Wednesday, June 12, 2013

*333. OH, WHEN THE JETS COME FLYING IN

LIVING IN A “SONIC BOOM” TOWN. An FW-640 plane lands in Clark, one of the "guardians of Philippine defense". 1959.

In the days of Clark, not so long ago, we, from Mabalacat, would find ourselves being rudely waken and shaken up at odd hours of the day by the loud and intense aerodynamic noise created by jets flying overhead. Our roofs would rattle, dogs would bark, chickens would cackle and our ears would be attacked by the unbearable noise generated by these bad-ass birds taking off from Clark. To this day, many can't forget those noisy days of yore, prompting even top Kapampangan artist, Andy Alviz, to immortalize the jet plague that rocked Mabalacat in one of his songs.

Mabalacat was in the direct path of these various aircrafts—F-4, F-5, F-18s fighter jets mostly—and especially in the Vietnam years, the noise pollution they created was a major economic bane to the town. They were the reasons, local folks say, why the egg industry failed to prosper in Mabalacat as no hen could produce eggs under such noisy, disturbing nerve-wracking conditions.

The noise barrage from Clark’s aircrafts intensified even further with the launch of the Cope Thunder program, introduced by Brig. Gen, Richard G. Head in 1976. It was an immersion exercise conceived to give all American air personnel stationed in Asia their first taste of combat in a realistic training environment. The program was initiated in Clark, which meant the participation of hundreds of planes in the simulated air combat exercises. The take-off point these aircrafts was, of course, Clark.

The low-flying, high speed military jets produced ear-shattering noises that became even louder as the aircraft increased its speed. The density of the air at low attitudes heightened the deafening roar of the jets. Over the years, MabalaqueƱos learned to live with the sonic booms that occasionally cracked glass panes, shook windows and doors, interrupted afternoon naps and terrified babies. Surprisingly, other than these mishaps, there were no major incidents reported all throughout the time the Americans were in Clark—not until 2 May 2002.

That morning, a Philippine Air Force F-5 fighter jet, manned by Capt. Daniel Teodoro Policarpio of Basa Air base, crashed into a residential areas in Mabalacat, Pampanga, killing the pilot instantly and injuring at least 10 people. The plane—acquired from the U.S. way back in 1965—was about to land at Clark Air Base, when it exploded—with most of its parts crashing at the Mabalacat Elementary School, and the rest of the debris, strewn around populated areas of barangay San Joaquin.

Injured on the ground were MabalaqueƱos Jess Rivera, Junior de la Cruz (janitor of the school) and a certain Virginia Garcia. The school and some houses were also razed and damaged. As a result of the ill-fated crash, Air Force Chief Benjamin Defensor grounded the 9 remaining F-5 fighter jets of the Philippine Air Force.

The hasty departure of the Americans in 1991 due to the Pinatubo eruptions have not completely silenced Mabalacat skies. For one, the regular RP-US Balikatan joint military exercises call for air combat simulations which necessitate the launching of fighter planes, Phantom jets, choppers, ABDR birds and what have you-- at some given time in the year.

The opening of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport has also resulted in the influx of commercial airlines, increasing air traffic and noise over Pampanga’s newest chartered city. Though the problem today is not as pronounced, Mabalacat is still susceptible to the “necessary inconveniences” of being a travel hub. Still, pardon the puns, it is hope that Mabalacat will rise above the din, as it soars to become Pampanga’s next ”sonic boom” city.

No comments: