Saturday, August 27, 2005

Basa Air Force Base


(1947- )

THE 5TH FIGHTER WING (1947-2003)

Situated in the Western part of Central Luzon with mountains to the west, Basa Air Base, formerly known as Floridablanca Airfield was a small airship built by the US Army Air Corps before the Second World War. After the Japanese Imperial Army Forces routed the Phil-US forces, its air force lengthened the runway for use of its "Zero" fighters and medium bombers. It was in this aerodrome complex of Clark, Floridablanca, Porac and Mabalacat airfield where the scheme to employ the notorious "Kamikaze" was first conceived and launched. In 1945 during the period of Philippine liberation, the US Air Force further enlarged the airfield to accommodate B-17s and B-24s which were used for air strikes against Japan and her neighboring island bastions. The US government later turned over this installation to the Philippines. On August 22, 1947, three M35 trucks ferried in the 2nd Tactical Fighter Squadron led by Capt Felix T Pestana to lay the groundwork for a fighter base. On September 9, 1947, the Headquarters Composite Group, with a subordinate unit known as the Floridablanca Base Service Detachment, was organized to continue the pioneering venture. Inspite of the lack of materials and equipment, they proceeded with the construction of more office buildings, barracks, and vital installation which were to form the nucleus of present day units. Armed with F-51D "Mustangs", the 6th and 7th Fighter squadrons were activated on October 24, 1947. These two units were to unfold and shape the colorful history of the PAF's premier combat outfit. Starting in 1947 up to 1955, these two squadrons extensively conducted a pacification campaign against the Huks in Central Luzon and the forces of Kamlon in Southern Mindanao. Commanded by then Major Benito Ebuen, the 5th Fighter Group originally had nine L-5s, one C-47 aircraft and eighteen F-51 Mustangs. By 1950, fifty more F-51 Mustangs, and twenty-two T-6 trainer planes were added to bolster the training of fighter pilots. The increasing awareness of the important role of air defense and the gradual expansion of this fighter base led to the activation of other support units. Some of the units activated during those early days were the Basic Flying School Squadron and the Advance Flying School Squadron, which were later transferred to Fernando Air Base. To complete the tactical set-up of three fighter squadrons, the 8th Fighter Squadron was activated on August 1, 1951, following the designation of Headquarters, 5th Fighter Group as Headquarters, Basa Air Base on January 15, 1949. Subsequently, Headquarters Basa Air Base was re-designated as the Headquarters 5th Fighter Wing, Philippine Air Force, pursuant to General Orders No. 381, GHQ, AFP, dated September 30, 1952, and HPAF, dated October 7, 1952. Reorganized into a wing set-up, the position of the Base Commander has been changed, since then, to Wing Commander. In view of the rapid technological advancements in a fast-changing world, the PAF moved towards modernization and expansion. Basa Air Base was closed in 1955 to pave the way for the gradual transition to jet aircraft operations. Developed into a modern fighter base complex, it was equipped with a sprawling multi-million peso jet runway, aircraft movement areas, lighting and refueling facilities, workshops, and other vital installations for 5th Fighter Wing jet operations. By then, the propeller-driven Mustang gave way to the T-33 jet trainer aircraft and the Korean war-tested F-86F "Sabre jets" in 1957. Three years later, the operational capability of the 5th Fighter Wing was boosted when PAF further acquired the F-86D all-weather interceptors. By December 14, 1962, the 5th Fighter Wing formed the 9th Tactical Fighter Squadron "Limbas" as the PAF contingent to Congo, Africa. When the PAF finally entered into the supersonic jet age, the 5th Fighter Wing acquired the jet-powered twin-engine, supersonic aircraft, popularly known as the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter. Working with superior F-5 aircraft, capable of delivering heavy bombs, rockets, and gunfire on ground targets, the 5th Fighter Wing as spearhead of defense became mainly responsible for air reconnaissance, interdiction and ground support. It was also during this era of supersonic jets that the famed Blue Diamonds Aerobatics Team gained nationwide recognition. Started in 1953 by 1Lt. Jose FL Gonzales, this elite aerobatics team graciously displayed the Filipino pilots' superior skill and proficiency in Flying. In 1971 another aerobatics team, the Red Aces, came into being. The team's romance with the awestruck audience, however, was short-lived. Due to economic setbacks and the heavy losses in the Mindanao campaign, the Red Aces Team was forced to retire in 1974. During this time, the government was already experiencing the heavy economic crunch brought about by the increase in oil prices and inflation. The 80's, with the rapid depletion of the Air Force's reserves, saw the decline of the 5th Fighter Wing as a potent force in the Asian region. The fleet of F-8H Crusaders, acquired in 1978 from the US Navy, was decommissioned in 1988 from the Air Force's inventory because of high maintenance costs. At the same time the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron was temporarily unmanned. By then, only a handful of F-5 jets were left on operational status. By 1994, with the acquisition of the S-211 jet, the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron was manned and reorganized. The aircraft mainstay then on was the warrior version of the S-211 also known as the AS-211 fitted with hard points and weapons systems. Then Major Jose Tony "Tete" Villarete led the squadron and the unit was certified combat-ready in the particular aircraft. The rising insurgency problem also forced the government to focus its attention on internal security rather than give much concern to other matters like external defenses. Adding to the economic turmoil that the country was experiencing, Basa Air Base suffered another tragic blow when Mt Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Buried in thick layers of ash fall, the buildings and schools was rubble in great part. Thousands of families were dislocated from their homes. Chaos, as a social ill, was not only the prevailing reality but also became a common state of mind. That is why when rehabilitation took place, the rebuilding process did not involve only physical reconstruction but also the moral and psychological rehabilitation of the people. Fifty years ago today, however, since the early pioneers first set foot on the hollowed ground of this base complex, 5th Fighter Wing celebrates its existence marked by a colorful and glorious, historic past. Fifty years of golden memories, a treasure incurred from our undying search for excellence could attest that the 5th Fighter Wing in Basa Air Base does have a bright future in the next century.