Capt. Joe "Pepot" Gonzalez entered the history books as the only Filipino to take command of the world's fastest civilian jet airliner, the supersonic Concorde.
Capt. Pepot is the only Filipino who trained on and flew the Concorde.
Capt. Pepot Gonzalez flew the Concorde on a demonstration tour flight from the Paris to Manila via Bahrain and Singapore.
Born in 1931, he is the fourth of eight children of Francisco Gonzalez and Josefa Lardizabal, the couple's first-born son.
At the age of five, he began his lifelong love affair with flying, thanks to a neighborhood girl who caught the eye of a Philippine Army Air Corps pilot. The pilot was so enamored with the lady that he would woo her by flying often over their community and performing daring stunts to catch her attention. Those showy acrobatics caught the young Pepot's heart and fueled his desire to become a pilot.
Years later, he entered the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Flying School under Class 51-A, at the age of 19. Finishing at the top of his class in flying and academics, Pepot entered direct service and started his career at Basa Air Base in Pampanga. "Flying came so easy for me," he recounts today, remembering that his seniors were surprised that he could keep up with the demanding pace.
Beginning his flying career at the Philippine Air Force, Capt. Pepot (front center) was one of the founders of the “The Blue Diamonds”, the country’s first aerobatic team.
Piloting the PAF's P-51 Mustangs, Capt. Pepot earned a chance to live out his memories of daredevil flying stunts. He joined with other pilots from the 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron to form the PAF's first precision aerial team, which would ultimately be known as The Blue Diamonds – named after the diamond flying formation that would become their signature maneuver. The group would be recognized as Southeast Asia's premier aerobatic team and would have access to the “cream of the crop” in choosing the best PAF pilots. As luck would have it, Capt. Pepot was among the first to select his personal P-51, which he lovingly named "Evangeline" after his wife.
Continuing the tradition of “firsts”, Capt. Pepot was one of the first Filipino pilots to transition to the more advanced F-86 Sabre aircraft, newly acquired by the Air Force. In 1954, flying the F-86, he became the first Filipino to break the sound barrier at Mach 1.01.
With the Blue Diamonds acquiring more Sabres, Capt. Pepot became the Squadron Commander. He rose through the ranks at the Philippine Air Force, accumulating 3,500 flying hours on various PAF aircraft, from the PT-13, L-4, and C-47 up to the F-86.
Capt. Gonzalez (center) seen here with PAL President Benigno Toda (left) during the delivery of the first Avro (H.S. 748) turboprops from England.
Civilian life beckoned when the Air Force sent him on detached duty to Philippine Airlines. Capt. Pepot liked being in PAL and found it more financially rewarding. He formally joined the flag carrier in 1959 after his fifth child was born and started his commercial flying days on the Douglas DC-3/C-47 aircraft, later moving on to the Fokker F27s and the Vickers Viscounts. When PAL entered the jet age a few years later, in 1962, Capt. Pepot was among the first in line to fly the Douglas DC-8 jetliner, progressively rising to chief engineer and then chief pilot on the DC-8. As PAL’s senior chief pilot for the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 tri-jet, he was in command of the 1974 delivery flight of the first Philippine widebody aircraft from Long Beach to Manila.
As Senior Chief Pilot for PAL’s new McDonnell Douglas DC-10, Capt. Pepot accepted the country’s first widebody jet on June 27, 1974 at the McDonnell Douglas facility in Long Beach, California.
Destiny had more surprises in store for the former Blue Diamond commander as the 1970s progressed. Aerospatiale/British Aircraft Corporation knocked at PAL’s door to persuade the Philippine flag carrier to purchase the fastest civilian aircraft – the supersonic Concorde. A plan was studied to buy several Concordes for deployment on PAL’s bread-and-butter route to San Francisco. The Concorde was being touted as the “aircraft of the future,” the “IT” plane with its sleek delta wings and ability to fly faster than the speed of sound.
As part of plan under study, Capt. Pepot was given some specialized training on the ground and did some administrative checks. On 7 August 1975, he flew on a Concorde production aircraft, airframe G-BOAC, attaining Mach 2.036 or over 1,500 miles per hour (2,500 km per hour), at a cruising altitude of 57,269 feet above sea level. This was a feat as yet unmatched in Philippine aviation.
Another feather was added to his cap when, on 2 November 1976, Capt. Pepot joined the working flight crew onboard a French-registered Concorde (F-BTSC) on a special demonstration flight to Manila. The supersonic airliner took them from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to Bahrain for refueling, then to another en route stop in Singapore before heading to Manila. On that flight of the Concorde, Captain Pepot Gonzalez earned the distinction of being the first Asian and the only Filipino to fly the Concorde.
However, PAL ultimately declined to purchase the supersonic jet. In reality, the Concorde lacked the range to fly nonstop from Manila to Honolulu, and its passenger capacity was limited (accommodating fewer passengers than a typical DC-8 or A320, let alone a widebody DC-10).
But big dreams are the source of legends, and Capt. Pepot could honestly claim a flying career that was legendary in its own right. As a professional, he would continue to inspire generations of aviators, of his era and beyond. When he addressed pilots undergoing training, he would always assure future Captains that they could put their trust in their expertly-maintained flying machines. He said: "I have to give them the confidence…so that I show them it can be done. This airplane is good."
He clinched the positions of Senior Chief Pilot as well as Director of Flight Operations before moving up to become PAL’s Vice President for Flight Operations in the late 1970s. Counting both his civilian and Air Force experience, he notched an incredible total of 37,000 flying hours, high by any standard.
When asked which civilian aircraft was his favorite, he said: "[The] 747. It was the most complicated beside the Concorde." Not surprisingly, Capt. Pepot was on board the first PAL Boeing 747-200 commercial flight out of Manila in 1980, flying directly to San Francisco together with then PAL President Roman “Jun” Cruz. He was often chosen to fly famous people throughout his career, which included presidents, celebrities, and other world leaders.
Pictured in October 2023, Capt Pepot poses in front of his lovingly displayed family tree at his home in California.
Today, Capt. Pepot is comfortably retired and living in California. Visitors can marvel at the mural-sized family tree adorning a wall of his lovely home, featuring pictures of his family – he is very proud of his ten children and numerous grandchildren. His daughters Lily and Marissa graciously welcomed the author and showed mementos of their dad’s stellar flying career.
Capt. Pepot’s family got into aviation as well. His son Joey was a PAL pilot from 1976 to 2001, having flown the YS-11 and the Airbus A300 and A330. Joey’s son Aljo also joined PAL and is currently a Captain flying Airbus A321 narrowbody aircraft. Captain Aljo was kind enough to connect the author to his grandfather.
After his long stint in PAL, Capt. Pepot went on to fly corporate jets, including the Hawker Siddeley HS 125, before finally settling down in Sacramento with his children. At 92, he is agile and can still fit in his old PAL uniform.
With a twinkle in his eye, Capt. Pepot said: "If I had nothing to do, I'd fly."