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Gagaban: Igorot is First Filipino to Fly

Read the incredible true story of Igorot Chief Gagaban, the first Filipino passenger aboard a plane in Philippine history.

Gagaban, an Igorot chieftain is the first Filipino to fly as a passenger on a "Red Devil" biplane in Philippine history.

In what is now known as the "First Flight of the Filipino," Gagaban, an Igorot chief, became the first Filipino to fly as a passenger on a "Red Devil" biplane designed by pioneer balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin.

In February 1912, Governor Walter F. Hare brought 120 tribesmen from Mountain Province to Manila for the Manila Carnival celebrations. Hare, who was in charge of the Philippine tribes, arranged the trip supposedly to give the indigenous people "a closer look at the huge bird that they had seen soaring with a man."

However, later reports indicated that Hare's true intentions were to "impress upon the savage tribes the absolute supremacy of the Americans". Governor Hare needed help from Lee Hammond to accomplish this.

Tom Baldwin & Lee Hammond Collection of Shellie Brodie Nelson, 3-4-06

The American aviator Hammond was in Manila at that time and had been performing a series of exhibitions for nine days. Governor Hare convinced him to let one of the tribesmen join him in his flight.

Gagaban, an Igorot chief, was a man of great power and influence. He participated in many traditional rituals and was highly respected by his people. The Filipino tribal chief was bold enough to accept Hammond's offer and fly with him on the historic flight that took place on February 12th, 1912.

The aircraft which the crew would use to attempt the historic flight was a "Red Devil" biplane designed by pioneer balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin. The Red Devil, as it came to be known, was a significant improvement over the planes that had been used before by Baldwin and others, being lighter and more able to fly at steeper angles.

Capt. Baldwin's "Red Devil" biplane American Aeronautics

One of the most important moments in the milestones of the Filipinos has been immortalized by an American photographer. They took a photo of Igorot chief while sitting at the controls.

The other tribesmen were also delighted to pose for the camera. With the pilot and the passenger already seated on the plane, the tribesmen raised their weapons and acted as if they were in pursuit of the aircraft carrying away their chief.

Lee Hammond gives instructions to Gagaban before their flight on February 12, 1912, which made the Igorot the first Filipino to fly as a passenger.

According to accounts, Hammond and Gagaban "sat on the open in the forward edge of the lower wing, the engine facing backward behind them." The whole Igorot tribe probably felt uneasy as they witnessed how the American aviator took their chief on a "fast ride across the exhibition grounds" and up to 1,500 feet.

The flight was a success and the plane landed safely. There was no mention of Gagaban's emotions during and before the flight but the Igorot chief obviously was thrilled by this once-in-a-lifetime experience and presented Hammond with his shield & battle-ax as an act of appreciation.

The historic flight of Gagaban took place over Luneta Park on February 12, 1912, during the 1912 Manila Carnival.

The American aviator was equally pleased; he reportedly told the Times before leaving the country that "the ways of the people (i.e. Filipinos) are all American ways, their customs are American customs and above all, their hospitality is purely American hospitality."

At that point, Gagaban officially became the first Filipino to fly as a passenger. It would be only years later, in 1920, when a Filipino pilot named Alfredo Carmelo was able to fly solo for the first time.

Igorot chief Gagaban is the first-ever Filipino to fly as a passenger on February 12th, 1912. colorized

Although regarded as a remarkable spectacle, the story about Gagaban's flight was not well-received by some Filipinos. In particular, they condemned how American newspapers depicted the Igorots (described as either "wild men" or "head hunters") as representatives of typical Filipinos in the colony.

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