Harman Patil (Editor)

Portuguese Air Force

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Air Force

Date founded
1 July 1952

Portuguese Air Force httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

Aerial warfare, search and rescue and air policing

6599 personnel (15% women) 103 aircraft

Part of
Portuguese Armed Forces

General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon

Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, Socata TB 30 Epsilon, Aérospatiale Alouette III

Lockheed C-130 Hercules, EADS CASA C-295

Portuguese Army, Portuguese Armed Forces, Portuguese Navy, Brazilian Air Force, National Republican Guard

The Portuguese Air Force (Portuguese: Força Aérea Portuguesa) is the aerial warfare force of Portugal. Locally, it is referred to by the acronym FAP, but internationally is often referred to by the acronym PoAF. It is the youngest of the three branches of the Portuguese Armed Forces.


The Portuguese Air Force was formed on July 1, 1952, when the former Aeronáutica Militar (Army Aviation) and Aviação Naval (Naval Aviation) were united and formed an independent air branch of the Armed Forces.

However, the remote origins of the FAP go back to the early 20th century, with the establishment of the first military air unit in 1911, of the Military Aeronautics School in 1914, of the participation of Portuguese pilots in the World War I and of establishment of the Army and Navy aviation services.

The FAP is commanded by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CEMFA), a subordinate of the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the operational matters and a direct subordinate of the Minister of National Defense for all other matters. The CEMFA is the only officer in the Air Force with the rank of general (four-star rank).

Presently, the FAP is an entirely professional force made of career personnel (officers and NCOs) and of volunteer personnel (officers, NCOs and enlisted ranks). As 2015, the FAP employed a total of 5957 military personnel, of which 1677 were officers, 2511 were NCOs and 1769 were other enlisted ranks. The Air Force further included 842 civilian employees.

Besides its warfare role, the FAP has also public service roles, namely assuring the Portuguese Air Search and Rescue Service. Until 2014, the FAP also integrated the National Aeronautical Authority (AAN). The AAN is now a separate body, but continues to be headed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, with the Air Force assuring most of its activities, namely the air policing service.

Its aerobatic display teams are the Asas de Portugal jet aircraft display team and the Rotores de Portugal helicopter display team.


The remote origins of the Portuguese Air Force lay in the origins of the Portuguese military aeronautics.

Portugal was directly linked with the history of the aeronautics since its early beginnings. In 1709, the Portuguese priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão requested a patent for a device to move through the air, which consisted in a kind of hot air balloon. The patent was granted on the 19 April 1709 and small scale models of this device were tested with success in several occasions, including before the court of King John V of Portugal. Accordingly, with some opinions, a real scale device would have performed a crewed flight over Lisbon, taking off from the São Jorge Castle and landing in the Cotovia Hill. This may have been the first manned flight in history.

The history of the Portuguese military aviation proper is deeply connected with the foundation of the Air Club of Portugal (AeCP) on the 11 December 1909, by 30 aviation enthusiasts, the majority of them being Army officers. The AeCP becomes one of the major boosters of the development of the aviation in Portugal in the early 20th century, including of its military use. The AeCP sponsors Abeillard Gomes da Silva in the design and building of the first Portuguese airplane, financed by the War Ministry and tested at the Army School of Engineering, Tancos on the 13 January 1910.

Despite the previous use of balloons by the Portuguese Army, its first air unit was only created in 1911, in the scope of the military re-organization that occurred that year. This unit was the Aerostation Company (Companhia de Aerosteiros), which was part of the Army Telegraphic Service and was intended to operate observation aerostats. This unit would later receive a handful of airplanes.

In 1912, the Portuguese Government receives its first airplane, a Deperdussin B, offered by the Portuguese-born Colonel Albino Costa of the Brazilian Army. The Government further receives a Maurice Farman MF4 offered by the O Comércio do Porto newspaper and an Avro 500 offered by the Portuguese Republican Party. These aircraft would be integrated in the Aerostation Company, but remained years without use because of the inexistence of pilots.

