Batanes is a rocky, windy and hilly group of islands. That being said, despite its small size it boasts of spectacular sea vistas, impeccably kept farm plots separated by hedges, countless green rolling hills, picturesque lighthouses and yes the surf hitting the rocky shore and cliffs!
Of course one can fly park flyers there but it will not do justice to what batanes offers in terms of land and seascape. If you want to do FPV and or aerial photography, the best time to do it is in summer ie from March until May where the winds (at least according to the locals) are not that strong. I visited mid February and was lucky I was able to fly 2 days out of 5 we were there.
Ok some tips:
1) Best Months to Fly – Compared to other local destinations, Batanes require a bit more from ones vacation budget. Goods, fuel and supplies reach the Batanes islands via a small ship that travels once a month from Manila to the islands. Fuel in Batanes is at least 40% more expensive than in Manila.. during the typhoon season when the supply ship cant reach port, the fuel can be 300% more expensive! To get the most bang for the buck, bring provisions (canned goods, noodles etc) and go there during the summer (from March to May). This should give you the most chance of having calmer and sunnier days for FPV.
2) Air Traffic – the air traffic in batanes is usually limited to the west side of Basco. The airport has a “one-way in and one-way out” policy according to one pilot.. meaning, regardless of the wind direction planes always land from the west end of the runway and takeoff westward. This also means that the entire west side of Basco (up to the airport) should be treated as a no-fly zone for any RC flying of any type. As of this writing, I understand that due to airport navigational equipment limitations, there are no flights of any type to and from the Basco airport from 4PM onwards, but you’ll never know. So to be safe..just dont fly on the lower west side of Basco.
3) Transportation – The FPV sites in the main island of Batan (where Basco the capital is) can be easily reached via a rented Van.. it costs about P3,300/day (as of Feb 2014). If you’re looking for a local tour operator/driver contact Jhun Gasilao, he knows all of the locations listed here (he drove for us afterall).
4) Bring Enough Cash (and then some) – bring extra cash as there are only 2 banks (PNB and Landbank), though they have ATM’s I understand being offline is a regular thing. And yes, since 21st century (ie internet) telecommunications is flaky (no mobile internet for either Globe or Smart!!@#$@#) certainly no credit card services as well.
Ok enough of that here are the sites:
1) Vicinity of Fundacion Pacita (launch point at approx 20°25’48.04″N,121°58’40.62″E)- Pacita is a small bed and breakfast hotel (the best one there!) located south east of Basco and facing the Pacific Ocean. The area is littered with small hills with absolutely no flat land anywhere. The wind from the Pacific is steady enough and predictable but once it hits the cliffs and hills in the area, expect a lot of turbulence and gusts. Nice views here, you can fly around the hotel, the hills and the small chapel/church a bit to the west, fly towards the ocean and then head north towards the “Boulder Beach” at the foot of Mt. Iraya, this is a 3km stretch of beach where boulders look like pebbles from a distance.
Dont even think about landing on the narrow roads meandering on the ridges as a) the wind buffeting one side will make it almost impossible to do so and b) the sides of the road either has short concrete barriers or barbed wires (or both!). Of course, this was all in retrospect and I did attempt to land on the road as any proper flyer would attempt to do.. after several landing attempts I had to settle for Plan B, here’s the video:
2) Songsong Iraya Road ( 20°28’9.41″N, 121°58’12.86″E)- this road is located north west of Basco and is opposite of the boulder beach above. For me this is the perfect spot to do whatever ‘personal best’ FPV’ing anybody would have in mind. I made 2 flights in this area, a 2.5km range test north-northwest — a personal best — and another high altitude one which reached 800m+ (not really happy with the second one but had to turn back as my new battery was registering 65% less than 8 minutes into the flight).
Here’s the video of the 2.5km flight:
3) Marlboro Country in Mahatao ( 20°23’36.62″N,121°57’51.29″E)- this is quintessential Batanes. Basically part of the foothills of some mountain, the hills here also face the Pacific.. also windy but the view is just spectacular. Since this area is relatively high its also easy to go high enough and fly in the clouds (which I apparently did.. though it wasnt too obvious in my FPV monitor at the time).
Fly eastwards towards the big cliffs, then dive down towards the surf (which I didnt =) ), you can also do a flyby of the Mahatao lighthouse about 2km north-northwest of this location.
Due to the bigger area, landing in this location is easier than landing in the area near Pacita.. however, make sure to land (assuming a headwind coming from the Pacific ie east) from the west. What worked for me was, on the final, I added some throttle and tried to hug a couple of hills behind where I’m at (ie the plane is lower than my location) and landed pitched up on west side of the launch point.
Here’s the vid:
4) Basco Lighthouse ( 20°27’8.25″N, 121°57’48.67″E)- this one is just at the outskirts, the north-west, of Basco town and near the “Rolling Hills” (too windy those hills). As this is near people, if you want to fly here make sure to keep the altitude low — remember this is near town and the airport already — and dont venture beyond the lighthouse as there are already houses and small buildings a hundred meters or so below it. The launch and landing area is adequate, its also on a hillside which is the norm in Batanes.
I’ve also been to three locations in Sabtang island that would be great FPV flying.. although I didnt fly there (we were on tour mode afterall) I certainly would the next time.
As they say in Ivatan.. Sumayap! Fly!