Seaplanes – Connecting East with West In the Philippines

On the far reaches of the western Pacific Ocean lies the archipelago, composed of 7107 tropical islands, that geographically and politically makes up the Philippine nation. The proximity to the equatorial sun, the warm moist air streaming off the Pacific Ocean  and the resulting tropical rain falling on rich volcanic soil contributes to the lush green rain forests that cover much of this haunting beautiful landscape.

Tropical Forests of the Philippine Islands

For much of the year tropical depressions, gathering momentum in the warm equatorial waters of the vast Pacific Ocean, bowl cyclical balls of super moist air toward this collection of islands lined up along the Pacific Rim of Fire like bowling pins at the end of the world’s longest ocean alley.

Sheer size of the Pacific Ocean.

Look left. Look way left, to find the Philippine Islands at the Western end of the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to the often destructive typhoons, tectonic activity along the Philippine Fault Zone rumbles and shakes the islands regularity with volcanoes and earthquakes earning the Philippines a mystical and somewhat negative reputation that is often highlighted in the international news. Disasters make good press even if they are few and far between.

Coron Island Philippines

Coron Island in the Philippines

The grinding and uplifting Philippine Sea Plate along with the ensuing volcanic eruptions build the islands while the destructive typhoon winds along with the ensuing monsoonal rainfall and storm surges wears them down again. It’s an ongoing battle of good and evil, the Yin and Yang of nature, and in the Philippines the balance is found in the harmony between the islands and the sea. It is true that nature is at it’s rawest in the Philippines but as the national tourism slogan likes to remind us, “It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

Islands islands every where.

It only stands to reason that in between and all around the islands is a lot of water.

Culion Islands in the Philippines

Culion Islands in the Philippines

The Philippine Islands are surrounded by the Philippine Sea on the east, the South China Sea on the west and interspersed by the Celebes Sea, the Sulu Sea, the Visayan Sea and the Bohol Sea. The islands have a combined coastline of  36,289 kilometers including countless gulfs, bays, lagoons and beaches.

In contrast I grew up in Canada which has over 1,000,000 lakes and 202,080 kilometers of ocean coastline. With such a small population and such a large hinterland we had very few airports and so seaplanes, flying off the many lakes and rivers and inner coastal waterways, were used as one of our main means of easy transportation. It is no wonder Canada has more seaplanes than any other country in the world. But it is a mystery why the Philippines has so few.

The Yin and Yang of volcanic islands. North Palawan Islands.

Like most good inventions airplanes were devised after a combination of other inventions converged. Man has tried to fly for thousands of years but it took the invention of gasoline, internal combustion engines and efficient air screws to allow for sustained flight of heavier-than-air aircraft. All that happened around the turn of the 19th century. What did not immediately follow, however, was runways. Therefore seaplane development outpaced land planes because there were so many bays and harbours around the world to operate from. Any where there was a safe harbour there were already service facilities for merchant ships and navy vessels that the seaplane could take advantageous of.

The first company to capitalize on this in a big way, during the 1930’s, was Pan American World Airlines or Pan Am for short. I wrote an essay many years ago, called Romance of the Aviator, on the start of the largest seaplane operator that the world has ever seen and the premise still stands today. It takes more than a business plan to start a seaplane operation.

The idea of providing a world-wide air service before the invention or initiation of navigation aids, long range communications, or even what we would call airports, should simply have been impossible. The obstacles were simply too large to break, or bulldoze, or move, or go around. Mankind, by right, should have just waited until the technology was available.

Progress does not work like that, however, and it took the imagination and determination of two men in particular to see the way around the “rocks” in their flight path. If brute force was not possible then there was only the fluid of imagination to fill the void. Only the force of imagination could brew the romantic notion that the incomparable freedom of flight more than makes up for the shackles of economic necessity.

Juan Tripp and Charles Lindbergh went on to build an airline that initially spanned the globe with the crudest of technologies and held together with little more than sheer will and enterprise. Their determination to forge ahead forced technology to keep up with the growing requirements until technology finally caught up with their dreams. In their day, the feat of building the Pan Am network was comparable to landing a man on the moon within the ten year period from President Kennedy’s proclamation until Neil Armstrong made his giant step for mankind.

