Força Aérea Portuguesa – Portuguese Air Force

The history of the Portuguese military aviation is deeply connected with the foundation of the Air Club of Portugal (AeCP) on 11 December 1909 by 30 aviation enthusiasts, the majority of them being Army officers. The AeCP became one of the major boosters of the development of aviation in Portugal, including its military use. The first flying unit was created in 1911 and named Companhia de Aerosteiros (Aerostation Company), which was part of the Army Telegraphic Service and were operating Air Balloons. In 1912 the first aircraft were received by the Portuguese Government, a Deperdussen B was offered by the Portuguese born Colonel Albino Costa of the Brazilian Army, a Maurice Farman MF4 was offered by the O Cormércio do Porto newspaper and an Avro 500 was offered by the Portuguese Republican Party. On 14 May 1914 the Escola Militar de Aeronáutica, EMA (Military Aeronautics School) was created. On 17 July 1916 Lieutenant Santos Leite performed the first Portuguese military airplane flight in the Deperdussin B that had been offered in 1912. During World War I Portuguese airmen volunteered to fly in French aviation units and Captain Óscar Monteiro Torres became the first Portuguese pilot that was killed in an air combat when his SPAD S.VII was shot down, after himself having shot down two German planes!

On 29 June 1918 the Serviço Aeronáutico Militar (Military Aeronautical Service) was organised which included the Composite Aviation Depot Flight (EMAD), the Aeornautical Material Park (PMA) and the Military School of Aviation. The EMAD was responsible to train pilots and observers and to prepare the creation of future air units and was initially installed at Alverca and transferred to Tancos, where an airfield was built to serve as its base. The PMA was installed at Alverca air base and was the precursor of the still existing OGMA aviation industry. On 7 February 1919 the Group of Aviation Flights República (GEAR), the first operational aviation unit was created. In 1920 the Military School of Aviation transferred from Vila Nova da Rainha to Granja do Marques, the site of what would become the still existing Sintra Air Base. In 1937 the Military Aeronautics underwent a major reorganisation and the air bases Sintra, Ota and Tancos were created followed by Lisbon in 1942.

Portugal was not directly involved in World War II but had to defend its neutrality and one of the major military priorities became the deterrence of a possible invasion of the strategic Azores Islands. Lajes airfield at the Azores Island became strategically crucial for the United States Military in future conflicts. In 1949 Portugal joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as own of its founders. On 1 July 1952 the Military Aeronautical Service was established as an independent branch and was called Força Aérea Portuguesa (Portuguese Air Force). The General Command of the Air Forces and the Directorate General of the Under-Secretariat of State were disbanded and being replaced by the Estado-Major da Força Aérea, EMFA (Air Force Staff).

In 1958 the FAP received its first North American F-86F Sabre jet fighters and on 24 September 1958 Captain Moura Pinto does the first Portuguese supersonic flight, by doing a dive with one of the Sabre’s. In the late 1950s the FAP was partially foreseeing the conflicts in the Portuguese overseas territories and increased its effort to implement itself in those territories like Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinee and Cape Verde in the early 1960s. On 4 October 1959 the important air base Monte Real is inaugurated and is from then till now the main operating base of the FAP’s fighter aviation squadrons. The first stationing of jet training units were from the German Air Force. In 1964 also Beja air base was in use and in the beginning it was serving as a NATO forward naval air base.

From 1961 to 1975 the FAP was deeply engaged in theaters of war in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinee and mainly due to the international arms embargo to Portugal, the Air Force had to struggle with limitation of means, being obliged to extend the use of old aircraft or to employ aircraft that were not suited for the kind of warfare that was being fought. In September 1974 Portuguese Guinee was independent, followed by Angola in November 1975 and this led to the FAP to gradually withdraw from the several overseas territories. In 1974 the FAP had around 850 aircraft in it’s inventory and this was reduced to a third in 1976 with most of the old assets being phased out. A major reorganization started in 1977, this included the creation of the national air command and also the Air Force Academy was created. The reorganization of the FAP was accompanied by its re-equipment, a lot of the ageing aircraft were replaced by newer aircraft. The process of the modernization also included the re-equipping of the reception of new radars and the air control center was enhanced. The FAP started to participate in missions by itself or in support of missions that have been carried away under the scope of the United Nations (UN), NATO, or the European Union like Baltic Air Policing, Icelandic Air Policing, Operation Active Endeavour, Operation Atalanta, Operation Sea Guardian and the FAP also participated in missions in Angola (1992) and Guinea-Bissau (1998).

