Words by Fudge Santos
Photos by Ian Kristoffer
For 23 years and counting, the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (PIHABF) has been one of the most anticipated annual events internationally. It’s the longest-running sports aviation gathering in Asia and, for the first time, it took place in Carmona, Cavite this year. It officially opened as The Flying Carnival 2020: A Weekend of Almost Everything That Flies last March 6-8, kicking off the weekend with flying exhibitions and activities that you’d usually only see in the movies.
Launch of all the Hot Air Balloons on the first day of the carnival
Every year since 1991, this event has attracted tourists worldwide as well as countless families from all over the Philippines. And for over the two decades it’s been running, the event has successfully brought in pilots, skydivers, paragliders, and aviators from Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom (UK), South Korea, and France to share their expertise and create an environment of learning about aviation and its ever-growing industry.
The weekend started off early as early as 4AM, opening the gates to dozens of cars excitedly rushing into the threshold of San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona. We were welcomed by a booming marching band at the driveway, followed by majorettes in colorful outfits. At the entrance, mascots greeted us in jolly smiles and dance moves, as well as performers in stilts and costumes. It felt like a real carnival especially when families started to pour in and delighted anticipation started building up in each person.
The dancing Superman mascot that made the kids super happy upon entering.
Entertainer performing a magic trick.
Although the usual crowd of the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta would be used to seeing the spectacle in the open grounds of Clark Airfield in Pampanga, the venue choice this year was Cavite’s racetrack in Carmona. The space was surprisingly strategic and gave the audience the best view of the horizon.
The open-field racetrack where they placed the first balloons.
The carnival opened with an introduction of multiple skilled paragliders to show off stunts and flips across the sky, earning “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the audience.
The first two paragliders that hyped up the crowd.
Minutes later, we started to see the massive balloons of different sizes and colors taking shape on the field. By 5AM the bleachers were filled with thousands of people—locals and tourists—with their phones and cameras ready to catch the magic they all have been waiting for.
Inflating the first few balloons.
SM’s and Asian Air Safari’s balloons upright and ready to go.
The word “magical” can’t even begin to cover it, as the flames roared and the first balloons started to take off while the winds carried them quickly into the clear sky. The pilots in control of the suspended aircrafts would wave from time to time, and received cheers from the audience as paragliders circled them in perfect formation. The crowds we more than pleased.
Asian Air Safari’s hot air balloon preparing for take off.
The pilots of Asian Air Safari, watching the crowd below them, as the balloon started to shift upwards.
Paragliders performing stunts as the SM Balloon soared higher.
It was a dream to see the sky decorated by gigantic balloons. We all felt as if we were watching a scene from a movie unfold right before our eyes.
Not long after, a helicopter started zooming into the horizon, carrying UK trained professional skydivers called Jumpdogs inside it.
The first helicopter in sight
The helicopter flew 50 feet higher, and I suddenly realized each skydiver had a passenger strapped unto them. Apparently people could avail of a skydiving experience at a certain price in the carnival. The audience watched in awe as each tandem plunged downward in a 160-miles-per-hour fall.
A skydiver releasing his parachute
A few feet before hitting the ground, every skydiver would release their parachutes just in time—each chute an explosion of colors.
Each day of the carnival was filled with more activities and events like the Paramotor Slalom Race, the Kite Flying Exhibition, the Extreme Motor Sports Exhibition, the Drone Racing Competition, the Electric Airplane Race, Light Airplane Balloon Bursting, and more.
Paragliders soaring side by side.
There were also aviation seminars given by pilots from different institutions like the Philippine Airforce, Naval Air Group from the Philippine Navy, Cebu Pacific Air, and Asian Air Safari, to name a few.
The families definitely enjoyed themselves at the Flymarket where numerous food stalls and souvenir shops stood. The best sellers for the kids, however, were the mini kites and the toy-like hot air balloon figures they played between the events.
View of the Flymarket and a kid playing with a toy hot air balloon.
Kite-flying at the Flymarket.
On the last two days of the Flying Carnival weekend, they ended the program at around 8:00PM with hot air balloons in a night-glow and vibrant fireworks that lit up the evening sky. It was the perfect way to close each fun-filled day, leaving spectators with a reminder that endings can be beautiful.
Paragliders and fireworks.
As the event was a success, so was the purpose behind its new venue this year. Ever since the Taal eruption last January 12, 2020, the tourism rates in CALABARZON have visibly decreased. The Department of Tourism took the initiative to move the venue of the carnival to Cavite, in the hopes of bringing in more tourists to Carmona as well as opening the area to more tourism opportunities. They did this extremely well as there was an estimate of over 45 000 attendees during the weekend.
In the end, not only was did this event unite families as well as different cultures. It had also become a big help for the Philippines.
Don’t miss the next Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival!
Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival