In the Dutch East Indies alone Hilgers made at least 8,000 take offs. Throughout his career as aviator he survived at least 20 crashes without ever breaking a bone
Life in a nutshell
As it was impossible for Indos in colonial history to attain the necessary education in the Dutch East Indies (now: Indonesia) required to maximize career opportunities, Indo-European families that could afford it would sent their children to schools and Universities in the Netherlands. At age 11 Hilgers was sent to the Netherlands. When Hilgers studied at a technical school for mechanics in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, his hobby was already building model airplanes. After completing his education in 1908 he went on to work in electricity plants in Nijmegen. As off 1909 he enthusiastically started building his own experimental gliders.
In 1910 his firm hurried him home from training camp in France to ensure they beat the pilot Clément Van Maasdijk, who had just received his flight certification (01 July 1910) and was commissioned by another organization to fly the first airplane in Dutch airspace. Although Hilgers had only just learned to fly and had not completed his training, he indeed became the first flying Dutchman to take off and land an airplane in the Netherlands.
In 1911 Hilgers already instructed pilots in his own school for aviation in Soesterberg before obtaining an official license issued by the ENV, (Eerste Nederlandse Vliegvereniging - First Dutch Aviation Organisation) on August 12, 1912
In 1912 Hilgers joined another Dutch East Indies born Dutchman and aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker at his newly established company in Germany. In service of aircraft manufacturer Fokker he piloted demonstration flights of the Fokker Spin airplane, designed by Anthony Fokker, in Germany. Later on he also went to Russia for 8 months giving flight demonstrations around the country.
In 1913 Hilgers went to the Dutch East Indies to give flight demonstrations there. He bought and took along two Fokker monoplanes, one equipped with a 100pk (73.6 kw) Argus-motor, the other with a 80 pk (58.8 kw) Renault. Unfortunately in his first test flight back in the Indies he also became the first pilot to survive an airplane crash in Indonesia. After a few rounds at an altitude of six hundred meters, the plane suffered a technical malfunction and crashed near Surabaya.
"An Arab warned me not to fly on Bubutan, because of the sacred tombs there. In any case I had to give a slamatan (tradtional feast) first, which I did. [...] The take off site struck me as being be too small, as I could only take off in one direction. [...] During my first flight I already crashed into a bamboo forest and wrecked my (first) plane." Hilgers, Batavia, 1920.
Back home in the Dutch East Indies he got married and raised a family. On May 30, 1914 Hilgers was involved with Hein ter Poorten in the founding of the forerunner of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force. Until the Japanese invasion of 1942 in WWII he was an engineer and instructor there. Hilgers died in a Japanese prison camp at Ngawi, East-Java on July 21, 1945, just before Japan’s surrender to the Allies.
Married to Anna,Sophia Blijenburg te Bangil, East Java, September 27, 1913. They had five daughters named Croon, Fien, Ada, Bea, Laura and a son named Maurits.