Also an important mission for the Portuguese Air Force was the air security of high visibility events happening in Portugal, aiming to protect them especially against terrorists attacks, like the UEFA Euro 2004, the Lisbon NATO summit 2010 and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Base Aérea No. 11 – Beja

Base Aérea de Beja officially designated as Base Aérea No. 11 (BA11) was established on 21 October 1964 and it occupies an area of approximately 800 hectares and was originally built to serve as a training facility for the German Air Force due to airspace limitations within West-Germany. The German Air Force operated from Beja until 1993 and it was used particularly for weapons training. In 1987 the FAP relocated 103 squadron, flying the Lockheed T-33 and Northrop T-38, from Montijo to Beja. Between 1993 and 2018 the Portuguese Air Force has operated the Dassault / Dornier Alpha Jet which were donated by Germany as compensation for leaving the air base in 1993. Construction of a civilian terminal was undertaken in 2009, with this facility being aimed at low-cost carriers. Beja’s runway is the only mainland Portugal runway capable of accommodating an Airbus A-380. Now the base is modern and well equipped and one of the most important training facilities of the Portuguese Air Force.

Colonel Carlos Lourenco, Base Commander: “I obtained a military pilot-aviator certificate in 1994 being selected to take the Complementary Piloting Combat Course which was concluded in 1995 and got assigned to Esq201 “Falcões” as a F-16 pilot. In August 2005, I was assigned to Esq301 “Jaguares”, operating the F-16M aircraft, where I served as Operations Officer and Squadron Commander until June 2010, having made around 3.000 flight hours on the F-16. In June 2010, I was placed in the Air Command as Head of the Exercises Division until 2016. In 2016, I was posted in the Deployable Air Command and Control Center (DACCC), in Poggio Renatico, Italy, where I served as Combat Operations Division Head until 2019. In 2019, I was reassigned to Air Command as Chief of Staff and in 2021 I became Base Commander of Base Aérea No. 11 Beja. Currently I’m not flying because Base Commander is a full-time job and I want to do it properly.

Since 2010 the Portuguese Air Force has gone throughout a well-chosen path of organizing events and exercises with dimension and complexity. This was driven by the operational capacities, but also by the logistical knowhow and some geographical aspect, being the available airspace and metrological conditions. However, the human factor who drives this all is the most important, the attitude, the motivation and commitment of our personnel is exceptional and it’s this, combined with our cultural hospitality, who determines the success and outcome of these events. That’s why a lot of exercises have been and will been held here at Beja, like Real Thaw, Hot Blade and European Tactical Airlift Program – Training (Etap-T). It takes a lot of work to run these exercises. The Portuguese Air Force strives to deliver an operational product/event of excellence, so the flying units can obtain new knowledge, experiences and skills in a safe and sound manner. In this context, we want to promote the image of Portugal as a security producer in the international scene and to be recognized for the capacity, quality and knowhow in organizing this type of exercises. We can and are ready to make the difference and set up an European Red Flag exercise in Beja”.

Esq101 – Roncos (Roars)

Captain Joaó Teixeira, Operations Officer: “New student pilots start their flight training at Sintra air base and when they’ve completed the academic part of their training and perform around 40 hours on the DHC-1 Chipmunk, they are ready to start Phase 2 here at Esq101 on the Aerospatiale TB-30 Epsilon. The TB-30 is a basic training aircraft, fully aerobatic, tandem-seat single engine with a two-blade propellor. The TB-30s are in service since 1989 when eighteen aircraft were delivered to the Portuguese Air Force. Between heavy overhauls and small maintenance procedures, we keep fourteen TB-30s available. The TB-30s are undergoing a small avionics upgrade with the MVP-50 and, therefore, will gain glass cockpits and new sensors for the engine instrumentation. While a dedicated group is working on a Mid Life Update (MLU) to extend their service life to 2030, there is also undergoing work being done to plan the retirement and replace the TB30 in the near future.

