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Of PAF's heroes and modernization


Another tragedy has befallen the Philippine Air Force (PAF)! As headlined by this widely read newspaper:  “Military chopper crashes in Sulu: 3 killed, 1 injured.” (Zamboanga Today, October 2, 2011) The same tragic incident has also been reported in regional and national media outlets.

For “air force families” like ours, it is a poignant reminder of the irreplaceable loss of loved ones who had served the PAF as pilots, particularly as UH-1H or Huey pilots. But as I had written in “PAF Modernization: A Quantum of Solace (Part 2),” (published in this same daily on November 17, 2010) the on-going implementation of the PAF modernization program “gives us
a quantum of solace – some measure of consolation . . . [for] although the memory of our loss still pains us, the thought that their successors will soon be flying newer, better maintained, and safer planes and helicopters somehow alleviates the lingering sadness.”

An instance of such source of consolation is the announcement from PAF Spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Okol that the air force will acquire “four brand new Polish-made multi-utility helicopters by November [that’s next month!] . . . . the first of a batch of eight, which cost a total of P2.8 billion.

[These] can be used for combat, troop transport and disaster response.” (Abigail Kwok, “Air Force acquiring 4 new multi-role choppers,”, August 24, 2011)
Soon, therefore, the PAF’s accident-prone, decrepit helicopters like that Huey which crashed in Sulu for loss of power reportedly, will be replaced by new and more advanced choppers of the type mentioned by Col. Okol. Tragic incidents involving helicopter – particularly Huey – pilots will by then become things of the past.

Nevertheless, we sincerely commiserate with the parents, siblings and other relatives of the First Pilot and the two crew members who perished (the copilot escaped death, thank God!) as a result of that Huey’s crash in Sulu. Their grievous and painful situation is all too familiar to us.

But their sorrow will somehow be alleviated by the PAF’s manner of honoring the loved ones they have lost – as heroes!

Admittedly, the PAF’s record on aircraft accident is really not worthy of any praise. Even a cursory review of its accident history would reveal that a considerable number of its pilots lost their lives owing to the dismal quality of the planes or helicopters they had flown. Yet the PAF Flying School (PAFFS) has not suffered any shortage of admission applicants from among the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) or the nonmilitary colleges and universities in our country. Seemingly ironic, but encouraging and edifying, indeed!
One reason could be the on-going determined implementation of the PAF modernization program.

The knowledge that the PAF has actually already started to replace its decrepit aircraft with new ones must have encouraged more young men and women to apply for cadetship at the PAFFS. Another reason could be their realization that the day when the PAF would be able to
regain its rightful place among the best air forces in Asia is now on the horizon.

But the most important reason, I believe, is what President P-Noy has acknowledged in reference to the Filipino soldiers. In a formal speech,  he said that they possess “the valor the history of our country has proven [they] have.” (Derived from President P-Noy’s speech during the AFP change of command last July 2nd)
In other words and as applied within the context of this write-up, the main driving force behind the decision of many young Filipinos to become military pilots, despite the PAF’s dismal accident record, is their innate bravery. This is evident in their willingness to take the grave risk of flying old and unsafe planes or helicopters.

Not surprising, really, for they have sprung from a gallant and sturdy race that has produced a Lapu-Lapu, an Andres Bonifacio, and a Colonel Jesus Villamor!

By Ric Adjawie

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