Within days of the Japanese surprise attack on the United State’s naval base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, two Beechcrafts based in the Philippines were impressed into the Far East Air Force (FEAF) that was given the impossible task of defending the island of Luzon and the city of Manila.

The photograph shows a Beechcraft Model A18D, serial number 268, registered NPC-54, that served with Philippine Air Lines before impressment into military service. Photograph credit: Edward H. Phillips Collection


The Japanese conquest of the Philippines was was a major part of that nation’s desperate need to conquer the islands before America could reinforce the garrisons there. As the Imperial Army swept through Luzon, the Americans and their Filipino allies were forced farther and farther south until they made their last stand on Corregidor at Manila Bay, and Bataan Province to the north. The twin-engine Beechcraft was quickly put to work ferrying fighter pilots and other military officers from Corregidor and Bataan south to Mindanao, where they were to fly Curtiss P-40 fighters back to Luzon to help slow the Japanese advance.

During December and into February, Beechcraft NPC-54 made many flights carrying supplies to Bataan and Corregidor, as well as evacuating wounded and sick personnel, often operating from bomb-pocked runways and frequently under the threat of interception from Japanese fighter aircraft. The gallant Beechcraft managed to survive until February 1942 when it was destroyed on the ground by bombing at Mindanao.

After putting up a gallant and brave defense for nearly six months against overwhelming odds, the Americans were forced to surrender in May. In addition to NPC-54, a Beechcraft B17R, serial number 63, registered NPC-28 and also operated by Philippine Air Lines, was impressed by the FEAF and played an important role in ferrying pilots and evacuating personnel from Bataan and Corregidor. In February it was intercepted by Japanese floatplane fighters and shot down near Mindanao, where it was deemed beyond repair and abandoned.

From 1941-1945 military versions of the venerable Model 17 and Model 18 served with distinction in every theater of war. It was, however, the two unarmed and war-weary Beechcrafts of the FEAF, flown by brave pilots who persevered to the bitter end, that deserve a special place of honor in Wichita’s legacy as the “Air Capital of the World.”