Regarding the training syllabus, the course lasts around ten months and it’s divided in three distinct phases: Elementary, Fundamental and Mission. The students start the Elementary phase in the classroom for approximately one month and when they pass their exams they start the simulator missions. We have two operational flight training simulators which have a 180-degree field of view. On these devices, the instructor pilot has a console to manage and follow the flight but is also able to interact with the student, prompting him with different weather conditions or an inflight emergency. In addition to the simulators, we are currently studying the implementation of a new training device, which incorporates virtual reality glasses into the simulation. Around 40% percent of the course is executed in the simulator, and the implementation of a solid and robust pre-flight phase, with heavy simulator dependency, allows us to work earlier on particular student difficulties, enabling them to go on their first solo flight much earlier on their training timeline. On the Fundamental Phase, there are three elements: Transition, Navigation on Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and on Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Formation. The course totals approximately 110 flight hours and 60 hours on the simulator and at this moment we have thirteen students and ten instructor pilots. When the student successfully completes the Phase 2 Flight Training, they receive their wings, and they will proceed on their follow-on-training on to fighters, transport airplanes or helicopters, on to a squadron within the Portuguese Air Force. That decision is based on students’ final classification, individual skills and overall airmanship.”

Esq552 – Zangões (Bumblebees)

Captain Luís Dias, Tactical Planning Officer: “The Portuguese Air Force was flying the Sud Aviation Alouette IIIs for many years and were searching for years for a replacement. In December 2017 the Portuguese Ministry of Defense announced the procurement of five Augusta Westland AW-119Kx Koalas for Esquadra 552 with an option for another two. The AW-119s were delivered between February 2019 and September 2020. At the end of 2019 the squadron was fully operational with the first helicopters and the Alouette IIIs were withdrawn from use in June 2020 after almost 60 years of service. The AW-119 is a single-engine helicopter with a top speed of 280 kph which makes it one of the fastest single-engine helicopter. It has a glass cockpit which integrates virtually all avionics in easy view enhancing situational awareness, fully compatible with night-vision googles (NVG), five communication radios which covers almost all frequencies, a searchlight, a rescue hoist which can hoist up to 204 kilograms and a removable emergency flotation system. The AW-119 has the ability to have a Bambi Bucket filled with 900 liters of water as underslung and carry a team up to 6 firefighters. It can also place tactical guns in both doors or attach fast rope and rappel gear for troops. Normally the AW-119 is flown by one pilot and one systems operator and is able to transport six or four fully equipped persons. It’s also possible to transport a person on a stretcher and four persons”.

“In 2018 the first two Instructor pilots started their ten-week type course and four groundcrew started their five-month course in the United States of America. When they successfully completed their course and the first AW-119s were delivered they were tasked with converting the rest of the squadron with the help of Leonardo which gave training for the remaining groundcrew. In the summer of 2019 we started with firefighting command and reconnaissance duties. In Portugal firefighting has been done by civilian companies with help from Greece, Italy and Spain while the AW-119 is monitoring the airspace and is telling which aircraft or helicopter needs to go where. A new squadron will be set up especially for firefighting and six UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters have been bought with the delivery of the first two helicopters scheduled at the end of 2023. Than we have the equipment and knowledge but no experience while the firefighting is becoming more”.

“At this moment we have five helicopters which is too less because one or two should be on maintenance, in order to regenerate flight potential and at least one should be used for maintaining the pilot’s qualifications. From May till October one or two are detached in central and one is permanently detached in north Portugal for Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. We would like to participate in many exercises to get more experience but at this moment it is difficult. We’ve participated in the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) for experiencing the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) theoretical and hopefully also practical in the future. We participate in exercises like Real Thaw and Hot Blade because they are being held here at Beja. Luckily the option for another two helicopters has been approved and they will be delivered in October 2023 which gives us more space to enhance our tasks”.

Esq601 – Lobos (Wolves)

Navigator Lieutenant Luís Xarepe: “The 601SQN was officially formed in March 1986, with the acquisition of six former-Royal Australian Air Force P-3B Orion aircraft by Portugal. On August 7 1988, the first P-3P was delivered at Air Base No. 6 (Portuguese: Base Aérea Nº 6, BA6), at Montijo, Portugal, where the squadron was based. In 2004 we realized that the onboard equipment of the P-3s no longer met the needs of the Portuguese Air Force due to new and more modern threats so the Government started a program to substitute the ageing P-3Ps. The Dutch Government were offering their P-3Cs to the German Navy and us and we purchased five P-3Cs with the expectation that all five have been modernized to the Capability Upkeep Program Plus (CUP+). Two were already modernized and the other three were modernized by Lockheed Martin between 2007 and 2012. The CUP+ variant includes modern avionics and software. The Alverca-based company OGMA is responsible for modification and deep maintenance of the P-3s. The smaller maintenance is being done here at Beja itself. In 2008 the squadron moved from Montijo to Beja Air Force base”.

