12th Annual Clark Philippines International Hot Air Balloon Festival a Hot Success

CLARK FREEPORT, PAMPANGA, PHILIPPINES -
02-13-08 - It was billed as the “Weekend of Everything the Flies"; indeed it was, at least for three of the four days of the event. Unfortunately, to the disappointment of those getting-up early Saturday, sustained winds between 7 and 15 miles per hour with gusts of over 20 miles per hour kept the balloons from flying on Saturday morning.

Even with Mother Nature throwing a damper on the monster event, the Clark Philippines International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta still drew record crowds. Estimations, in this reporters view is somewhere above 140,000 people made it for the 4 day event held from February 7th through 10th. We’ll have to wait for the official numbers to know for sure.

The Hot Air Fiesta was first held in 1994 when the then Philippines Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor, commissioned a businessman from Korea, Mr. Sung Kee Paik, also a hot air balloonist and British Airways General Manager Mr. John Emery to focus on initiating a major balloon event in the county.

The event maintained an international flavor with 21 balloons from 14 countries participating. Aside from the balloonists from the Philippines, there were hot air enthusiasts with their balloons from the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Hungary, and Asia represented by Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea.

There were a few specialty balloons, one with the likeness of the cartoon character Tigger, and my favorite, the giant octopus balloon, bright red, complete with tentacles and a cute face with a long nose.

The team from Clark Subic Marketing was there for 3 of the 4 days. We enjoyed the many diverse flying activities such as skydiving exhibitions, paragliding and ultra-light performances, group paratrooper and performance paraglide drops, radio controlled aircraft flying, model rocketry demonstrations, ultra-light bomb dropping exercises with audience participation, search and rescue flying exhibitions, a demonstration of a helicopter without a conventional tail rotor, stunt flying exhibitions by world-class Filipino pilots and more. Yes, we did witness just about everything that flies in the skies in and about Clark Freeport, Pampanga over the weekend.

Of particular noteworthiness were the aerobatic demonstrations, performed by the team of Captain Maynard Halili and Bill Wright. These guys made the skies light-up with hair-raising, dangerous and thoroughly exciting performances. They are number-one in our book, as they allowed Filipinos to witness some high-quality, world-class stunt flying; something you don’t see everyday in our country. My mind’s still trying to contemplate the fact that Captain Halili, according to the announcer, a 62 year old acrobatic pilot, and owner of his own stunt pilot school, was one of the individuals performing these intense athletic maneuvers, normally reserved for more youthful tolerance. Captain Halili must certainly be in great shape in order to be able to take the G-forces sustained from such stress-induced flying. Thank you guys, for a high altitude, high anxiety experience!

I would like to take the time here to show my heart-felt gratitude for another individual, known to us only as Buddy. This man is most-likely not given enough recognition, a person who performed tirelessly, all 4 days of the show, without a single hiccup. Buddy gave detailed narration of just about each and every event taking place on the field and in the skies above. He must be involved in the aviation industry to some extent, based on his vast store-house of information on the fly. He spoke perfect English and was very informative, with detailed understanding of most of the technical fine points, procedures and aeronautical explanations that applied to each of the many varied flying exhibitions and demonstrations at the show. This added a dynamic of knowledge and learning to the event; it was a great way to help us understand much of the technology behind the demonstrations. Thank you announcer Buddy for broadening my knowledge-base and greatly adding to an already exciting show.

My colleagues and I from Clark Subic Marketing also witnessed many static-displayed aircraft at the show and several booths and displays featuring various aviation schools, RC aircraft groups, souvenir shops, game booths, and, best of all, the Philippines Army personal. These guys actually allowed spectators to hold and pose with their automatic weapon (without ammo) and military regalia. These spectators were allowed to have their picture taken in a military jeep with men and women from the Philippines Army, fully outfitted in their uniforms. Visitors were also allowed to fly their personal kites on the grounds for a personal touch of involvement in the event.

For those wanting a break from the high-flying adventure, there was a stage setup next to the food booth area with performances and various variety shows ongoing throughout the day. Many choices of culinary delights were available at the food court area from carnival-type hotdog-on-a-stick to the standard McDonalds’ and Jolly Bee fare, to good-old fashioned home-cooked Filipino dishes.

Exciting and fulfilling indeed was the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, but this was not the only hot thing in Clark Freeport of late. Investors and leisure seekers are finding this previously unknown little section of Central Luzon quickly becoming a new and exciting destination of the Philippines. Other neighboring countries are even discovering Clark Freeport. Countries such as Korea, Japan and China are sending tourists and investing in this haven of opportunity. The growth here is absolutely phenomenal with huge multinational companies such as Texas Instruments building a one billion dollar factory and the Fontana Leisure Resort and Water Park undergoing a very large expansion with a new clubhouse now completed and a world-class 18 story luxury hotel currently under construction. With the new SCTEX super highway due to open in a few weeks, Clark and Subic are destined to continue to grow and become an interconnected, very hot mega-hub for business and pleasure.

If you haven’t been to the Clark Freeport lately, then you are missing out on a major Philippine destination in a state of continual growth and upgrade. Hot and exciting things are happening here and it doesn’t begin and end with the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, in fact, this is just the tip of the ice burg. Come and spend a few days in this new destination for fun and business…you won’t be disappointed.



 

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