The Filipino Pilots You Need to Know About

Jesus Villamor
Photo Courtesy of Rose Croix

Much is said about the World War II heroes we know to be. But there are those who remain unknown by the general public, with displays of bravery and air command that make them heroes and legends in their own right despite being absent in most of our history books.

On December 10, 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippine skies. With fleets of Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes war planes, they flew overhead Batangas with orders to conquer Luzon. Captain Jesus A. Villamor was then the leader of the Philippine Air Force’s 6th Pursuit Squadron (now 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron). Upon hearing about the incoming attack, he led a 6-man team with P-26 planes against 54 Japanese Zero war planes.

The Boeing P-26 Peashooters had 2 machine guns while the Zeroes had machine guns and cannons. At top speed, the Zeroes were at 331mph while the Peashooters were only at 234mph. Knowing the odds were well stacked against him, Villamor played tag with a Zero before he took diving tactics to escape and eventually hit two Zeroes, becoming the first aerial combat and assault to down Japanese airplanes during WWII. According to Military Times, an online information source for military men, Villamor and his men’s bravery helped minimize the damage to the Batangas air base.

But he wasn’t the only one with such skills and heroism. A member of Villamor’s team was Corp Lt. Cesar T. Basa. Blog forum Pinoy Badass dubbed him as the “epitome of all great wingmen.” Basa aided Villamor during two days after the first December raid and even engaged in a dogfight with the Japanese. He died however and went on to become the first Filipino aerial dogfight casualty in Philippine military history. Villamor received two Distinguished Service Cross for this “unquestionable valor” during the December attacks. To honor Basa, Floridablanca Airfield in Pampanga was renamed Basa Air Base on April 1948.

Villamor continued to serve in the army as an intelligence officer. He was able to infiltrate the Japanese Navy on December 27, 1942, established a chain of direct communication from the Philippines with General Douglas MacArthur in Australia, and coordinated the guerilla activities of various movements in Luzon, Mindanao and Visayas. Nichols Air Base in Pasay was renamed as Villamor Air Base in his honor.

It’s not easy being a pilot—especially when you’re in the military. If it weren’t for Villamor and Basa’s headstrong approach and command on the plane, the history of the Philippines during WWII would have to be rewritten. Being a pilot means more than just travelling; the profession demands a strong sense of responsibility, courage and innovative thinking — qualities that make any pilot an everyday hero on his own.


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