“In total the squadron has performed more than 38.000 flight hours, 25.000 flight hours in the P-3P and 13.000 flight hours in the P-3C CUP+. The squadron performs Search and Rescue (SAR), Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Maritime Patrol and Anti-submarine warfare missions.For the SAR operations we have a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) which means we have one aircraft and one crew available around the clock all year. A crew consist of two pilots, one engineer and ten crew stations, each with a separate task like pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, tactical coordinator, navigator for three sensor stations, ordnance operator and the in-flight technician. The missions we’re flying can last around 9 hours and a few of the main missions are sea pollution, illegal migration, transportation of illegal substances and monitoring military activities. During the summer months we’re also responsible for the early detection of forest fires to start up the fire-fighting. We also take part in border management missions like EU Frontex, NATO Baltic Assurance Measures (BAM) and the Mediterranean Sea Guardian”.

“The P-3C CUP+ is a diverse aircraft built with 18 armament stations, eight in the bomb bay and five stations in each wing. Depending on the mission the aircraft can be loaded with up to four AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, up to six AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, up to eight Mark 46 Torpedoes, Mark 82 general purpose bombs and Mark 62 quick strike mines. The sonobuoys system can store 36 sonar devices, with three pressurized chutes and one free-fall chute inside and 48 unpressurized chutes from the outside, so in total 84 various sonobuoys can be loaded”.

Esq506 – Rinocerontes (Rhinos)

Major Miguel Pousa, Squadron Commander: “In 2019 the Portuguese Government ordered five Embraer C-390 and one simulator. The C-390 fill all the requirements we need to comply our mission and the other competitors did not fill the requirements that we expect and also the technology is incomparable when we compare it with the C-390. The first KC-390 arrived here at Beja Air Force base in October 2022 for its presentation and then returned to Brazil. In March 2023 the KC-390 arrived back at Beja to do some “NATO certifications” and in July 2023 it returned again to Brazil to finish all types of certifications that a new aircraft needs prior to delivery. The delivery of the first KC-390 to the Portuguese Air Force is set for Octobre 2023. We expect the second aircraft to arrive in March 2024 and the simulator in December 2024. In November 2021 the first crew successfully completed their qualification course at Base Aérea de Anápolis, Brazil. At the moment we have five pilots and six loadmasters who are finishing their qualification courses. We’ll be the first European squadron and the second country in the world to operate the Embraer C-390. Our tasks will be air transport, fire-fighting and aerial refueling. As you can see all our squadron buildings are brand new and will contain multiple offices, briefing rooms, preparation rooms as well as all other needed squadron facilities. In this building we also have the simulator, a Rheinmetall Defense Electronics simulator which comprises of three types of simulation: cockpit procedures, full flight motion and cargo hold station for the training of our loadmasters. Still a lot of work have to been done but we are looking forward to operate the C-390 within the Portuguese Air Force”.


Base Aérea No. 6 – Montijo

Base Aérea de Montijo was established in 1952 as the Scadura Cabral Naval Aviation Centre and was officially re-designated as Base Aérea No. 6 (BA6) on 3 March 1953. The Naval Aviation units known as ForçasAeronavals continued to operate from BA6. In early 1957 the integration of the units of Portuguese Air Force at BA6 was complete. In 2018 it was announced that BA6 would also become a civil airport, serving Lisbon, for low-cost carriers by 2022 but at the moment nothing is happening at BA6.

Base Commander Colonel Diná Azevedo: “I joined the Air Force Academy (AFA) in 1990, and after 4 years I started my pilot training on the Epsilon TB-30 aircraft. On my first operational assignment I flew the Casa C-212 Aviocar transport aircraft for several years. From 2000 until 2002 I was appointed as Flight Instructor at the AFA. In 2002 I was stationed at Geilenkirchen, Germany for 3,5 years flying the NATO Boeing E-3A Sentry (AWACS), logged 1,200 flying hours as Pilot, Pilot in Command, Instructor Pilot and Pilot Evaluator (the first NATO European woman to become an evaluator in this aircraft)”.

