Text and photos by Dexter R. Matilla
For the Philippine Daily Inquirer
IN COMMEMORATION of the 2010 Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day, a book chronicling a historic flight by proud Spanish aviators was launched at the Philippine Air Force Aerospace Museum, Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
The book “Madrid-Manila Flight” tells the story of Captains Eduardo Gallarza and Joaquin Loriga as they made their way from Spain to its former colony, the Philippines—a journey of 18,900 km that took 128 flight hours—with their new Breguet Type 19 biplane. The feat would further establish Spain’s reputation as a leader in aviation.
Written in first person accounts, the book is an interesting read: It provides in detail the preparations the pilots and their mechanics took, with listings of the specific items carried into the plane, the distance and estimated flight hours for each stop, and budget for the entire flight.
Three planes left Madrid on April 5, 1926, but only Gallarza’s and Loriga’s plane, which was christened “Legazpi,” made it to Manila. The other two planes were forced to land and be abandoned in the North African desert and on the coast of China.
As Gallarza and Loriga landed in Aparri on May 11 at 2:20 in the afternoon, a multitude of Filipinos, whom the pilots described as “frantic with enthusiasm,” gathered around them and carried the Spaniards on their shoulders.
The pilots write: “We must confess our emotions on stepping on that land—our temples pulsated violently, our hearts beat madly and childish tears flowed from our eyes.”
The final stage of their flight came in the morning of May 13. Gallarza and Loriga bade farewell to the officials and residents of Aparri, dropping small Spanish flags over Tuguegarao, Iligan, and Echague along the way as a salute to them.
The pilots were escorted by 12 airplanes of the United States Army as they were halfway to Manila. At 11:20 in the morning, the two had completed their mission.
In their account of the journey, the pilots wrote: “We have a crude pen, but even the best one will surely fail in attempt to describe the spectacle of Camp Nichols. A skilled writer, one who could impart life and color to anything he describes, could perhaps have made detailed picture of the sea of human heads that filled the field adjacent to the aerodrome and of the thousands of cars decorated with flags and parked in endless lines. He might be able to describe the deafening noise of the sirens of the ice plant and of all the ships anchored in the bay, as well as of the horns of hundreds and hundreds of cars and the mad ringing of all the bells of the city. But no one, no matter how skillful a writer he may be, would be able to find the exact words for the outcries, the fury and the frenzy of the multitude who greeted us. Wild with joy, they applauded and raised their arms and filled the air with lusty shouts of ‘vivas.’”
A decade later, Filipino aviators Antonio Arnaiz and Juan Calvo would accomplish a similar feat—one that perhaps merits a book of its own if there isn’t one already—by flying from Manila to Madrid, in what is more famously known as the “Arnacal Flight.”
“[It is] one of the most admirable achievements in the history of aviation,” Spanish Ambassador Luis Arias said during the launch.
“We could not have chosen a more appropriate venue for this event as this flight and its reciprocal feat carried out by Filipino aviators Antonio Arnaiz and Juan Calvo from Manila to Madrid bear witness to the pioneering nature of Philippine and Spanish aviation at the beginning of the 20th century.”
Ambassador Arias, together with General Eduardo Gonzalez-Gallarza, son of Captain Gallarza, and Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force Lieutenant General Oscar Rabena, later signed a copy of the book that was to be displayed at the PAF Aerospace Museum.
The National Historical Institute likewise presented Aparri Mayor Ismael Tumaru a plaque commemorating the first landing of Gallarza and Loriga in the Philippines.
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