MANILA, Philippines— Its aging planes may be a source of embarrassment, but weather permitting, the Philippine Air Force will proudly put on a show in the sky to liven up its 65th anniversary.
A must-see attraction at the Fernando Airbase in Lipa City on Friday is a flyby of PAF fighter jets, trainer planes and helicopters, reviving a tradition last seen 15 years ago, PAF spokesperson Col. Miguel Ernesto G. Okol said.
Air Force pilots have been regularly rehearsing the flyby of PAF aircraft, including light attack and trainer planes, combat choppers and its lone C130 military transport aircraft, for the celebration, the official said in a statement.
“We are reliving this olden tradition of the PAF to have flybys during anniversary celebrations, which was last seen about 15 years ago,” Okol said. (The last Armed Forces of the Philippines’ anniversary, however, also featured a flyby by the Air Force).
“As we are the Air Force, we should be flying,” he added.
The flyby flights form part of Air Force pilots’ regular training and add up to their flying hours, “eliminating misconception that this flyby exhibition is a wastage or misuse of public funds,” Okol said.
“The PAF also belies reports that these regular flights are in preparation (for) the reconnaissance mission flights to Scarborough Shoal. Flight area is too far from the area where Panatag Shoal is located,” he said.
The Philippines has just had a standoff with China over a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea) off Zambales province.
Okol said the flyby would be composed of 29 aircraft: four T41-D trainers, 16 SF-260M trainers, two Sokol combat utility helicopters, two UH-1H choppers, two MD-520MG helicopters, two F-27 turboprop airliners and one C-130 plane.
Lasting only a few minutes, the flyby will be conducted while the parading troops are on the “pass and review” part of the ceremony, Okol said. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is expected to attend as a special guest.
“This (flyby) also signals that we are regaining our strength and will soon be a potent force in our defense and security operations,” he said, addressing criticism that the Air Force was a spent force and useless in defending the country’s territory.
Thanks to the Aquino administration’s keenness pn modernizing the Armed Forces, Okol said several projects to acquire brand-new aircraft were already in the pipeline.
He cited other acquisitions by the Department of National Defense now under the bidding or negotiation stages.
These include the acquisition of territorial defense assets such as 10 attack helicopters, 21 UH1H helicopters, lead-in fighter trainers, long-range patrol aircraft, an air defense radar, eight light-lift and the medium airlift aircraft and a special mission aircraft, among others.
Such acquisitions will “greatly boost the country’s defense stance against external threats,” Okol said.
Other highlights at Friday’s anniversary include a slow drill and band drill exhibition, parade and review, and a static display of selected PAF aircraft, which shall serve as backdrop of the parade formation.
An S-211 trainer plane will also perform a high-speed opener pass to formally start the ceremony, Okol said.