“The Portuguese Air Force decided to replace the Casa C-212 Aviocar by the C-295M and in 2007. At that time, I was qualified as Pilot in Command of the new C-295M, a transport and surveillance aircraft. Between 2007 and 2010, I was stationed at Seville, Spain, being the Portuguese Air Force pilot responsible for the flight testing and approval of this aircraft by the Air Force. From 2012 till 2014 I was 502 Squadron Commander here at Montijo, and afterwards I joined the Staff Headquarters in Lisbon as chief transport and helicopter adviser”.

From 2016 till 2022 I served as military advisor to the President of the Portuguese Republic and in October that year I became Montijo Air Force Base Commander, of which I’m very proud, leading more than 650 people and 32 aircraft”.

Esq751 – Pumas (Pumas)

Captain André Maia, Co-pilot: “In the 1960s Portugal was involved in wars in Africa and there was a need for a larger helicopter to transport troops and infantry and the Portuguese Air Force decided to buy twelve SA-330 Puma Helicopters. After the wars ended the Puma Helicopters were mainly used for Search and Rescue (SAR) on the mainland and also at the Azores and Madeira. In 1999 a replacement program for the SA-330s started and it took till 2003 when the contract for twelve EH101 Merlins was signed. The first delivery was in the beginning of 2005 and the last one was delivered at the end of 2006. Due to major maintenance issues the squadron had very low availability on the Merlin and the Puma’s were brought back in service again! It took till 2010 before the Merlins could take over all the tasks and the Puma’s were withdrawn from use after 40 years of active service with over 70.000 flight hours”.

“The Merlin has a clean weight of 9.600 kilograms and a maximum take-off weight of 15.600 kilograms. We have three variants of the EH101 Merlin, six have the standard configuration (Mk514) and are mostly used for Search and Rescue (SAR) and troop transportation, two are for fisheries surveillance and enforcement (Mk515) and four are for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) (Mk516). The Mk514 and MK516 have the availability of carrying an extra fuel tank to add 1.100 liters of fuel for longer missions. It’s also able to transport 25 troops fully equipped, but the more persons and or cargo less range the helicopter has. When we fly a SAR mission the crew exists of five people, two pilots, one system operator, one rescue swimmer and one flight nurse. We have the rescue litter and basket with us. The winch can carry a maximum weight of 272 kilograms and we have two stretchers inside the helicopter which we can expand to a maximum capability of 16 stretchers. This helicopter has emergency floatation systems but due to the weight on top (engines and main gearbox) it’s possible that it can capsize and for that we undergo the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET). It’s also equipped with a Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) device including color image and a capable Galileo radar. The Mk515 is fitted with a console for the surveillance operator to control illegal fishery and due to that it is unable to carry the extra fuel tank and has the shortest range of the three variants. The Mk516 is the tactical variant and equipped with an electronic warfare self-protection suite. It also has a foldable main rotor and tail to be stowed on warships. One Merlin is 24/7 on alert in Montijo airbase so we can act fast if we’re needed. We also have two SAR deployments, two Merlins are based at Lajes, Azores and one Merlin is based at Porto Santo, Madeira, both deployments also perform medical evacuations. The crews of those detachments are changed every two weeks. All the maintenance of the helicopters is been done here at Montijo in a shared effort between squadron mechanics and employees of OGMA. When the helicopters which are detached at the Azores or Madeira islands needs maintenance we switch the helicopters but to Madeira it’s four hours and to Lajes it’s five hours flying. At the moment Esq752 will be re-activated at Lajes, Azores, which was de-activated when the Puma’s were withdrawn”.