Still in 1912, midshipman Miguel Freitas Homem of the naval purser branch applied for admission to any course that would qualify him as an aviator. He was so the first so the first member of the Portuguese Military to formally request to be an aircraft pilot.

In the same year, by request of the AeCP, the legislator António José de Almeida presents a bill to the Portuguese Parliament for the creation of a Military Aviation Institute. Despite the non approval of the bill, the War Ministry appoints a ad-hoc commission, made up of officers of the Army and Navy (including some members of the AeCP), intended to study the basis for the creation of aviation, balloon and airship schools. By the Army Order of 12 February 1913, this becomes the permanent Military Aeronautics Commission, attached to the Army Telegraphic Service.

Finally, the Parliament issues the Law 162 of 14 May 1914, which creates the Military Aeronautics School (EMA, Escola Militar de Aeronáutica), including aviation and aerostation services. The EMA would include a Staff, aeronautical troops (including the Aerostation Company and a Navy Section) and technical and support staff. The Law foresees the existence of a Military Aeronautical Service from whom the EMA would be dependent. However, while the Aeronautical Service was still not organized, the EMA would be under the inspection of the chairman of the Military Aeronautics Commission. After the formal creation of the EMA, the next steps were to implement it. One of the first steps was to train aviators to serve as the future instructors, with 11 officers being selected for that (nine from the Army and two from the Navy) and sent to several US, French and British aviation schools, where they were certified as aircraft pilots. Other important step was the building of the facilities for the EMA. The study of the Military Aeronautics Commission pointed to Alverca as the best option to install the school, with Vila Nova da Rainha (a village of the Azambuja Municipality) as the second best option. Both places obeyed to the requests of being located in flat grounds (allowing the installation of airfield and hangars), in the riverside (allowing the operation of seaplanes) and near the railway (facilitating the communications). Due to budget restraints, the second option was chosen, with the construction of the EMA installations starting at Vila Nova da Rainha on the 15 April 1915.

On the 17 July 1916, lieutenant Santos Leite performs the first Portuguese military airplane flight, in the Deperdussin B that had been offered in 1912. EMA and its first course was opened on October of the same year, with naval lieutenant aviator Sacadura Cabral as the chief of the pilots and with Major aeronautical engineer Ribeiro de Almeida as the chief of mechanics. The first students start to flight in November, with Army lieutenant Sarmento de Beires being the first one.

During World War I, an air unit was planned as part of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps fighting in the Western Front, but was it activation was canceled due to the refusal from the British Government to provide the needed aircraft. With this cancelation, several of the Portuguese airmen that were to integrate that air unit, instead volunteered to fly in French aviation units, where they had the baptism by fire of the Portuguese military aviation. Serving in French squadron SPA 65, in November 1917, captain Óscar Monteiro Torres became the first Portuguese pilot to be killed in an air combat, when his SPAD S.VII was shot down, after himself having shot down two German planes.

In Mozambique, in the operations against German Eastern Africa, from September 1917, the Portuguese forces included a small flight of Farman F.40 airplanes, this being one of the earliest employments of military aircraft in Africa. In 1918, a flight of Caudron G.4 is also deployed to Angola to support the Portuguese forces engaged in the South-West Africa campaign, but arrive already after the end of the conflict. This flight however gives origin to a permanent air unit based in Angola.

The Portuguese Navy started to have its own aviation service on the 28 September 1917, although by that time it already had flying activities performed by the Navy Section of the EMA.

The Army's Military Aeronautical Service is also finally fully organized on the 29 June 1918, in the scope of which the EMA is to be subdivided in separate aviation and aerostation schools and the first Portuguese aircraft factory is established.

The Military Aeronautics

By the Decree 4529 of 29 June 1918, the Portuguese Army's Military Aeronautical Service (Serviço Aeronáutico Militar) - already foreseen when the creation of the Military Aeronautics School in 1914 - is organized. It included the Directorate of Military Aeronautics, the Military Aeronautics Technical Commission, the Military School of Aviation, the Military School of Aerostatics, the aeronautical troops and the Aeronautical Materiel Park (PMA). The Directorate of Military Aeronautics was headed by a senior officer (pilot aviator, aerostat pilot or aeronautical engineer), who directly reported to the War Minister. The aeronautical troops would include aviation and aerostatics units, including the already existing Aerostatics Company and the newly created Composite Aviation Depot Flight (EMAD). The EMAD was responsible to train pilots and observers and to prepare the creation of future air units, being initially installed at Alverca and then transferred to Tancos, where an airfield was built to serve as its base. The PMA, installed at Alverca, was the precursor of the still existing OGMA aviation industry.

