1920 - 1921

Joseph T.N. Suarez
8914 Clifford Avenue, Chevy Case, MD 20815

A Philippine Air Service Jenny on the beach and runway at Camp Claudio 
along with Air Service pilots. Lt. Calvo is pictured on the left.

On a cool April morning in 1920 at Camp Claudio near Manila on the Island of Luzon, a wide, windswept beach that had been prepared as a runway was being made ready for an historic flight. The skies were clear and the air was clean and fresh with the smell that can only emanate from the ocean breezes. The only sound was that of the occasional seagull. The sputter and then hum of the well-tuned Curtiss Jenny engine, just warming up for the morning's training flight, soon broke the morning's silence.

On this day, Philippine aviation history was made. Lt. Leoncio Malinao, a Philippine National Guard officer and flight cadet at the Curtiss School of Aviation at Camp Claudio, was given his authorization to fly solo in the Jenny. He climbed into the cockpit of his airplane, strapped in, checked his instrumentation, and gave his instructor a "thumbs up". With that, he revved his Curtiss OX-5 engine with its distinctive clatter and began slowly moving his machine down the runway, gradually picking up speed until its wheels cleared the packed sand and gracefully became airborne. Lt. Malinao flew toward Cavite and back along Pasay before landing. With this flight, he became the very first Filipino military pilot and his solo flight was the first by any Filipino who had not had any flight training outside the Islands. 

Early aviation in the Philippines differed little from early aviation in other parts of the world. In each case these pioneers of flight had a distinct blend of braver and exceptional daring. These early pilots, so far from the cradle of aviation, needed extra courage, a sense of adventure, and an innate ability to master the techniques so that they could almost become one with their aircraft These first Filipino National Guard and Constabulary pilots would be the first of their fellow countrymen to take to the skies and be the first to be trained to fly.

With the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 the United States acquired, for the first time, a number of overseas territories and began to expand its influence and reach around the world. No longer was it limited to protecting its interests within the continental boundaries. It now had interests to protect and assets to defend in the far reaches of the world, including the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands. In the case of the Philippines and  Hawaii, their sheer distance from the U.S. mainland was problematic in maintaining a strong influence to protect and maintain military and economic interests.

Aviation in the Philippines closely paralleled the growth and importance of flight in the United States and around the world. The Insular Government of the Philippines predicted that aviation would some day bring great commercial and economic benefits to the Islands. Aviation also provided the Philippines with an opportunity to connect the more than 7,000 islands in the archipelago by providing transportation, communications, and airmail delivery.

Photos from the collection of Lt. Wenceslao Abolencia via Maj F. Vasallo and Capt. Alberto Anido unless noted.