Esq502 – Elefantes (Elephants)

Captain Dionísio Matias, : “In the past our squadron was based at Base Aerea No. 1 Sintra with the Casa 212 but in 2009, with the arrival of the first Casa 295s, the squadron was moved to here, Base Aerea No. 6 Montijo. We have a total of twelve Casa 295Ms in four variants; tactical transport, maritime patrol, medical evacuation and Search and Rescue (SAR).All the Casa 295Ms are based here but we have detachments at Montijo, Lajes (Azores) and Porto Santo (Madeira). Each has one aircraft on a 24/7 duty for Search and Rescue (SAR), Medical Evacuation or donor transport. Other tasks of the squadron are Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR),transporting paratroops and air cargo. We can carry up to 48 paratroopers fully equipped and up to 69soldiers not fully equipped. The Casa 295Mcan also carry out the same missions of the C-130s and burns less fuel and has a shorter crew making it a lot cheaper to operate than the C-130”.

“At this moment one Casa 295M Maritime Patrol aircraft is at Malaga, Spain for Frontex which is the European Union’s border control agency and we are monitoring the flow of illegal migration and smuggling from Africa to Europe. In the past we participated multiple times in Frontex but also in the United Nations (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) in Mali. We also participate in the European Tactical Airlift Program – Training (ETAP-T) course to work with other countries and learn from them to increase our knowledge. For the maintenance the A and B checks are done here at Montijo but the C checks are being done by Airbus Defense and Space, Spain. We still don’t know when but probably the Casa 295s will get an Mid-Life Update (MLU) by Airbus Defense and Space, Spain in the future. It is great to work with the Casa 295 so we are very happy with it and it is a perfect aircraft for the Portuguese Air Force because it’s very versatile”.

Esq501 – Bisontes (Bisons)

Lieutenant Eurialo Viana, : “The C-130 entered service in 1977 and a total of six aircraft were delivered to the Portuguese Air Force until 1991. Unfortunately, one of these aircraft was lost, and another is currently non-operational, resulting in a fleet of four currently active C-130s. Out of these, two are currently undergoing modernization at OGMA, Alverca. These enhancements are designed to extend their serviceability until 2028, at which point the C-130H is anticipated to be phased out.

This modernization, encompasses structural changes and a significant modification to the aircraft’s avionics systems, integrating a highly substantial set of new equipment, navigation systems, and communication systems. In preparation for the future, the Portuguese Air Force has made an investment in the KC-390, which is scheduled to join the Air Force in the upcoming years as a replacement for the C-130H. The transition to the new platform is already underway, with some crews undergoing training and conversion. The 501 Squadron has been doing a variety of different operations, missions and treaties around the globe, including search and rescue, tactical airlift, humanitarian aid, and special transport like Open Skies, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Blue Beam, Operation Turquoise, IFOR, SFOR, KFOR, UNTAET, ISAF, EUFOR BiH, UNHCR, UN WFP Lebanon, EUFOR Congo, EUFOR Chad, ISAF/ESAF, Haiti and multiple times MINUSMA. We also took part in Tactical Airlift exercises like Volant Rodeo, Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Course (AATTC), Polygone, NATO Tiger Meet, Hot Blade, ETAP-C, ETAP-T, Lusitano and Loyal Arrow and also in Search and Rescue exercise like ASAREX. In the past we’ve been detached to Zaire, Rwanda, Australia (East Timor), Mozambique, Afghanistan, Gabon (Congo), Chad, Mali and Pakistan. As the primary transport asset of the Portuguese Air Force, the 501 Squadron remains prepared to respond to a wide array of challenges, reaffirming its motto: “Anytime, Anywhere”.



Base Aerea No. 5 – Monte Real

Base Aérea de Monte Real officially designated as Base Aérea No. 5 (BA5) was established in October 1959. Since its opening the base has been home of the Portuguese jet fighter aircraft like the North American F-86F Sabre , Fiat G.91, Lockheed T-33, Northrop T-38, LTV A-7 Corsair II and currently the General Dynamics F-16. On 28 June 1984, during a meeting of the NATO Commission of Infrastructures in Brussels, Monte Real was formally accepted as NATO infrastructure.

Esq201 – Falcões (Falcons) and Esq301 – Jaguares (Jaguars)

Sergeant Henrique Carvalho, Crew chief: “In August 1990 the Portuguese Air Force signed the Peace Atlantis I program which consists of the delivery of twenty F-16 Block 15s, of which seventeen single-seat F-16As and three double-seat F-16Bs, and also engines, spare parts, support equipment, logistic support, instructions for pilots and maintenance personnel and participation in the F-16 Technical Coordination Group. This was partly a payment for the use of Lajes Air Base on the Azores by the United States of America. The first four aircraft arrived in February 1994”.