By the initiative of the local colonial authorities, the Caudron G.4 expeditionary flight that had been deployed to Angola due to the World War I, becomes a permanent air unit of the colony in 1918, as the Initial Colonial Flight, based at Huambo. This unit would be increased in 1921, with the reception of Caudron G.3 reconnaissance and Breguet 14 bomber airplanes, becoming the Angola Group of Aviation Flights (GEAA), which existed until being disbanded in 1924.

On the 7 February 1919, the Group of Aviation Flights "República" (GEAR) is created. This was the first permanent operational aviation unit in the Portuguese Mainland, including a combat flight - equipped with SPAD S.VII fighters - and a bombardment and observation flight - equipped with Breguet 14 bombers. It is installed at Amadora, for which an airfield is built.

In 1920, the Military School of Aviation was transferred from Vila Nova da Rainha to Granja do Marquês (Sintra Municipality), the site of what would become the still existing Sintra Air Base.

The Decree 9749 of 30 May 1924, defining that the director of the Military Aeronautics could be a colonel of any arm of the Army (and not necessarily an officer aviator) cause revolt among the aviators, culminating in the uprising of the GEAR. The uprising is neutralized by other military units, with the officers aviators being arrested. These incidents lead to the temporary disbandment of the Military Aeronautical Service by the Decree 9801 of 15 July 1924.

By the Decree 10094 of 19 September 1924, the Military Aeronautics (AM) is reorganized, becoming a full arm of service of the Army, with the same status as the cavalry, artillery, engineering and infantry arms. The military aeronautics arm included the Inspectorate General of the Military Aeronautics, the AM Technical Commission, the aviation and aerostatics troops, the aeronautics schools and courses, the AM establishments and the AM services. The inspector general of the AM would preferable be a general or a colonel with all the conditions to be promoted to general, graduate in one of the aeronautics course, that would assume the role of the aeronautics commandant general in the headquarters of the field army. The tactical aviation unit continued be the flight (esquadrilha), each including seven pilots and respective aircraft, headed by a captain. Several flights could be grouped to form groups of aviation flights, each headed by a senior officer. The troops of the arm were defined at that time as being a fighter flight, a bombardment flight, an observation flight, a training and depot aviation flight and an observation aerostatics company. The aeronautics schools and courses would be the Military Aeronautics School (including an aerostatics section) and the mechanics and specialists courses functioning at the PMA. The Military Aeronautics School would only be activated in 1928, by the transformation of the Military Aviation School and the disbandment of the Military Aerostatics School. The AM establishments were the PMA and the Aeronautical Material Storage. The AM included the meteorological, the communications and liaison and the photo-topographical services.

In 1924, the fighters of the GEAR are transferred to the EMAD at Tancos, which becomes the No 1 Fighter Flight in 1926 and then the Independent Group of Protection and Combat Aviation (GIAPC) in 1927. In 1927, the GEAR is disbanded and gives origin to two separate units, the Information Aviation Group (GAI) and the Independent Bombardment Aviation Group (GIAB), this being transferred to Alverca.

By the Decree 11279 of 26 April 1926, the Military Aeronautics School is again divided in separate aviation and aerostation schools. With this reorganization, the Military Aviation School starts to include training programs for non-officers military pilots and for civil pilots. It becomes so the first civil aviation school in Portugal. In 1925, Carlos Bleck would graduate from this School, becoming the first civil pilot to receive its brevet in Portugal. In 1928, Maria de Lourdes Sá Teixeira would also graduate in the Military Aviation School, becoming the first Portuguese woman pilot.

