Força Aérea Portuguesa

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The history of the Força Aérea Portuguesa (FAP – Portuguese Air Force) goes back to 1911 when a balloon company was founded. The first aircraft did not arrive till the early twenties but during WWI Portuguese pilots fought along the French receiving training in France, Britain and the USA. Portugal remained neutral in WWII but keep good ties with the allies and received aircraft like the Bell Airacobra,  Curtiss 75A, Hawker Hurricane, Lockheed P-38 Lighting and Supermarine Spitfire. During the first half of the twentieth century the army and the navy had their own aviation services (AeronáuticaMilitar and Aviação Naval). When Portugal joined NATO as one of the founding nations in 1949 a merging of the two services was started and on July first, 1952 the FAP was founded.

At the time basic training was performed with the de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk T.Mk.20 most of them build locally by OGMA. A few of them still remain in use today as glider tugs all though fully updated and with new engines. There are plans to keep them in service for over 100 years. Also the first jets arrived in the form of trainers like de Havilland Vampire T.Mk.55 and the Lockheed T-33A T-bird in 1952. A large number of Republic F-84E Thunderjets were introduced from 1953. North American F-86F Sabres were added to the inventory in 1958 for air defence.

Since the start the FAP saw lots of action not only in Portugal itself but also in Mozambique, Angola and Portuguese Guinea which were Portuguese colonies at the time.  In 1954 an other milestone was reached with the introduction of the first helicopters in the form of Sikorsky UH-19s Chickasaw. Another helicopter that came early was the Sud SA313 Alouette II which were argumented by the Aérospatiale SA3160 Alouette III  in 1963. Alouette IIIs were extensively used as gunships in the colonies during the erupting civil wars for independence. Some of the Alouettes are still in use today but only for training purposes and the “Rotores the Portugal” demo team. In the seventies Aérospatiale SA330C/S1 Pumas were delivered for over water search and rescue.

In 1974 a coup ended 46 years of dictatorship and slowly but steadily the wars in the colonies were ended. The colonies gained independence in 1975. As a result all air force units in Africa were withdrawn to Portugal and the FAP got a much bigger focus on NATO. Also a massive reduction took place and the FAP lost two thirds of its size. It’s main fighter at the time was the Fiat G-91R3/4. But also some North American F-86F Sabres remained till 1979. These were replaced by Vought A-7P Corsair II, which were former USN A-7A rebuilds. New jet trainers came with the Cessna T-37C and Northrop T-38A Talon.

For transport purposes Cessna FTB337G Super Skymaster, CASA 212-100 and Lockheed C-130H Hercules were ordered in the seventies. Three C-130H were rebuild to C-130H-30 standard locally by OMGA. Also two CASA 212-300 were bought for a limited maritime surveillance support capability. Later these were argumented by six Lockheed P-3P Orions (former Australian P-3Bs) which added a dedicated anti submarine capability in 1988. Recently five former Dutch P-3C CUPs were added as part replacement and part reinforcement.

The early nineties the DassaultBreguet/Dornier Alphajet A were bought secondhand from Germany as a replacement of the G-91R-3/4, T-33A T-37C and T-38A to be used as lead in fighter trainers. Also in the nineties the Chipmunks gave way to 18 SOCATA TB.30 Epsilons in the primairy training role. In 1994 the FAP joined the array of nations which use the General Dynamics F-16A/B Fighting Falcon with a first order  of 20 brand new and later 25 former USAF aircraft which all have been updated to MLU standard like the rest of the European F-16 users.

Apart from the C212 and the C-130H/H30 the CASA C295M Persuader is in use as a light transport and C-295MPAs as replacement for the C212-300 since 2008. Dassault-Breguet Falcon 20 and 50s are in use as VIP transports from 1984 and 1990 respectively. The FAP goes through rough financial times modernization goes on with 12 AgustaWestland EH-101 Helicopters of which three versions (Mk514/Mk.515/ Mk.516) are now in service and replaced the SA 330 Pumas.

Pieter Stroobach

I reside in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

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