“In November 1998 the Portuguese Air Force signed the Peace Atlantis II program which consists of the delivery of twenty-five F-16 block 15s, of which twenty-one single-seat F-16As and four double-seat F-16Bs, to replace the ageing A-7 Corsair. Only twenty aircraft will be used to form an attack squadron, the other five will be used as spare sources. The first aircraft already arrived in 1999. After arrival the aircraft needed to be modified and got a Mid-Life Update (MLU) which was completed in 2003. Unfortunately we lost two aircraft by crashes and a total of seventeen F-16s have been sold to Romania, of which fourteen F-16AMs and three F-16BMs between 2019 and 2023. So at the moment we still have twenty-one F-16AMs and four F-16BMs operational. The first Romanian crew chiefs came to here and we trained them and later on we went to Romania to train more crew chiefs and also to help them with problems”.

“We have the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) task 24/7 and 365 days a year, so at every moment we are able to take-off with armed F-16s if it’s needed, we have a total of four F-16s on QRA. Our F-16s are not only based here at Monte Real but we also have deployments during the year at Lajes, Azores and at Porto Santo, Madeira. At the moment four F-16s are based at Siauliai, Lithuania for Baltic Air Policing (BAP). With this deployment ten pilots and nine crew chiefs are involved. It’s the fifth time that we participate in the BAP, before were in 2007, 2014, 2016 and 2018. We also participated the Islandic Air Policing mission once, in 2012. Every year the Portuguese Air Force hosts the international exercise Real Thaw at Beja Air Base in which we participate with many F-16s and during that exercise we work closely with other Air Forces to learn from each other and to understand each other better. In 1979 we joined the NATO Tiger Association and we participated and hosted the NATO Tiger meet many times”.

Phase Inspection Maintenance Team

Every 300 flight hours, the F16 aircraft has to go thru a comprehensive inspection required by the manufacturer, so it can be considered airworthy and return to operational status. This Inspection is known as the Phase Inspection. Currently the Portuguese Air Force (PRTAF) implemented a 4 Cell process, with each Cell lasting 15 days, totalizing 60 days and 420 hours to comply with. CELL 1, 2 and 3 are focused on removing, cleaning, inspecting, preliminary testing and re-installation off components from the various aircraft Systems. CELL 4 is focused on operational checkouts off all the systems required by applicable Technical Order (TO) or Job Guide (JG).
Although an actual Phase Inspection does not require so long to accomplish, this process introduced a Buffer on each Cell, that enables, when necessary, to perform some extra tasks as Time Compliance Technical Orders, malfunction trouble shooting, Aircraft Structural Integrity Program inspections and minor structural repairs. The Phase Inspection process relies on a group off technicians, specialized on the aircrafts various systems and areas of maintenance such as Documentation, Crew Chiefs, Fuel and Hydrazine, Structural repair and corrosion control, Hydraulics and Environmental Control Systems, Electrical systems, Avionics, Non-Destructive Inspections, Egress, Engine, Loaders and Cryogenics. The assistance of Ground Support personnel and equipment is also fundamental to this process, requiring the right gear in the right place at the right time. The supply area provides the Phase inspection Kit with mandatory replacement parts and all the components found inoperative, to be replaced. Finally, a qualified test Pilot carries out the Functional Test Flight once the aircraft has completed all the required inspections, validating that all systems are operating properly, allowing therefore the F16 to return to service. The successful accomplishment of this mission is only possible due to the exceptional commitment, competence, thorough planning, supervision and coordination of all involved.



Base Aerea No. 1 – Sintra

Base Aérea de Sintra officially designated as Base Aérea No. 1 (BA1) was established in October 1939. Since its creation is has been home to the main training and instruction of the Portuguese Air Force’s pilots and technicians. Types that have been based at Sintra are de Haviland Tiger Moth, North American T-6 Texan and the Cessna T-37 Tweet. Between 1939 and the late 1940s also ground attack and bomber units equipped with Junkers Ju-52s were based at Sintra. The base later became home to the Basic Flight Training Group which consisted of two Training Squadrons. From 1966 till 2009 the base was also home to transport, liaison and maritime patrol squadrons. Between 1989 and 1993 Esq101, equipped with the Aerospatiale Epsilon TB-30, was based at Sintra and transferred to Beja. Also the Air Force museum is based at Sintra.