During this period, the Portuguese Military Aeronautics aviators enter in the History of Aviation by performing a number of pioneer flights. Among these are the first flight to Macau performed by Brito Pais, Sarmento Beires and Manuel Gouveia in 1924, the first night-time flight across the Atlantic performed by Sarmento de Beires, Jorge de Castilho and Manuel Gouveia in 1927, the first flight to Goa, Portuguese India performed by Moreira Cardoso and Sarmento Pimentel in 1930, the first flight to Portuguese Guinea and Angola, performed by Carlos Bleck and Humberto da Cruz in 1931 and the first flight to Portuguese Timor performed by Humberto da Cruz and António Lobato in 1934.

In 1935, the AM performs the air cruise to the colonies, projecting a significant air force to Angola and to Mozambique to mark the Portuguese military presence in Africa. Taking off from the Amadora airfield, this air cruise included a Junkers W 34 transport aircraft and eight Vickers Valparaiso light bombers, with 12 pilots and seven aircraft mechanics, commanded by colonel aviator Cifka Duarte.

The new organization of the Portuguese Army of 2 August 1926, established by the Decree 12017, defined that the superior technical body of each arm became a directorate of the arm. So the Directorate of the Aeronautics Arm was established, being headed by a general. This Directorate continued to have only a mere technical authority over the AM units and other establishments, which continued to be under the command of the territorial Army commands of the area where they were based. By this new organization the PMA was transformed in the Aeronautics Materiel General Workshops (OGMA, Oficinas Gerais de Material Aeronáutico).

In the scope of the readjustment of the Army units and size established by the Decree-Law 28401 of 31 December 1937, the Military Aeronautics underwent a major reorganization. The AM would now include the Command General of the Aeronautics (with the Antiaircraft Land Defense Command attached to it), air bases, field bases, information aviation flights, fighter aviation flights, bombardment aviation flights (the flights could be independent or grouped), the Aerostatics Company (usually attached to the artillery arm), the Practical School of the arm, the Aviation Materiel Storage, the Aerostatics Materiel Storage (attached to the Aerostatics Company) and a personnel mobilization depot (attached to the Command General). The creation of the Command General of the Aeronautics - headed by an AM brigadier or general who reported directly to the Minister of War - was one of the major features of this reorganization. Unlike, the previous superior bodies of the AM that only had technical authority over the units of the arm, the Command General now had full command over all the air forces and other bodies of the AM. This meant that the AM started to have a chain of command separated from the rest of the Army, gaining so a high degree of autonomy and coming to be considered an almost independent branch. Another feature of this reorganization was the structuring of the AM in air bases, with the creation of the Sintra, Ota and Tancos air bases, as well as the Lisbon Field Base. The Practical School of Aeronautics was attached to the Sintra Air Base.

By this organization, each fighter flight (esquadrilha de caça) would have 15 pilots (6 officers, 6 NCOs and 4 corporals) and respective aircraft, while each bombardment flight (esquadrilha de bombardeamento) would have 10 pilots (5 officers, 3 NCOs and 2 corporals) and five bombers. Besides the pilots, each flight would also include around other 70 members, including mechanics, radio-telegraphists and service support personnel. The Sintra Air Base included the Practical School of Aeronautics, with a School Group mainly equipped with Avro 626 and de Havilland Tiger Moth. Later, Sintra Air Base would also include an independent assault aviation flight equipped with Breda Ba.65 ground-attack aircraft. The Ota Air Base - inaugurated in 1940 and until then temporarily installed in Alverca - succeeded to the then disbanded GIAB and come to include a night bombardment group with Junkers Ju 52 bombers, a day bombardment group with Junkers Ju 86 bombers and a fighter flight with Gloster Gladiator fighters. The Tancos Air Base succeeded to the GIAPC and was intended to be a fighter and observation aviation unit. The Lisbon Field Base was planned to function in the facilities of the Lisbon Airport - at that time under construction, being inaugurated in 1942 - and to station a fighter flight. The growing of the Lisbon suburban area ended to limit the use of the Amadora airfield, with it being deactivated and the GAI disbanded. After the inauguration of Ota, Alverca ceased to be an operational air base, becoming a logistical air field dependent from the Aviation Materiel Storage, supporting this body and also the OGMA. From 1940, the air bases became numbered as they are still today, with Sintra, Ota and Tancos, becoming respectively the No 1, No 2 and No 3 air bases.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a number of Portuguese pilots and airmen served in the Nationalist Aviation. During this conflict, the Portuguese Government sent a Military Observation Mission to Spain intended to merely observe the new tactics and new weapon systems that were being employed, including the use of aviation and antiaircraft defenses. Some members of the Mission, including some officers aviators, however ended by actively engaging in military operations. Besides these, other AM personnel volunteered as "Viriatos", these being mainly NCOs aviators that served as officers in nationalists aviation units.

