04 March 2016

The American President Given Flying Lessons by the Philippine Air Force

Image credit:  Filipinas Heritage Library.  Eisenhower with PACC pilot trainees.

Or more accurately, by its predecessor, the Philippine Army Air Corps or the PAAC.

Early in 1935, Brig. General Basilio Valdez, the newly appointed Commanding General of the Philippine Constabulary, announced his intention to create a group that would be able to provide air reconnaissance support to the constabulary’s peace and order missions. This group was given the name Philippine Constabulary Air Corps or PCAC.

Later that same year, the Philippine Commonwealth under Manuel L. Quezon formally created the Philippine Army, the manpower core of which would come from the Philippine Constabulary. Thus, the PCAC was subsequently renamed the PAAC. (Global Security)

Initially, most of the PAAC’s energies were expended acquiring aircraft along with the training of both Filipino and American pilots.

In June 1936, among the pilot trainees was a young officer from Bulacan by the name of Eustacio Orobia. Orobia had been accepted as a cadet back in 1933 by what was then called the Philippine Constabulary Academy.

Two years later, as part of the stipulations of the National Defence Act, the school was renamed the Philippine Military Academy. Orobia, thus, enjoyed the privilege of being among the PMA’s first class of graduates. Orobia would become Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force in 1951.

While still himself a pilot trainee in the PAAC, Orobia was already being asked to give flight instructions not only to other pilot trainees like himself but also to American army officers serving in the Philippines. Among these was a Lt. Colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Philippine Air Force web site)

At the time, Eisenhower was assistant to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the latter being the military advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth and helping to organize and develop the country’s national defences.

Under Orobia’s instruction, Eisenhower was able to complete his first solo flight in 1937. However, he would not obtain his private pilot’s license until two years later at Fort Lewis in the State of Washington. (Wikipedia)

Eisenhower would steadily rise up the ranks; and as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force oversaw the defeat of the Axis Powers in Europe in World War II. After the conclusion of the war in Europe, he would become Military Governor of the United States Occupied Zone and later return home to become Chief of Staff of the Army.

Public domain photo of President
Dwight Eisenhower on Wikipedia.
The esteem with which Eisenhower was held in the eyes of the American public eventually led to his being asked to run for President as early as 1948. He declined the nomination on the grounds of a personal philosophy that said that professional soldiers should abstain from higher office “in the absence of some obvious and overriding reason.” (Wikipedia)

He was persuaded to change his mind in time for the 1952 Presidential elections and ran under the banner of the Republican Party. He would subsequently be elected as the United States’ 34th President and serve two terms up to 1961.

As for the PAAC, it was subsequently inducted into the United States Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) before the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. When war did break out, its pilots fought valiantly but the corps’ outdated planes were no match against the Japanese’s Zeroes.

In 1947, President Manuel Roxas of the newly-independent Philippine Republic issued Executive Order 94 which created the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy as distinct and equal branches of what would already be known as the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Henceforth, the PAAC came to be known as it is today, the Philippine Air Force. (Filipinas Heritage Library)

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