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Published: February 24th 2013
Up, up and away!
The centerpiece of the annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta taking it to the skies
Morning is arriving, and large clouds – remnants of the previous day’s constant rains – are hovering above the Clark Freeport Zone, about an hour and a half north of Manila. Gradually, the clouds give way to sun rising from the horizon punctuated by Mount Arayat. Crowds who have sacrificed sleep to be at the grounds at the crack of dawn are greeted with the good news – weather reports have forecasted a nice, albeit cloudy, day. With good visibility, the weekend schedule for this year’s Hot Air Balloon Fiesta goes on as planned.
Now on its 18th
year, the festival – dotted with hot air balloons from participants all over the world, fairs from various aviation schools from the Philippines, and a host of other shows both related and not to flying – perhaps best typifies Clark, a former U.S. Air Force Base in the province of Pampanga. Located just three kilometers from Angeles, Clark is as unlikely a sleazy place as its infamous neighbor city. Two decades have passed since Mount Pinatubo blew its top and rendered the air bases in Clark unusable, and the place still exhibits traces of what it once was. Aside from turning itself
No politics, just lots of hot air
Blowing up their hot air balloons
as one of the Philippines’ hub for aviation, Clark also has become a hotspot for business and tourism, most famously as a jumping point for treks to Pinatubo.
This year marks a special one for organizers of the event, with the Breitling Jet Team, Europe’s largest civilian aerobatic display team, visiting and giving 20-minute shows. The Lyon-based aviation squad performs close passes and other synchronized maneuvers with its L39 Albatros jets, concluding with a splendid display of flares. “It has been an honor to bring our show to the Philippines,” says pilot Frederic Schwebel through the jet’s radio, his voice booming through the speakers on the complex’s runway.
The people behind the event are no less filled with reason for pride. Event director Joy Roa has said at a press conference prior to the fair how proud they are to be able to convince the Breitling Jet Team to participate. "And this is just the icing on the cake because this year’s Hot Air Fiesta will offer more than aerial entertainment,” she adds. With its popularity growing, the fair has also become an avenue for other endeavors to promote themselves. This year the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta includes
Breitling Jet Team
The 7-plane team gets into position
a concert in its schedule in an effort to boost the cause of Filipino recording artists. Local performers Gary Valenciano and Ogie Alcasid lead the musical show.
At the end of it all, aviation still courses through the complex’s veins. Strolling the place with three friends as we make our way through the crowds as the clouds finally give way to the sun, I hear the roar of jet engines from the runway, cheered on by the crowds who are there to experience – in one way or another – the thrill of flying. A very special thanks to TravelFactor for facilitating and making fun my trip to Clark for the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
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