Formerly known as Floridablanca Airfield, Basa Air Base is a Philippine Air Force base located at Floridablanca, Pampanga. The base was built and used by the US Army Air Corps before the Second World War and was captured and used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force during the early stages of World War II. Combined American and Philippine Commonwealth military forces were eventually able to recapture it during the later stages of the war. It is currently named after Philippine Air Force hero, César Basa.
The base was established as Del Carmen Airfield, a dirt auxiliary strip, by the U.S. Far East Air Force prior to World War II in November 1941. In December 1941, during the early stages of World War II, the facility was successfully captured and taken over by the Japanese Army. The base was used by the Japanese as an auxiliary airfield. It was in this aerodrome complex of Clark, Floridablanca, Porac and Mabalacat airfield where the scheme to employ "kamikaze" fighters was first conceived and launched.
In January 1945, the USAAF re-established a presence at the airfield when the United States Sixth Army cleared the area of Japanese forces. The 312th Bombardment Group (19 April-13 August 1945) based A-20 Havocs and the 348th Fighter Group (15 May-6 July 1945) based P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs at the airfield. In 1945, during the period of Philippine liberation to joint U.S. and Filipino troops, the US Air Force enlarged the airfield further to accommodate B-17s and B-24s, which were used for air strikes against Japan.
The United States government later turned over the installation to the Philippines. On August 22, 1947, three M35 2-1/2 ton cargo trucks ferried in the 2nd Tactical Fighter Squadron 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.
On October 24, 1947, the 6th and 7th Fighter squadrons, armed with P-51D "Mustangs," were activated. From 1947 to 1955, these two squadrons extensively conducted pacification campaigns against the Huks in Central Luzon and the forces of Kamlon in Southern Mindanao.
The increasing awareness of the important role of air defense and the gradual expansion of the base led to the activation of other support units. Some of the units activated during the early days were the Basic Flying School Squadron and the Advance Flying School Squadron, which were later transferred to Fernando Air Base.
On August 1, 1951, the 8th Fighter Squadron was activated to complete the tactical set-up of three fighter squadrons that comprises the 5th Fighter Group.
On January 15, 1949, the 5th Fighter Group Headquarters was re-designated as Basa Air Base Headquarters.
Pursuant to General Orders No. 381, GHQ, AFP, dated September 30, 1952, and HPAF, dated October 7, 1952, Basa Air Base Headquarters was finally re-designated as the 5th Fighter Wing Headquarters. After being reorganized into an Air Wing set-up, the position of the Base Commander has been changed, since then, to Wing Commander.
Basa Air Base was closed in 1955 to pave the way for the gradual transition to jet aircraft operations, which was a move towards modernization and expansion. It was then developed into a modern fighter base complex, equipped with a sprawling multi-million peso jet runway, aircraft movement areas, lighting and refueling facilities, workshops, and other vital installations for the 5th Fighter Wing jet operations.
On December 14, 1962, the 5th Fighter Wing formed the 9th Tactical Fighter Squadron ("Limbas") as the PAF contingent to Congo, Africa.
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 North American T-6 Texan trainer planes were added to bolster the training of fighter pilots.
In 1957, the propeller-driven Mustangs gave way to the T-33 jet trainer aircraft and the Korean War-tested North American F-86 Sabre jets.
In 1960, the Philippine Air Force added the F-86D all-weather interceptors to its fighter aircraft arsenal.
When the Philippine Air Force finally entered into the supersonic jet age, the 5th Fighter Wing acquired the jet-powered twin-engined, F-5A/B "Freedom Fighter" supersonic aircraft. This positioned the 5th Fighter Wing as the spearhead of defense, responsible for air reconnaissance, interdiction and ground support.
The rapid depletion of the Philippine Air Force reserves in the 1980s 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 Philippine Air Force 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.
The elite Blue Diamonds Aerobatics Team was formed in 1953 from the core of the 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron, during the advent of the supersonic jet era. The team quickly gained nationwide recognition. It showcased the Philippine Air Force pilot's skill and proficiency in flying.
In 1971, two other aerobatics teams, the 9th Tactical Fighter Squadron's Golden Sabres, led by Lt Col Antonio M Bautista, and the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron's Red Aces, were formed. But due to economic setbacks brought by the increase in oil prices, inflation, and the Philippine Air Force's heavy losses in its Mindanao campaigns, both teams were forced to retire in 1974.
1990 Mount Pinatubo Eruption
Basa Air Base suffered heavy infrastructural damage when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. This left most buildings buried in thick layers of ash and forced the evacuation of its residents to other Philippine military facilities, such as Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga and Villamor Air Base (VAB) in Pasay City.
New Aircraft Acquisition
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.
Accidents and incidents
On 15 April 1971, Douglas C-47A 293246 of the Philippine Air Force crashed shortly after take-off following the failure of the starboard engine. All 40 people on board were killed. The aircraft was operating a military flight to Manila Airport. The accident was the 2nd worst involving the DC-3 at the time, and is the 3rd worst as of 2010.
Getting to Pampanga
Motorists and commuters will arrive in Pampanga in just 1-½ hours by car or bus from Manila through the North Luzon Expressway exiting via San Fernando, Angeles or Dau Toll Plaza.
All bus lines linking Manila with Baguio, Pangasinan, and Ilocos pass through the province. Philippine Rabbit serves the provincial capital (San Fernando) from Manila. Victory Liner links Angeles City and Olongapo City. Baliwag Transit and E. Jose Transport operates route services from Olongapo City to Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija via San Fernando, Pampanga. Arayat Express also serves the San Fernando-Cabanatuan route. Other buses that pass through the towns of Pampanga include Dagupan Bus Lines, Dangwa Tranco, Five Star Bus Co., Farinas Transit, Franco Federico Lines, Maria De Leon Trans, Partas Trans Co. and Viron Transit.
Also, there are jeepneys and/or mini-buses in each town or city that serve inter-zonal points towards other parts of the province.