Even if few, Air Force planes are not ‘flying coffins’

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Although few, Philippine Air Force planes are not “flying coffins.” That flyboys call certain aircraft models “widow makers” is just gallows humor. Many things I learned covering the defense-military in the 1980s to 2000s:

Preventive maintenance is rigorous. Airmen watch the mechanics at work and discuss with them problems noticed inflight. Certain parts and accessories are checked, repaired and replenished before and after every flight, from seat belts, spark plugs and fluids to rotors, tires and engines. Components and instruments are replaced on manufacturers’ specified flying time and mileage, on site or in factory. Metal fatigue is scrutinized. Upkeep logs are signed and evaluated.

“Airworthiness is assured,” says retired PAF General Melchor Rosales, who flew fighters and combat-utility helicopters.

Unlike in Hollywood action-fantasy, pilots are not suicidal. While they perform delicate maneuvers, safety is foremost. Characteristics of destination landing strips and terrain are studied, and practices held. Most of the archipelago’s airstrips are wedged between mountain and sea. Choppers often have to land not on helipads but hillsides. Airmen cannot afford negligence. After transporting VIPs, fellow servicemen, the wounded, civilians and gear, they have families and sweethearts to go home to.

Last week’s tragic crash of a PAF C-130 Hercules on touchdown in Patikul, Sulu, spurred speculations of flying coffins and “undertraining.” Survivors have been interviewed. The mandatory investigation has yet to be completed. Lapses in piloting, maintenance or assembly will be determined.

The process can take long. At times the minutest wear and tear are reviewed, explains a US maker of specialized screws for bombs, air and spacecraft. The US Air Force would not have turned over such gigantic equipment as a C-130 troop and cargo transporter without ascertaining if the PAF was ready to fly and service it, adds a helicopter distributor.

“Suppliers thoroughly inspect aircraft before delivery,” Rosales says. “Then the PAF conducts its own inspection before acceptance.” When the Armed Forces procures pistols, two units are picked randomly per crate and test-fired with thousands of rounds for safety, performance and durability. Tests of flying craft are more tedious.

The C-130 is the PAF’s workhorse. With four engines, it is very reliable. On any day several of them ferry to different air bases troops, supplies, even chance-passenger families visiting the soldiers.

I have flown on PAF C-130s. Twice, round-trips from Villamor Air Base-Manila to Pagasa Island in the Spratlys, via Bautista Air Base-Puerto Princesa. Twice too, from VAB to a Mindanao airport with stopovers in the Visayas. Not as luxurious as the VIP Fokker, but definitely better than a Huey helicopter out-of-cabin tail seat, where strong gusts can rip off the wristwatch or even laced shoes.

The first time to Pagasa, in 1983, I sat on the floor of the C-130 with battle-hardened Marines; higher officers occupied jump seats. Between us were crates of communication gadgets; the huge Highway Patrol motorcycles had been unloaded in Palawan. The second time, in 2004, there were already eight captain seats and I was treated “senior” enough to take one. Both times, from atop, Pagasa looked to me like an unsinkable aircraft carrier. But on approach I wondered how the C-130 would clear the short runway without falling into the sea. That I am narrating this somehow attests to the prowess of PAF flyboys.

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Filipino Migrant Workers Day came and went almost unnoticed last month. Prolonged pandemic has displaced countless OFWs. Over half a million needed repatriation in 2020; 80,000 more will follow this year. The deep drop in dollar remittances from abroad shows their drastic income setbacks. In January alone about 8,000 came home penniless they had to be transported by the government to their hometowns.

The labor department’s Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong program has doled one-time cash assistance totalling P5 billion to 498,000 returnees. Separate is $2 million to 9,700 who contracted COVID-19 at overseas work sites.

Post-repatriation the returnees need financial education and new-business training to husband their savings. Private banks already were offering financial literacy programs for OFW families even before the pandemic. They complemented the Bangko Sentral’s financial training. The Bank of Philippine Islands Foundation continues to host webinars on cash handling and entrepreneurship. Recently the Foundation launched Adopt-A-Beneficiary, a six-month mentorship where bank volunteers share their expertise on financial wellness. Beneficiaries are guided to control their resources, and to not be overwhelmed and intimidated by the alien endeavor. OFWs need not only loans but the right tools and mindset to use them.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).  “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity”. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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