags, stood at the cockpit door greeting everyone.  I boarded in a suit, a trench coat and a fedora.  ‘Skyfall’ was already showing in Asia.

Tonet:  Nice tie, Captain.

Captain:  Make a hole, MI6 is coming through!

Tonet (shaking the Captain’s hand):  Bond.  James Bond.

Captain (gesturing to the cockpit):  That’s your seat, then.  Just don’t touch anything!

As I sat down in the passenger cabin, he called out.

Captain:  Do you have any spare poker chips, Mr. Bond?

Tonet:  No.  I put them all on red and lost.

Captain:  I plan to vote in San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C., myself!  Can’t be too sure!


I was in Chicago when Obama won the election.  Huge crowd at the Democratic Party headquarters.


Two weeks later and three countries later I was back in the US.  As I boarded an American Airlines jet in Dallas, the same Captain was at the boarding gate.   “Bond.  James Bond,” I said, shaking his hand.  He was speechless.  Probably convinced that I was spying on him.


Germany was a short holiday.  I defected from East to West at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, scene of many Cold War confrontations.





In Köln, one of my favorite cities in Germany, I visited the great cathedral, where the relics of the three Magi are kept in a gilded urn.




In the Netherlands, I walked the woods around the Market-Garden airborne drop zones at Renkum Heath, taking call after conference call.  Holiday or not, I was on call 24×7 on work crisis after crisis.  The ‘Autumn Leaves’ was my Dad’s favorite song.

I peered at the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, and in the far distance, the arched girders of the Bridge Too Far.





In Singapore I dropped by the historic Raffles Hotel, where the Singapore Sling was invented, and Somerset Maugham wrote some of his best work.




In Bangkok, Carlo and Julio visited during their semester break.  It was the last time they would visit the apartment we had lived in for the last eight years.  Julio, who is pile-driving his way through his last semester towards an Economics Honors degree, had a lot of sleep to catch up on.  When he was awake he hammered his way across Europe and conquered Africa and the UK, something that no one has accomplished since the Roman Legions.





At Woodland airfield, with the airplane undergoing its annual inspection, I watched with envy while Mike and his instructor put Mike’s and Owen’s Stearman through a short, snappy and spectacular show for us hangar rats.  Damn, the airplane is beautiful!  Five years of loving restoration, all authentic parts.  A real jewel.  The video is a good one, but the photo below shows an impossible sideslip at 45 degrees to the runway, eight feet off the ground.  Total control.




It was a brutal 60 days.  Twenty-five cities in six countries on three continents.  Not counting connections or layovers.  That’s why there hasn’t been an article since September.  Carlo has been no less busy.  We owe you lots of stories.





Posted from Manila, December 23, 2012.


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