By Tommy H. Thomason

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Halcyon Days V

Once upon a time, when I was a preteen, I lived with my mother and stepfather in the Philippine Islands. He was assigned as the Assistant Public Works Officer at Naval Air Station Sangley Point, which was on a small peninsula located on the south side of Manila Bay adjacent to the town of Cavite. The runway had been built in early 1945, following the retaking of the area from the Japanese in World War II. It wasn't a very big air station, with almost 50% being the runway, taxiway, and parking areas...
Cdr T.L. Bigley USNR-TAR

In addition to having a runway, Sangley provided a base for Navy seaplanes that patrolled the area.
Cdr T.L. Bigley USNR-TAR 

Sangley provided tow-target services to ships and airplanes of the Seventh Fleet operating near Manila Bay.

Another valuable service was providing temporary parking at Sangley's west end for the air group of a carrier when it visited Manila Bay for R&R. This freed up the carrier's deck and hangar for maintenance and cleaning, in addition to providing more room for maintenance on the airplanes themselves, albeit al fresco in most cases.
Cdr G.W. Gregory Jr.

(When we first arrived at Sangley, there were many French Corsairs parked in the west end, having been ferried in from Vietnam following the fall of Dien Bien Phu in early 1954. A French aircraft carrier eventually showed up to take them away.)

Navy aircraft carriers would also offload airplanes at Sangley that were too badly damaged for repair aboard. These would come in by lighter for temporary storage until a ship came by that was headed back to the states.

I spent many happy hours watching the Cougars, Skyraiders, Banshees, etc. taking off and landing since the runway was only a few hundred feet from our house and no one seemed to care if I sat in the grass 50 feet or so off the taxiway. One memorable occasion was when Princeton parked many of its VS-21 S2Fs at Sangley in early 1956 for a week.

I made friends with one of the pilots and got to sit in an S2F with my mother.

Equally memorable was that I got to fly an S2F, a Turbo Firecat conversion with turboprop engines, almost 40 years later courtesy of the great folks at Conair. (See

You probably haven't heard of NAS Sangley Point. While my stepfather was stationed there, NAS Cubi Point at Subic Bay was established and Sangley became a Naval Station in accordance with a treaty with the Philippines that stipulated there would only be one Naval Air Station, per se. It continued to be an active and important U.S. Navy base until it was turned over to the Philippine government in 1971.

Although I had been enamored with airplanes since I could remember, the two years at NAS Sangley between 1954 and 1956 (and one of the great airplane movies, The Bridges at Toko-Ri) convinced me that I wanted to be a Naval aviator, even if it did mean dying in a ditch in Korea. That, alas, was not to be because of my poor eyesight but I did the best I could under the circumstances.


Anonymous said...

I think all of us would like to see a few paragraphs about the flying qualities / performance of the Turbo Tracker. Quite an esoteric airplane. Pat D

Tailspin said...

Well, maybe a few of you and since you asked...

I only flew the Turbo Firecat the once for 30 minutes or so and without a load of retardant: takeoff, climb out, dummy run down into a valley, return to the airport and landing. It had excellent performance at that weight and the handling qualities made it easy to fly and land. It was relatively quiet. I didn't evaluate it single engine but my guess is that the minimum speed would have been acceptable for landing at an airport.

The main reason I was visiting Conair was to evaluate their flight and maintenance manual development and production capability, which proved to be top notch.

One of the Conair changes to the airplane was the utilization of much of the cabin to hold retardant. That eliminated the cabin door, so the pilots had to climb up the side of the fuselage and enter the cockpit via the cabin-crew escape hatches on top of the fuselage.

Maureen Dawson said...

Seems like you and your mother enjoyed a lot while flying with S2F. Nice photos and thanks a lot for sharing and thanks a lot for sharing.

Paul Nechols said...

In '67-'68 I spent some time in Sangley as a pilot with VP-17 flying SP2H aircraft. We deployed from NAS Whidbey Island to Sangley then sub-deployed to Cam Rahn bay in support of Market Time. We would spend a couple weeks in one, then a couple weeks in the other. We happened to be at Sangley when VP-48 finished up the last deployment with the P5M. I remember being fascinated by those flying boat launches with all the flaying around, the swimmers retrieving the wheel floats, winching the boat up and down the ramp, the whole nine yards!

Eric said...

To read that you are blogging about Sangley is already cool and to have an authentic interest about all aircraft makes it cooler! Hi, I'm Eric, a Filipino native born and raised outside Sangley, and in the same city. I grew up watching the flying boats Paul Nechols mentioned here, and remember seeing the boats of the divers, too. I also remember, with my grandfather, watching how a squadron of what looked like Phantom II's(too high up) form up and leave for the direction of Vietnam. We were in a fishing boat and we would count them as they would fly in an oval pattern as they wait for the rest of the squadron. We would count them again when they return in the afternoon and remember being dissapointed when the squadron returns with less planes than when they left. All that was around 1968-69. I'm now residing here in Los Angeles and working at LAX, still around planes! Working here has its perks like being able to see Marine One and escorts with V22's on hover mode whenever Air Force One is on the tarmac.