One of the key places I wanted to visit whilst travelling in the Philippines during April 2018, was naturally the Philippine Air Force Aerospace Museum at Villamor Air Base near the Manila Airport (Terminal 3)! This relatively small museum is easy to access and entry via the base gate only requires some official identification to obtain a limited base entry pass. The entry fee paid inside the museum building is extremely minimal at 20 PHP for adults (about $0.50 AUD at the time of writing).
Now the museum may be small but it houses quite a good collection of Cold War era aircraft, including fighters, trainers, Grumman HU-16 Albatross Search And Rescue flying boat / amphibian aircraft, helicopters and transports – the latter two include presidential transports for the one and only Ferdinand Marcos! Most of the aircraft are outside in the airpark behind the museum. It gets hot out there, so be prepared!
The Cold War fighter jets are a key component of the airpark. Seeing the “Last of the Gunfighters“, a Vought F-8H Crusader, one of my favourite Cold War fighters was a real highlight for me. 25 ex-US Navy examples purchased in 1978 were operated by the 5th Fighter Wing for air defence and reconnaissance missions – they ended up mostly keeping Soviet bombers out of Philippines air space. In addition, 10 were also purchased at the same time for spares but despite this, ongoing serviceability issues of these ageing aircraft meant they were only in operation until 1988 and were officially retired in 1991 (apparently by then many had been damaged in a big storm).
Other familiar Cold War warriors include the North American F-86F Sabre jet fighter – the “Magnificent Machine” (30 served with the PAF from 1957 to 1979 including with the Blue Diamonds aerobatic display team from 1957 to 1964) and the North American F-86D Sabre Dog all-weather, radar equipped interceptor – no guns were fitted, armament was just 24 Mighty Mouse air to air rockets in a launcher under the fuselage. That no gun concept soon proved problematic and the F-86D was only in service with the 8th Fighter Interceptor Squadron from 1960 to 1968.
To complete the Cold War fighter quartet is a Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter sporting the Blue Diamonds livery. 22 F-5A were in service with the 5th Fighter Wing from 1965 to 2005. This handy light fighter was the backbone of the PAF and its retirement left a huge capability gap that was only rectified in 2015, with the delivery of the first of 12 new KAI FA-50PH Golden Eagle light fighters purchased from South Korea (SIAI-Marchetti S.211 jet trainers served as light attack fighters until this procurement).
Alongside the jet fighters is the “Ace Maker“, the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star aka “T-Bird” two-seat jet trainer, that the pilots of all the earlier mentioned aircraft would have flown in, as part of their training to be a fighter pilot. The T-33 entered service in 1955 to become the first PAF jet aircraft. and were used by the 5th Fighter Wing for advanced pilot training. The last of 25 T-33 trainers were retired in 1970.
You can enter the NAMC YS-11A VIP transport (air-conditioned) that flew with the 700th Special Mission Wing from 1971 to 1993, mainly transporting the President and first family, which means Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos used to get around in it – that probably explains the dressing room like area in the rear cabin! I imagine the big leather chair I am sitting on in one of the photos was the presidential seat that Marcos used himself!
When my cousin and I went inside the YS-11, there were a couple of maintenance guys repairing the air conditioner in there. Whilst doing that they had an even bigger temporary evaporative air conditioner right in the middle of the cabin going to keep them cool! In classic Philippines style and despite working on electrical cables, they just waved to say walk around the unit that was leaking water everywhere!
You can also enter the Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter. 28 Bell UH-1H Iroquois remain in PAF service from an original 75 D/H models. A legendary helicopter, the Huey utility helicopter has been in PAF service since 1969 flying with the 205th Helicopter Wing and the 505th Search And Rescue Group.
The Presidential Flight Sikorsky S-62B/HH-52A VIP helicopter is an interesting example. In service from 1968 to 1975 with the 7001st Presidential Airlift Mission Squadron, it was eventually phased out of service as it only had one engine, which did not meet VIP dual engine safety standards. I imagine it was quite comfortable inside when transporting President Ferdinand Marcos about in 1970’s plush style! Unfortunately today it is locked up tight.
Alongside the S-62B is a less luxurious and more utilitarian Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw (S-58), which was used by the PAF as a troop transport and utility helicopter for aerial photography, mapping and intelligence gathering work from 1969 to 1974. They were also used by the 505th Air Rescue Squadron from 1969 to 1980.
The Douglas C-47 “Gooney Bird” looks like a standard transport version but had a very different previous life. In 1946 it was presented to the then Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) as a transport but in 1973 had an overhaul, fitted with electronically controlled machine guns down the side of the fuselage to take on an offensive gunship role. It was also used in rain making and suppression duties with the Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and and for aerial photo mapping and surveillance with the 303rd Aerial Reconnaissance Squadron. One versatile aircraft for decades!
The training aircraft circle has an interesting group of aircraft. I found it interesting that Philippine Air Force personnel nicknamed the North American T-28 Trojan basic trainer and Counter Insurgency (COIN) aircraft, the “Tora-Tora“, as they thought it had some resemblance to the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero! 15 were delivered to the PAF in 1960, they were used in combat against insurgents and rebels in 1975, again during the 1987 and 1989 coup attempts. The last was retired in a fly over of Villamor Air Base in 1992 on the 45th anniversary of the PAF.
Despite being outside in the elements, the airpark aircraft generally seem to be in good condition and the grounds are well maintained (the fountain doesn’t work but from what I have seen in my travels, very few of the older ones do around museums, memorials etc in the Philippines). There is also a nice monument to the namesake of the Villamor Air Base, Colonel Jesus Antonio Villamor, a Filipino war hero and aviation pioneer.
In December 1941, just hours after the Imperial Japanese Navy struck Pear Harbour in Hawaii and Clark Air Base in the Philippines, Villamor was in the thick of the action leading a Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) flight of 6 obsolete 1930’s era Boeing P-26 Peashooter pursuit planes in successful combat with Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft over Batangas and Zablan Fields! Villamor would go on to lead an Allied Intelligence Bureau on aerial photographic missions over Japanese held territory in the Philippines.
His conduct and courage resulted in numerous awards including the nation’s highest honour, The Medal of Valour plus a Distinguished Conduct Star and Wounded Soldier Star. Nichols Air Base, the home of the PAF was renamed in his honour in 1982.
With a unique collection and some diverse aircraft types, predominantly of United States origin (former colonial power and a key ally. Clark Air Base, also in Luzon, had a huge USAF presence during the Cold War), the Philippine Air Force Aerospace Museum is well worth a visit if travelling to Manila. Just be aware traffic going there (or anywhere in Manila) can be a nightmare! In my next post I will show you inside the museum building itself.