Rota, home of the Arma Area la Armada Española (Spanish Navy Aviation)
The Spanish Navy was founded on 15 September 1917 by Royal Decree of Don Alfonso XIII and signed by the Minister of the Navy, Admiral D. Manual de Flórez y Carrió. The Government learned their lessons in the air-naval field and in the use of embarked aviation during the development of the First World War and the military operations Spain was carrying out in North Africa against the Rif tribes.
To develop the new capacity the Royal Decree established three lines of action, 1. The creation of a Naval Aviation School for training of personnel, 2. Establish a factory for constructing the necessary naval aerial material. 3. The constitution of three naval bases; Cadiz, Ferrol and Cartagena.
In April 1918 the General Staff placed the responsibility of organizing Naval Aviation in Lieutenant Commander Pedro Maria Cardona Prieto, a true forerunner of the current Air Weapon and an officer with plenty of talent and work capacity. His first decision was to provisionally establish the Naval Aviation School in Barcelona, on the grounds of what was called Campo de la Volatería which today occupies El Prat airport. The planned location next to the Mar Menor, now known as San Javier Air Base, was long delayed due to various administrative difficulties. In addition they began to develop the bases in Mahón, Marín and Mar Chica.
In 1920 the Naval Aviation Bureau was created in the Central General Staff of the Navy to promote the development of this new capacity. In a short time 3 Avro 504K aircraft were received for training of the first pilots and 2 Martinsyde F-6 Buzzard two-seat fighter aircraft for reconnaissance and bombardment. The need to acquire seaplanes was raised and the choice fell on the Italian Macchi M-18.
In the beginning of 1921 the first course of the naval pilots began. The preparation of the Navy and Naval Aeronautics was accelerated throught the acquisition of a German Steamer which was named Spain No. 6 as was compensation for the losses suffered by the merchant navy during the Great War, it was renamed to Dédalo and after modification it became operational in May 1922 under the name Daedalus. The Naval Aeronautics was also strengthened throught the acquisition of 5 F-3 Felixtowey seaplanes and the construction under license of 6 Savoia S-13 seaplanes. In just 5 years the Spanish Navy was able to develop it’s own naval air capacity which allowed the deployment and operation of seaplanes.
In August 1922 the Daedalus deployed to the coast of Africa to participate in the Moroccan Campaign and the first combat actions occured when a Macchi M-18 bombarded different positions of the adversary. During this deployment more than 125 combat flights per pilot have been made. During 1923 and 1924 the Naval Aeronautics received the Supermarine Scara and Macchi-24 aircraft. After the end of the war in Africa, at the end of 1926, the Naval Aeronautics reorganised and located at te new San Javier base and they acquired new Dornier Do J Wall seaplanes. One of these seaplanes was the Plus Ultra which was the first aircraft in the world to cross the South Atlantic!
On 7 March 1934 another milestone of military aeronautics took place by the capture of the Cierva autogyro in the Daedalus, the first capture of a rotary-wing aircraft on board a ship in the world! In 1936 the Naval Aeronautics is at a high level, both due to the experience of the naval pilots and the number of aircraft. At that time the Spanish Navy operated 12 squadrons and about a 100 aircraft including the most modern of that time, the Casa Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bombers.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936 Military Aviation and Naval Aeronautics unified under the same command and the creation of the Air Force at the end of the Civil War in 1939 meant the total disappearance of the Navy’s air specialty.
During the dark period from 1939 to 1954 the Spanish Navy’s only avalaible air means was a Heinkel He-114A seaplane belonging to the Air Force. The signing of the Military and Economic Cooperation Agreement with the United States of America on 26 September 1953 was an excellent opportunity for the Spanish Armed Forces and the Navy to renew themselves. In those years helicopters were beginning to acquire an ever greater role in military operations and 3 Bell Helicopter Corporation Bell-47’s were purchased and a new helicopter unit was located and called Helicopter Group. The first mission was flown on 19 June 1954. In 1955 a Bell-47 takes on a sailing Navy ship for the first time and another 3 Bell-47’s were bought.
In 1957 the Helicopter Group with it’s Bell-47’s transferred to Rota Naval Base which was under construction and also 7 Sikorsky S-55 medium helicopters were acquired for anti-submarine combat, they belonged to 2 squadron. In 1963 the Helicopter Flotilla was created and was put in command of the two squadrons. On 7 October 1964 3 Squadron was formed due to the delivery of 4 Augusta Bell-204 helicopters. The same year it was decided to acquire 6 Sikorsky SH-3 Seakings. After this 4 Piper Comanche light fixed wing aircraft were purchased and 4 Squadron was formed. The first Seakings were delivered in february 1966 and 5 Squadron of the Helicopter Flotilla was created. The Seakings have surely been the best antisubmarine helicopters in the history!
To fulfill the first of the objectives and as a result of the Cooperation Agreements the United States of America ceded to Spain the light aircraft carrier USS Cabot which the navy renamed the Dédalo helicopter carrier which on 20 December 1967 docked at the Naval Base of Broken. The Dédalo was it’s flagship until the Prince of Asturias carrier entered service in 1988.
The General Staff followed with interest the program of a new vertical take-off aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, which at the end of the 1960’s managed to pass all operational tests and was acquired by the United Kingdoms Royal Air Force. Seeing the potential of the new aicraft the Navy managed to get the Council of Ministers to approve a demonstration aboard the Daedalus in 1972. On 8 November 1972 this test was carried out with enormous success and not long after the Navy obtained authorization from the Government for the acquisition of the first 8 Harrier vertical take-off aircraft which, due to difficult diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, were purchased from the United States Navy where they were operated by it’s Marine Corps. In 1973 8 Squadron was created to receive the new aircraft. On Christmas Eve 1976 the Daedalus docked in Rota from Mayport Naval Base with the first 7 AV-8A Harriers affectionately called the “Matador”. The Daedalus changed it’s name, adopting the term aircraft carrier and Helicopter Flotilla was also changed to Aircraft Flotilla.
