Hot air balloons and a flying circus

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A man is silhouetted against a partially inflated hot air balloon before its flight. -- AFP

22nd Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
Feb. 8 to 11
Clark, Pampanga

By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman,

BESIDES the usual hot air balloons that dot the skies of Clark, Pampanga at this time of year, the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta adds another spectacle up in the air: a flying circus.

Called the Aerosuperbatics WingWalkers, the 30-year-old United Kingdom-based flying circus uses two Boeing-Stearman Model 75 biplanes in tandem and it is the only aerobatic formation group in the world.


The 17-minute routine consists of the two orange biplanes flying together, doing loops, turns, and inverted flights while two women stay strapped on top of each plane, doing their own acrobatic stunts.

“The hardest part is the strong wind pressure. You have to stay elegant in the air while doing the stunts — which is exhilarating and exciting,” Emily Guilding, one of the two stuntwomen, told BusinessWorld during a media launch on Feb. 6 in Pampanga.

Wing walkers Emily Guilding (L) and Kattie Hobbs — NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

The women’s acrobatics include doing loops, rolls, and handstands at 1,000 feet in the air, all while fighting against the strong wind.

Ms. Guilding said she got bored doing office work and decided that she wanted to do something fun. Her pursuit of something exciting to do led her to join the WingWalkers in 2014.

Asked about the requirements needed to become an aerial acrobat, Kattie Hobbs, the other wing walker, said one has to be short (no more than 5’5”), flexible, and strong. And, of course, you should not be scared of heights.

Ms. Hobbs said her first she did the routine — just last year — was her scariest experience, but she’s now used to doing it with ease.

The two women said they have been practicing and perfecting the stunts for nine weeks for their Philippine audience in what will be their first-ever stint in Southeast Asia.

The two said the best thing about their seemingly frightening job is the opportunity to travel the world. The two have toured in China, Australia, and Europe, among other places.

The Aerosuperbatics WingWalkers will be up in the air on Feb. 8 to 11 in Clark, Pampanga, along with the festival’s other spectacles in the sky.

With the theme “A Weekend of Everything that Flies,” the 22nd Philippine-International Hot Air Balloon Festival (PIHABF) includes shows and rides for the festival goers, including hot air balloons, tandem skydiving, paragliding, formation flights, and kite flying, among others.

Balloon enthusiasts prepare to take flight during the annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival at the former Clark US Air Force base in Pampanga province, north of Manila on February 9, 2017.

On the ground, there will be supercar drifting exhibitions, drone racing, archery, horseback riding, camel riding, animal feeding, and shopping at the Fly Market. There will also be a One World Music Cultural Exchange Concert series in the evenings.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said that her department is hoping to top the number of attendees — 130,000 — last year. She said the number of people who go to the festival increases every year, and the target for this year is  200,000 visitors. She said she wants to hold the next PIHABF outside Pampanga, and holding it with the different regions across the country to draw more tourists, foreign and local.

Entrance tickets to the festival cost P500, with a percentage of the amount going to the PIHABF Foundation Scholarship Fund, which grants scholarships to underprivileged students who want to pursue a career in the aviation industry.