1920 - 1921
By mid-June 1920, a total
of 19 aviation cadets at the Curtiss School of Aviation had soloed. Their
enthusiasm for flight and their ability to skillfully handle their aircraft
led to Croft's and Stevenot's decision to show off their flying skills
in a special demonstration for top government officials.
They selected 20 of their
military aviation cadets to fly demonstrations in groups of three, flying
the Jennys in a special display on June 21st at Camp Claudio. On the parade
ground were members of the Philippine Insular Government, including the
Philippine Senate, the Legislature, the military, the press and the public,
all waiting to see these much-spoken-about Pilipino pilots in action.
Their flying skills honed
by rigorous training and aerial practice over the last five months, the
pilots selected to participate in the aerial demonstration were Porfirio
E. Zablan, Basilio Femando, Mariano Rueda, Victor Real, Osmundo C. Ramos,
Ramon Banez, Eduardo R. Montilla and Alonzo Gatuslao of the Constabulary;
and Captains Faustino Reyes and Juan Villasanta and Lieutenants Ignacio
Perez, Jose Padilla, Alfonso de Guzman, Juan Calvo, Pedro Dimaguila, and
Arturo Maglaya of the Philippine National Guard.
The first two pilots to show
off their flying skills were Lt. Maliano who climbed his airplane to 5,000
feet while Lt. Barretto followed him up to 4,300 feet. Then, one by one,
each pilot demonstrated stalls, spirals, slips and spins. One pilot, Lt.
Reyes, who was very skilled and a bit of a daredevil, flew just a few feet
above a tree line that ran along the parade ground and field. At the conclusion
of the demonstrations, Croft flew a demonstration flight with the Jenny,
making a loop and the same maneuvers each of his students had completed
earlier. Reporters covering the flight demonstrations noted that, "the
public and government officials in attendance were in awe at the sight
of their follow countrymen flying with skill and technique."
This flying exhibition conducted
by the Filipino pilots created a stir and renewed interest by the Philippine
Government with regard to the seemingly unlimited possibilities that an
inter-island air service could provide to the government and to commerce.
On July 7, 1920, the Philippine Council of State approved the establishment
of the Philippine Air Service which would provide airmail and passenger
service between Manila and the ports of Cebu, lloilo, and Zamboanga. And
not unlike today's Air Force and Coast Guard aviation units, the Philippine
Air Service was charged with the responsibility of drug interdiction, to
locate and track suspected opium smugglers and pirates.
Governor General Harrison
cabled Washington to advise them of 'the Insular Government's interest
in purchasing five Curtiss hydroplanes that the U.S. Navy had recently
offered for sale as surplus. .These aircraft included two F-5Ls and three
HS-2Ls, all powered by Liberty engines. The two engine F-5Ls, with a wingspan
of just over 103 feet, could fly at 90 mph with the pair of 400-hp engines.
The F-5L could climb 2,200 feet in 10 minutes, had a service ceiling of
5,500 feet and a maximum range of 830 miles. The HS-2Ls, with a single
360-hp low compression Liberty 12 engine, had a maximum air speed of 82.5
miles per hour and a wingspan of just over 74 feet. The HS-2L could climb
2,300 feet in 10 minutes and had a service ceiling of 5,200 feet.
The new Philippine Air Service
was established with an annual operating budget of 300,000 pesos a year.
approximately $150,000.00 in 1920 U.S. dollars, with all pilots to be drawn
from the graduating cadets of the Curtiss School of Aviation. Each pilot
was to be paid 200 pesos a month, which, compared to their regular military
salary, was almost a princely sum.
Although the Philippine Air
Service would include all military officers drawn from the Philippine National
Guard and Constabulary, it would be under the direct authority of the Philippine
Government's Militia Commission. It would, however, operate more like a
private airline than a military unit, which was a similar practice to that
of fledgling air services in other parts of the world.
While the Philippine Air
Service was being created. the aviation cadets at the Curtiss School of
Aviation continued their training, although in September the focus now
shifted from military flying to commercial flying. By this time, the school
had changed its name to the Philippine School of Aviation. The Militia
Commission which governed the Philippine Air Service placed specific emphasis
on training for long distance flying, stressing seaplane flying, cross
country navigation, radio operation, and airframe and engine maintenance.
It was planned, once the pilots were sufficiently trained, to start the
service with six pilots and three flights weekly between Manila and Cebu,
lloilo, and Zamboanga as the principal destinations.
The Philippine Air Service
hired a group of American technicians to support the fledgling flight operations.
The first Curtiss HS-2L hydroplanes had arrived and Thomas McComas, who
headed the flight technicians, began the work of assembling and preparing
the aircraft for flight.
On December 29th, on the
parade grounds on Camp Claudio, Governor General Harrison, Philippine National
Guard General R.W. Jones, and Assistant Chief Inspector of the Philippine
Constabulary Colonel Charles E. Nathorst, and other dignitaries and friends
and family members, were present at the graduation ceremonies for the first
graduating class of the Curtiss School of Aviation. It was a clear and
sunny day that marked this first in Filipino aviation history, and for
all those present, the beginning for what was hoped to be a long and promising
future for flight throughout the Philippines.
For the cadets, the ceremony
marked a high point in their career and a fulfillment of their aspirations
to fly. This was symbolized with the long awaited awarding of their pilot's
wings that would soon grace their uniforms. Governor General Harrison and
Colonel Hartigan awarded each of the 25 graduating cadets his diploma and
presented to each his pilot's wings. The diplomas were a source of great
pride, as were the wings of the Philippine Air Service which were specially
designed for the Philippine Insular Government by George S. Pomeroy of
San Francisco and manufactured by Shreve and Company.