From 1976 on the Aircraft Flottila modernised it’s squadrons or created new squadrons to accommodate new helicopters or airplanes. In this evolution we have seen the disappearance of 1 Squadron (Bell-47’s), 2 Squadron (Sikorsky S-55’s) and 8 Squadron (AV-8A’s) and the appearance of 6, 9 and 10 Squadron. Also the Principe de Asturias aircraft carrier arrived and the replacement of it by the LHD Juan Carlos I.
Eslla 003 – 3 Squadron: The Augusta Bell 204’s were replaced by 12 Augusta Bell 212’s in the 1970’s. The Bell 212’s were incorporated to conduct surface and anti-submarine warfare missions. At the end of the 1980’s these helicopters were transformed for the main mission of tactical helicopter transport. Around 2017 the helicopters processed a life extension and modernization with new mission systems that will allow them to effectively carry out suveillance and maritime security missions on board the maritime action vessels. Due to the operational versatility of this helicopter and the flexibility for it’s boarding the Squadron has participated in most of the operations that the Navy has intervened and has accumulated more than 95.000 flight hours. Unfortenately 5 Bell 212’s have been lost by crashes or are withdrawn from use, 7 are still in service.
Eslla 004 – 4 Squadron: The Piper Comanche’s were replaced by 3 Cessna 550 Citation II in 1988 and 1 Cessna 650 Citation III was delivered in 2007. It’s main mission is maritime surveillance and logistical support. They contributed to the support of numerous operations such as Durable Freedom and Libre Hidalgo. In total more the 55.000 flight hour have been made and all Cessna aircraft are still in service.
Eslla 005 – 5 Squadron: The squadron was created in 1966 to have high-performance anti-submarine warfare helicopters and the first 6 SH-3 Seakings were delivered in that year. Later another 8 SH-3 Seakings were acquired. In 2002 the Seaking helicopters have been modified to carry out it’s current main mission of tactical troop transport. This helicopter, due to it’s high performance and it’s load capacity, has been fundamental in all the operations carried out by the Navy. In addition to it’s ability to rescue in all weather circumstances it has saved many lives of people in danger. The squadron has accumulated more than 100.000 flight hours and is a constant example of professionalism and good work. At this moment around 7 SH-3 Seakings are still in service!
Eslla 006 – 6 Squadron: In the 1970’s 12 Hughes H-369’s were incorporated as anti-submarine helicopters aboard the Churruca-class destroyers. They have undergone a modernization program to adapt to their current mission of naval training, being the first contact the Navy pilots have with operations aboard ships. In addition it contributes significantly to the fact that different courses, necessary for the Navy, can be taught, such as helicopter controllers at sea. Around 6 H-369’s are still in service at this moment.
Eslla 009 – 9 Squadron: The squadron was created in 1987 to host the EAV-8B ground attack Harriers which replaced the AV-8A’s from Eslla 008 – 8 Squadron which were sold to Thailand. In 1996 those EAV-8B’s have been improved to all weather versions called EAV-8B+. This development was in cooperation with the United States of America, Italy and the United Kingdom where the national aeronautical industry, through Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA, played an important role at it’s factory in San Pablo, Seville. The EAV-8B+ is a modern all-weather ground attack aircraft that constitutes one of the pillars on which the Navy’s projection capacity rests and has already completed more than 60.000 flight hours. From the 13 upgraded EAV-8B+’s 10 are still in service and also 1 TAV-8B twin-seat Harrier is still in service for training purposes.
Eslla 010 – 10 Squadron: This squadron was created in 1988 with the arrival of 6 Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk helicopters, followed by another 6 in 2002 and in 2017 2 SH-60F’s were delivered. These helicopters constitutes the indispensable complement of the escorts both the Santa Maria Class frigates and the Alvaro de Bazan class frigates. Thanks to the Light Airborne MultiPurpose System (LAMPS), that allows the exchange of data in real time, the helicopters sensors are an extension and a complement to the combat capabilities of the ship and it’s information and combat center. The helicopters have flown more than 55.000 flight hours. All 14 SH-60’s are still in service.
The Flotilla aircraft have participated in numerous real operations aboard Navy ships such as Operation Sharp Guard in 1993 of naval embargo in the Adriatic Sea to the former Yugoslavia with helicopters from 3 and 10 Squadron. Operation Alpha Charlie in 1998 to assist large areas of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala after the devastating hurricane Mitch with helicopters from 3 Squadron aboard BAA Galicia. Since 2001 Operations Active Endeavor to combat international terrorism in the Mediterranean. Operation Lasting Freedom in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks with helicopters from 3, 5 and 10 Squadron. Operation Solidarity Response in 2005 of humanitarian aid to Indonesia with helicopters from 3 Squadron aboard BAA Galicia. Operation Libre Hidalgo in 2006 in Lebanon to monitor the ceasefire between the contenders with 5 Squadron helicopters aboard BAA Galicia. Operation Althea in 2008 and 2009 in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the deployment of 2 Seakings. Since 2009 Operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta has been active in fight against piracy in the Horn of Africa and EUNAVFORMED Sofia to combat illegal human trafficing. Operation Hispaniola in 2010 for humanitarian aid to Haiti after a catastrophic earthquake with helicopters from 3 and 5 Squadron aboard BAA Castilla.
The authors like to thank everyone who made this fantastic visit possible within the Spanish Ministry of Defence, the Spanish Navy and Mike Green (https://jetwashaviationphotos.com).