Esq802 – Aguias (Eagles)

Major Luis Bernardino, Squadron Commander: “I started my career in 2003 when I came here as a cadet at the academy. After my graduation in 2008 on the TB-30 Epsilon I became an Alpha Jet pilot. I flew the Alpha Jet till 2010 and then I became an instructor on the TB-30 Epsilon. After ten years I transferred in 2020 to here and became instructor on the DHC-1 Chipmunk”.

“The training of new pilots started in 1951 with a total of 66 DHC-1 Chipmunks but with the arrival of TB-30 Epsilon in 1989 a lot of the Chipmunks were sold and at the moment we only have six Chipmunks in active duty. One Chipmunk received a special color scheme in 2021 to mark the 70 years anniversary of active flying with the Chipmunk within the Portuguese Air Force. At the moment we are the last Air Force that’s flying the Chipmunk in the whole world and as a matter of fact the Chipmunk is even older than the Portuguese Air Force itself”!

“In 1989 the Chipmunks received an upgrade from Mk.10 to Mk.20 and this upgrade gave them more powerful engines. All maintenance on the Chipmunks has been done here at Sintra. We fly around ten sorties a day. However, during the summer, we fly next to twenty sorties each day, due to the Selection Training for the future Academy ́s cadets. During the Academy ́s course, the Student Pilots fly an elementary phase which includes Contact flight (Take-off, landing, aerobatics and basic flight), Visual Navigation and 2 Ship Formation. After the academy, the student goes to the Basic Pilot Training, flying the TB-30 Epsilon, where they become graduated”.

“Next to the Chipmunks, in parallel, we also fly Ask-21 gliders to teach the students the basic aerodynamics. The training includes take-off, landing, some aerobatic maneuvers and thermal flight”.

Major-General Rui Freitas, Commander Academia: “I entered the academy in 1983 here at Sintra and I graduated in 1987. Then I went to Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America for pilot training for 1,5 years. After that I became an instructor on the T-37s from 102 squadron for pilot training. Two years later I returned to the United States of America to join the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program (ENJJPT) at Sheppard Air Force Base for 3,5 years. Then I went back to Sintra to open the course for the Alpha Jets of 301 Squadron at Beja. When the course was running I became Operations Officer and Squadron Commander of 101 Squadron at Beja, flying the TB-30 Epsilon. In total I have around 3.000 flying hours, mainly on the T-37 as an instructor. The Portuguese Air Force is working together with the Angolan Air force and for six months I was training them to learn to fly on the Cessna C-172. At the moment there are still two programs running in Angola and possibly there will be a co-operation with Brazil. After that I became Chief Operational Command in Lisbon followed by the advisor of the Air Force and then I went to the NATO Headquarters as a delegate of the Portuguese Air Force. Than I was part of the Staff of the Air Force and after that I became Commander of Base Aerea No. 1 Sintra. Soon I will receive my third star and my future within the Air Force is unknown at the moment”.

“At the moment there is a registered procurement law to replace the ageing Chipmunks. Students fly but not enough, it’s a pre-start for the training but we want to improve it. Every course exists around twelve students. After six months the students which are not capable for flying will leave the academy, with new aircraft this could be seen earlier and the syllabus could be changed. The Chipmunk is very limited for flying with bad weather and cross winds. If you like the Chipmunk you like flying! The students feel it very quick, the Chipmunk is perfect for this. In the air it’s a nice plane to fly but it is much harder to land than other aircraft. The Chipmunk has a three point landing so you have to switch hands to use the flaps during landing. When you are taxiing the Chipmunk you have to make left to right turns to see where you are going because you are lying back in the plane. All those little things give us a good look for the potential of the student”.

By the time this article was made Major-General Rui Freitas became Lieutenant-General and he is no longer the commander of the Academy and it’s unknown to us what his function within the Portuguese Air Force is at the moment.



The authors of Lowpass would like to thank all the involved personnel of the Portuguese Air Force for their hospitality, time and help during our visits at Beja, Montijo, Monte Real and Sintra. In particular we would like to thank 2nd Lieutenant Joanna Barroca for being our guide during al these days, muito obrigado!


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