By the Decree 29155 of 19 November 1938, the course of military aeronautics is created in the Army School (military academy). Until then, the future officers aviators had to graduate in the course of one of the other arms and only then be transferred to the AM.

Portugal was not directly involved in World War II, but had to defend its neutrality. The War caught the AM in the beginning of a modernization plan that could not proceed due to the start of the conflict, meaning that it largely lacked modern aircraft. One of the major Portuguese military priorities became the deterrence of a possible invasion of the strategic Azores Islands, which were coveted both by the Axis and by the Allies, with both having plans to invade them. Adolf Hitler wanted to used the Azores as the base for the Amerika Bomber, with their seizure being included in the German planned operations Felix, Ilona and Isabella. The Allies wanted to use the Azores as an air and naval base to control the North Atlantic in the scope of the Battle of the Atlantic, having plans to invade them if the Portuguese Government refused to cede its use. This invasion was part of the planned British operations Alloy, Shrapnell, Brisk, Thruster, Springboard and Lifebelt and of the US Operation Grey. Faced with the imminent danger, the Portuguese authorities decide to reinforce the Azores garrison, sending to there a great part of the available Army forces and most of the AM combat aircraft, including all its fighters. In June 1941, two expeditionary fighter flights - each with 15 Gloster Gladiators- are organized and deployed, as well as five Ju 52 bombers. One of the fighter flights and the bombers became based at Santana airfield (Rabo de Peixe), São Miguel Island and the other fighter flight became based at Achada airfield, Terceira Island (sooner transferred to the newly built Lajes airfield). In October 1941, the AM receives Curtiss 75 Mohawk fighters, with 12 forming a third expeditionary fighter flight to the Azores, being stationed at Rabo de Peixe. In 1942, the Rabo de Peixe and the Lajes airfields became, respectively, the No 4 and No 5 air bases.

The sending of all the few available AM fighters to the Azores meant that Mainland Portugal remained without air defense. This issue will be gradually solved from 1943, thanks to the good relations of the Portuguese authorities with the Allies and the grant of air facilities at Lajes for the operation of anti-submarine aircraft. The AM starts then to receive modern fighters including Bell P-39 Airacobra, Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire and Bristol Blenheim bombers (which replaced the Junkers Ju 86). The fighter and bomber flights that are formed with them are identified by a two-letter code that is painted on the fuselages. By the end of the World War II, the AM included the BA1, Sintra as a training unit, the BA2, Tancos with fighter flights MR (Spitfire), RL (Spitfire), XZ (Spitfire) and OK (Airacobra) and with bomber flight ZE (Blenheim), the BA3, Ota with Information and Reconnaissance Group (Westland Lysander) and Fighter Flight GL (Hurricane), BA4, Rabo de Peixe, with expeditionary fighter flights No 1 (Gloster Gladiator) and No 2 (Mohawk) and with the Ju 52 flight (used mainly in the air transport between Azores islands), BA5, Lajes with Expeditionary Fighter Flight No 2 (Gloster Gladiator), Lisbon Field with Fighter Flight VX (Hurricane) and Transport Aircraft Section (Consolidated B-24 Liberator, Lockheed Hudson and Douglas C-47) and Espinho airfield with Fighter Flight RV (Hurricane). The Lajes Air Base largely contributed for the Allied victory in Europe, first in its use by the British Royal Air Force in the elimination of the German submarine threat in the North Atlantic and then in its use by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in the air connection between the USA and Europe and North Africa, enable it to reduce the time of flight and largely increase the number of logistic flights that were able to supply the troops fighting the Axis.

