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Philippine Air Force (PAF)

The life of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) cannot but reflect the realities of the larger society. For this reason, its history can be likened to a subplot within the bigger saga of the nation itself, with the theme of one equally recognizable in the order. That recurrent theme is the struggle between two impulses: one, to stay in the convenient lap of dependence on a "big brother"; the other, to venture into the unknown region of freedom and chart one's own destiny.

The dynamics of these twin impulses have lent irony to many an episode in the story of the PAF and the nation's ambivalent relationship with the United States of America. The nature of these "special relations" has not been lost on Air Force officers and men across three generations. Some have viewed it as a blessing and a privilege, others have lamented it as a bane and a burden whose dire consequences persist to this day. Whichever side is correct, that unique relationship, begun at the turn of the century, continued for nearly nine decades and has been the biggest shaping influence on the birth and growth of the Philippine Air Force.

In this context, the arrival of the C-47 transport plane named "Lili Marlene" with the first postwar batch of aircraft from the United States bore symbolic significance. The plane's landing on Philippine soil was hardly remarkable except that "Lili Marlene" was part of US military aid, which came shortly after the restoration of Philippine independence on the fourth of July 1946. As aid, "Lili Marlene" could be considered a gift of sorts from the Americans. On the other hand, its massive presence helped breed a shortsightedness that would stunt the growth of independent strategic thinking on the part of the Air Force for many years to come.

On 18 May 1947, barely a year after first gracing Philippine skies, "Lili Marlene" flew its last. The military transport plane was flying over Mt. Maka-turing in Lanao with its passenger load of high-ranking government officials when it crashed. Among the fatalities was Col. Edwin Andrews, the amiable chief of the postwar Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC), precursor of the PAF.

The PAAC mourned Andrews' death as a son would his father's passing. And not without cause. For the colonel's devotion to the Corps was well known. Less than two years earlier, shortly after his appointment as its first postwar chief, he had begun working single-mindedly toward one goal: the Corps' eventual separation from the Army as an independent service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

At the time of Colonel Andrews' untimely demise, the PAAC already had a base headquarters composite group at Nielsen Field (where the heart of the Makati business district is now located), air squadrons for combat, depot supply, air material, air engineering, troop movement and communication; and nine airways aviation detachments.

As it turned out, the passing of Andrews, a Filipino-American, would be a fitting symbol of the end of an era. Barely two months after his death, the Corps stepped out from under the wings of its parent organization. Under the leadership of a dynamic and equally dedicated Filipino officer, Maj. Pelagio Cruz, the PAAC came into its own as the Philippine Air Force - two months ahead of the birth of the United States Air Force from the US Army Air Corps.

Independence, however, would prove to be as much a process as a state. On 1 July 1947, the Philippine Air Force became operationally and administratively independent of the Philippine Army. In another, larger sense, the PAF merely began a new leg on its long flight to real freedom.

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