CLARK FIELD — A Philippine Air Force pilot made history yesterday by being the first Filipino to fly the US F-18 fighter jet in the country.
"It was great," said Capt. Armando Ardenazo, 34, a member of the elite Blue Diamonds precision aerobatics team, after flying the US marine aircraft.
Ardenazo was chosen as the first of seven Filipino pilots slated to serve as main pilots of the F-18 jet fighters flown in by the US military for the 15-day "Balikatan 02-2" joint military exercises here.
Also known as the Hornet, the F-18 attack jet was built in 1988 and used as the main aircraft of the US navy in international conflicts including the Gulf War and in Bosnia, and most recently the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.
"The flight was great. It is seldom that we get to fly at low level," Ardenazo said after the flight of one hour and 20 minutes over this former American air base.
Ardenazo, with US marine Capt. Danny Johnson as assistant pilot, took off from the runway of the Haribon aviation complex here at about 10 a.m.
Two rows of US soldiers were on hand for traditional "wetting down" ceremonies following Ardenazo’s successful flight, as the Americans poured water on him as he passed between them.
Ardenazo said he felt the "power" of the F-18 jet as he flew it, and urged the government to purchase the aircraft.
About two years ago, another Filipino pilot also flew an F-18, but in the US as part of a shopping mission for aircraft being eyed by the government for the modernization of the Armed Forces.
Ardenazo, however, was the first Filipino pilot to fly the fighter jet in the country.
"We need F-18s especially because our primary mission (in the PAF) is to defend our territory. We need our two-engine aircraft," Ardenazo said, making his pitch.
He cited the F-18s "maneuverability" and capability to fly at low altitude, unlike the F-5 jets which are at present the most modern jets of the Air Force.
Descending from the F-18 afterwards, assistant pilot Capt. Johnson said "the personal touch and experience (of Ardenazo) was much more useful than any computer that can be put inside the jet."
Johnson said he found flying with Ardenazo "a pleasure."
Last Tuesday, several Filipino pilots based at Sangley Point in Cavite were also given the chance to act as main pilots in flying Black Hawk and Cobra helicopters of the US military, with their American counterparts literally taking the back seat as assistant pilots.
Some 2,700 US soldiers, mostly from the US Marines, together with some 36 of their aircraft, are now in Luzon for Balikatan 02-2. The joint exercises are being held here, at Crow Valley in Capas, Tarlac, at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Sangley Point in Ternate, Cavite.
Meanwhile, Air Force Col. Danilo Ferrer, chief of the events planning office for Balikatan 02-2, advised residents of Mabalacat and Angeles City to just "get used to the noise" of the military exercises.
Ferrer said that low-flying aircraft exercises are part of the training component of the Balikatan to equip Filipino pilots with skills that could help them escape radar detection.
Earlier, Angeles City Mayor Carmelo Lazatin formally requested the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom) to urge officials of the RP-US military exercises to avoid flights over populated areas as a measure against noise pollution.
Before the US air force abandoned its former base here, Mabalacat folk had frequently complained of noise pollution which affected the local poultry industry. Residents pointed out that the F-4 Phantom jets were the noisiest.
Former Mabalacat Mayor Fred Halili then blamed the increase in the population rate in his town to the noise of the jets which, he said, would wake up married couples at night.
Ferrer said local folk should just bear with it since the sound of aircraft would be a fixture in their lives with the development of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.