Already after the War, by the Ordinance 12194 of 19 December 1947, the AM suffers its last major re-adjustment of its units still under the Army tutelage. As part of this, the BA4 (Santana Air Base) was disbanded, with its aeronautical facilities being transferred to the Ministry of Communications to become the civil airport of São Miguel Island. With this disbandment, Lajes was re-designated "No 4 Air Base (BA4)". By this time, Lajes was already one of the major air bases of the AM, including the longest runway in the world and well developed support facilities that included a seaport and a military hospital. From 1945, it was open to the civil air traffic, serving so as the civil airport of the Terceira island. The AM activities carried way from Lajes become increasingly focused in the maritime search and rescue operations, using Boeing SB-17 Flying Fortress and Douglas C-54 Skymaster aircraft. Since 1944, its main user had become however not the Portuguese aviation, but the USAAF. Besides its importance for the Allied victory in World War II, Lajes would continue to be strategically crucial for the US Military in future conflicts, especially in the Cold War, Berlin airlift, Yom Kippur War and Gulf War. In the scope of the re-organization of 1947, the Monte Real airfield (future Monte Real Air Base) - at that time was under construction - became dependent from the BA1, Sintra.

Portugal joined NATO in 1949 as one of its founders. With this joining, the AM increasingly comes under the influence of the US air forces, adopting many of its standards.

Since its early beginnings, the AM constantly evolved towards an increasing autonomy, with an implicit aim to become an independent branch of service. Important mile stones in that journey had been the granting of the status of arm to the AM in 1924 and its operational autonomy regarding the rest of the Army achieved in 1937. By this time, there was a unanimous opinion that the conditions for the AM to completely separate from the Army and to become an independent branch of the Armed Forces have been obtained. Finally, on the 1 July 1952, the AM was established as an independent branch, at the same time controversially integrating the much smaller naval aviation. This branch kept initially the designation of "Military Aeronautics", but from the 28 December 1956 it became officially designated "Air Force".

The Naval Aviation

The Portuguese Navy aviation activities started with the establishment of the Military School of Aeronautics (EMA). Two naval officers (executive branch lieutenant Artur de Sacadura Cabral and purser branch midshipman António Joaquim Caseiro) were part of the group of the eleven first Portuguese military aviation pilots, with the first one becoming the first chief of the pilot instructors of the EMA. The EMA included a Navy Section, which receives the first aircraft of the Portuguese Navy (two FBA Type B flying boats) in January 1917. These aircraft started flying activities in March of the same year.

By the Decree 3395 of 28 September 1917, the Navy's Aviation Service (Serviço de Aviação da Armada) is created, being foreseen that it would include an attached aviation school. A naval air station is installed at the Bom Sucesso dock, near the Belém Tower in Lisbon, to where the flying boats from the EMA's Navy Section are transferred. From Bom Sucesso, the flying boats start the performance of anti-submarine patrols off the Lisbon harbor, in the scope of the World War I.

In the late 1917, the Portuguese and French governments agree in the installation of four naval air stations in the coast of Portugal, three for the operation of flying boats and one for the operation of airships. As part of this agreement, the French Navy builds a flying boat base at the São Jacinto Peninsula, near Aveiro, while the Portuguese Navy starts the construction of another base at the Culatra Island in the Algarve, besides the already existing base at the Bom Sucesso Dock. The airship base, that would be operated by the French Navy was never installed. The Portuguese Navy installs also a naval air station at Horta, Azores and the Portuguese Government authorizes the United States Navy to install another naval air station at Ponta Delgada.

The decree that created the Navy's Aviation Service in 1917 is repealed by the Decree 3743 of 5 January 1918. By this new decree, the Navy's Aviation Service becomes the Naval Aeronautics Services (Serviços de Aeronáutica Naval). Besides aviation, the Naval Aeronautics (AN) is foreseen to perform also aerostation activities, which however would never been implemented. The AN is regulated by the Decree 3815 of 2 February 1918 and includes the Directory of the Naval Aeronautics Services, the Technical Council of the Naval Aeronautics and the naval air stations (including aviation and aerostation stations). The director of the Naval Aeronautics Services would be a senior naval officer (while no senior officer specialized in aeronautics existed), reporting directly to the Major-General of the Navy (Navy commander).

