Breitling Bop

One of the highlights of the recently held Hot Air Balloon Festival was the participation of the Breitling-sponsored aerobatic team from Dijon, France. Seven Aero L-39 Albatros jets took to the sky and performed a number of mad aerial stunts, rivaled only by the crazy Navy pilots from the movie "Hot Shots". The crowd, already amazed by the hot air balloons that took off just after sunrise, lets out 'oooohs and ahhhhs' with an exclamation awe each time the jets would fly as close to each other, almost colliding before flying into different directions at the last second possible. They give a real hardcore meaning to flirting with disaster.

It was a stunning display of risky choreographed moves, perfected through thousands of practice hours in both real-time and simulation setting. Still, as professional and skilled pilots, the members of the Breitling aerobatics team are, the possibility of accidents brings forth added excitement in the whole spectacle. You can't help but hold your breathe especially during those passing formations done in top speed.

I was left wondering what kind of organized chaos must have been in that cockpit. Voices coming from the jet's communication system composed of steady and calm instructions from their leader. Distance, altitude and speed are well timed to make sure each plane would come as close as it can be, while maintaining just a short distance from each other at the same time.

During the first few moments after the jets took off, I stayed seated at the lawn. Already feeling the hot and humid weather, I felt tired and already looking forward to lunch. By the time they made their first maneuver with three jets coming from both sides flying towards each other, it performed a swift opposition pass, the crowd briefly erupted in wild cheers. I quickly stood up and was instantly amazed at the flying skills of the pilots. 

A jumpy pilot addicted to coffee would ruin the whole routine because each aerial stunts requires not only deep concentration but steady hands as well. Imagine if the pilot steers the control just a half joules more, it would have directed the plane to roll to its right or left faster and more violently, thus increasing the risk of a mid-air collision. So everything is done smoothly. The pilots have no time to second-guess their actions, each should come as routinely as possible, the way they practiced thousands of times before..

The whole air stunt lasted for around 20 minutes. I heaved a sigh of relief for the pilots as they started landing back on the airstrip. Jacques Bothelin, the team's leader has been performing aerobatics since 1980. The team then was called Patrouille Martini because it was still sponsored by Martini. Breitling SA only came on board as primary sponsor in 2004.

For, Filipinos it was such a great spectacle to witness since we could only shake our head at the fact that our fleet of jets could only fly a straight line. We have skilled pilots, that's for sure. But, until we get our hands on even the Aero L-39 Albatros trainer aircraft. We can only dream of having our own world-famous aerobatics team someday.

*Special Thanks to Dazl Silverio for the photographs.