Friday, March 6, 2009

PAF diamond flies again after 30 years, Defense chief leads formation

CLARK FIELD, Pampanga -- On Thursday, the skies over the former Clark Airbase in Pampanga saw a spectacle not seen for three decades as 16 planes formed a diamond formation as they flew past.

The flyby, led by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., who is a licensed pilot, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Alexander Yano, and Air Force chief Lieutenant General Oscar Rabena, marked the maiden flight of 15 T-41 Bravo Trainer Planes donated to the Philippines Air Forces by South Korea.

The 15 planes, which Teodoro had just accepted from South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Choi Joong-Kyung in a turnover ceremony, were joined by an SF-260 Marchetti to complete the 16-plane formation.

"It has been a long while na hindi natin nakita sa ere ang diamond formation na kasing laki nito [that we have not seen a diamond formation as large as this in the air]," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Alan Ballesteros said.

So long ago, in fact, that Ballesteros said the last 16-plane diamond formation before Thursday’s was that of Saber jets of the defunct 5th Fighter Wing that took off from Basa Airbase in Pampanga in the mid-1970s, when the Philippine Air Force was at the peak of its strength.

Ballesteros, who was then a training cadet in the Philippine Air Force Flying School (PAFFS) at Basa, explained that the large diamond formation symbolizes “cohesion, unity and pride.”

Thus, while the Thursday flyby was not as spectacular as the one he remembered from his cadet days, Ballesteros said he was nevertheless happy to see the diamond in the air.

"Something is happening, may naidadagdag na eroplano sa atin [our planes have increased]," he said, especially at a time when the Air Force is having difficulty training its personnel.

Teodoro, in a separate interview, acknowledged it would take a long time for the Air Force to regain its peak strength, much less acquire modern fighter aircraft.

Asked how soon he thought this would happen, he replied: "Show me the money and I'll show you as soon as possible."

Brand new, top-of-the-line attack aircraft can cost up to $83 million or P3.7 billion each, he said.

At the moment, Teodoro said what the country needs are aircraft for internal security and logistical aircraft such as helicopters and transport planes.

Besides, he added, "Wala namang bansa na gusto pang gumyera sa ibang bansa unless siguro forced-to-good na [There is no country that wants to wage war against other countries, anyway, unless forced to do so]."

But Teodoro said the planes donated by South Korea will help ease the Air Force’s three-year backlog in training its personnel, caused by a lack of trainer aircraft.

Before South Korea donated the planes, which it had decommissioned in 2007, the Air Force only had eight T-41 Bravo aircraft and could train only 58 flight students a year, Philippine Air Force spokesman Major Gerardo Zamudio said.

The donated plans will be deployed in PAFFS, now based at Fernando Air Base in Lipa, Batangas, Teodoro said.

This year, he added, the Air Force will also be acquiring 16 new SF-260 Marchetti aircraft.

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