John S Goulet Canadian Bush Pilots: Romance of the Aviator

Philippines got thrust into the 20th century when Juan Trippe, the COO of Pan Am, decided to start a service from San Francisco to Honolulu and on to Hong Kong and Auckland following existing steamship routes. In 1935 he negotiated the landing rights to Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, and Subic Bay (Manila) and eventually Rose Bay (Sydney).

Pan Am ran its first survey flight to Honolulu in April 1935 with a Sikorsky S-42 flying boat. The airline won the contract for a San Francisco – Canton mail route later that year and operated its first commercial flight carrying mail and express (no passengers) in a Martin M-130 from Alameda to Manila amid media fanfare on November 22, 1935. The five-leg, 8,000-mile (12,875 km) flight arrived in Manila on November 29 and returned to San Francisco on December 6, cutting the time between the two cities via the fastest scheduled steamship by over two weeks. The first passenger flight left Alameda on October 21, 1936. The fare from San Francisco to Manila or Hong Kong in 1937 was $950 one way (about $15580 in 2014) and $1,710 round trip.

via Pan American World Airways – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Both the United States and Philippine Islands issued special stamps for the two flights.

US and PI First Transpacific Air Mail Stamps 1935 – Pan American World Airways – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

US_and_PI_First_Transpacific_Air_Mail_Stamps_1935

via China Clipper’s flight made history 75 years ago – SFGate

The Pan American Airways flight that took off on Nov. 22, 1935, was the first regularly scheduled flight across the oceans of the world. It was hailed in The Chronicle as the beginning of “a giant new age,” connecting west to east using the world’s most modern technology.

Both of the Philippine harbours were declared seaplane bases and used by the Pan Am Clipper and other flying boats until WWII broke out. I am not sure where I read this but during WWII both the Americans and the Japanese continued to use seaplanes in Subic Bay and Manila Harbour. The Philippines is no stranger to seaplane operations.

In more recent history, Mike O’Farren, a retired American Underwater Demolition Diver turned seaplane pilot, set up a charter operation based out of Subic Harbour. Subic Seaplanes has operated for over 17 years in and around the Philippine Islands.

Mike of Subic Seaplanes Philippines

Cessna 180 RP-C666 Seaplane in Manila Harbour Philippines

There is no mystery about why there has been so few seaplanes in the Philippines. It’s a tough business. I have heard a lot of good things about Mike’s ability to work magic with that little seaplane, but the 2-3 passenger 1950’s era seaplane leaves a lot to the imagination. Besides Mike and his lonely little Cessna 180 there has been no other legal commercial seaplane operator in the Philippines.

Until now.

Air Juan has had the Cessna C208B Grand Caravan EX G1000 on Wipaire 8750 Amphibian Floats approved on the company AOC.

I have said this before and I will say it again; along with the Viking 400 series Twin Otter, the Grand Caravan on Wipaire 8750 Amphibian floats is going to change everything. The world of seaplanes is making a come back world-wide and in the Philippines that means connecting the islands of the east with the new modern seaplane technology of the west just as Pan Am did 80 years ago.

 An air operator’s certificate (AOC) is the approval granted by a national aviation authority (CAAP) to an aircraft operator to allow it to use aircraft for commercial purposes. This requires the operator to have personnel, assets and system in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public.

Coming soon to a seaport near you.

Air Juan in Manila Harbour

Billie Holiday’s It Must Have Been Moonglow

It must have been moonglow
Way up in the blue
It must have been moonglow
That led me straight to you

I still hear you saying
“Dear one, hold me fast”
And I start in praying
Oh Lord, please let this last

We seemed to float right through the air
Heavenly songs seemed to come from ev’ry where
And now when there’s moonglow
Way up in the blue
I always remember that moonglow gave me you

It must have been moonglow
Way up in the blue
It must have been moonglow
That led me straight to you

I still hear you saying
“Dear one, hold me fast”
And I start in praying
Oh Lord, please let this last

We seemed to float right through the air
Heavenly songs seemed to come from ev’ry where
And now when there’s moonglow
Way up in the blue
I always remember that moonglow brought me you

It Must Have Been Moonglow

 

About John S Goulet

Air Transport Pilot, consultant, writer, blogger and photographer with 40 years in Professional Aviation.
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