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Performers wearing hot air balloon costumes as balloonists take off | © Francis R. Malasig/Shutterstock
Performers wearing hot air balloon costumes as balloonists take off | © Francis R. Malasig/Shutterstock
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The Aviation Festival that Grew From the Ashes of Tragedy

Picture of Alex Jordan
Travel Editor
Updated: 13 February 2017
A giant Yoda head, Coca-Cola bottle and racecar soar overhead, forming a towering landscape in the sky. The equatorial sun is blocked out through the sheer number of inflatable Goliaths rising slowly above the fields. This is the Philippines’ annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, a celebration with tragic origins.
Hot Air balloon festival at Clark airfield, Angeles City, Philippines
Hot Air balloon festival at Clark airfield, Angeles City, Philippines | © Francis R. Malasig/Shutterstock

The festival takes place each year between the 9th and 12th of February at a former US Air base in Angeles City, Pampanga province. The longest-running sports aviation event in Asia, it involves four days of aerial displays, including skydiving, kite flying and remote controlled aircraft, culminating with the flight of hot air balloons.

Balloonists at the start of the four-day festival
Balloonists at the start of the four-day festival | © Francis R. Malasig/Shutterstock

Founded in 1994, the festival was created to jumpstart the local economy and uplift the morale of Luzon’s ailing community, which was devastated by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo three years earlier. The eruption, the second largest of the 20th century, claimed an estimated 847 lives. Were it not for widespread evacuations in the days before, the death toll would have been significantly higher. Even so the area lost approximately two-to-three percent of its population.

Preparing a hot air balloon for flight
Preparing a hot air balloon for flight | © jipatafoto89/ Shutterstock

In 1996, Captain Joy Roa, the island’s only licensed balloon pilot, was asked to oversee the event. A fixed and rotary wing pilot and an avid aviation enthusiast, Roa encouraged other flying disciplines to participate, transforming the fiesta into a weekend of everything that flies.

Performers wearing hot air balloon costumes
Performers wearing hot air balloon costumes | © Francis R. Malasig / Shutterstock

What began as a passion project has since evolved into the longest-running sports aviation event in Southeast Asia. The organisers say they want to instill discipline in young pilots and create a spirit of volunteerism and cooperation within the community.

This year’s event features 30 hot air balloons and over a hundred pilots from Europe, North America and Asia. It’s expected to attract an estimated 60,000 visitors from around the world. For more information and to book tickets, visit the event’s official website or follow it on Facebook.