On the 23 August 1918, a Tellier T.3 flying boat of the AN - that was chasing an enemy submarine spotted from Roca Cape - was lost at the sea with the death of its crew.

At the end of World War I, the AN was operating 18 flying boats (FBA type B, Donnet-Denhaut D.D.8 and Tellier T.3), mainly from the Bom Sucesso Naval Air Station. With the end of the conflict, the São Jacinto and the Ponta Delgada air stations were transferred to the Portuguese Navy, together with some of its materiel, including ex-French Donnet-Denhaut D.D.8 and Georges Levy G.L.40 flying boats.

The Algarve Naval Air Station at Culatra Island has never become fully operational, being deactivated and its facilities used to support the naval firing range located in the area. Despite the intention of the Portuguese Government to increase the importance of Azores Naval Air Station at Ponta Delgada, including the acquisition of Curtiss HS flying boats to equip it, it would end to be deactivated in 1921.

The AN had an active participation in the civil conflict resulted from the restoration of the Monarchy in the Northern part of Portugal in January 1919. The AN is ordered by the Government of the Republic to attack the Monarchic positions in the Monsanto hills in Lisbon with seaplanes from Bom Sucesso, an order not obeyed by the naval aviators, who refused to cause casualties among other Portuguese. In the North of the country, AN would bomb and disable a section of the Porto-Lisbon railway near Espinho, in order to cut the supplies of the Monarchic forces that were advancing to the South. This was the first aerial bombing performed by the Portuguese military aviation.

During the 1920s, the AN took its share of pioneer flights, mainly by the initiative of Sacadura Cabral. On the 22 March 1921, a Felixtowe F.3 flying boat - crewed by the naval aviators Sacadura Cabral and Ortins de Bettencourt, naval officer Gago Coutinho and aviation mechanic Roger Soubiran - perform the first flight between Mainland Portugal and Madeira.

In 1922, the Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho will enter to the History of the World Aviation by performing the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic. They departed from the Bom Sucesso Naval Air Station at Lisbon, on 30 March, in a Fairey IIID Mk.II seaplane specifically outfitted for the journey. The aircraft was equipped with an artificial horizon for aeronautical use, a revolutionary own invention of Gago Coutinho. They arrived at the Brazilian Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago on the 17 April and ended the journey in Rio de Janeiro on the 17 June.

The first air connection between Mainland Portugal and the Azores is performed by the naval aviators Moreira de Campos and Neves Ferreira in a Fokker T.III seaplane in May 1926.

The naval aviation school foreseen since 1917 is finally established by the Decree 10780 of 20 May 1925, being named "Admiral Gago Coutinho Naval Aviation School". From then on, the Portuguese Naval Aviation was able to grant the brevet to its own aviators. The Gago Coutinho School is planned to be attached to the Aveiro Naval Air Station, but is transitorily installed at the Lisbon Naval Air Station until 1935.

Due to the frequent piracy attacks to the local navigation and the civil conflicts affecting China, in 1927 the Portuguese Navy reinforced its station at Macau. Besides the deployment of additional war ships, a decision was taken to include an air force of Fairey III seaplanes in the Portuguese naval forces at Macau. To serve as its base, a naval air station was installed at the Taipa Island. The main activities of this air force was the patrol of the Pearl River Delta, chasing pirates and smugglers, but it also conducted some missions over the China Seas, China Mainland, Hong-Kong and French Indochina. This force was deactivated in 1932.

The Naval Aviation and the only ever existing Portuguese aircraft carrier have an important role in the subdue of the Army officers rebellion against the government of the National Dictatorship, occurred in April 1931. The planned military uprisings fail or are quickly dominated everywhere except in Madeira, where the rebels manage to control the island, with the support of part of the local population and of some exiled opposition politicians. The island would only be able to be retaken by the governmental forces through an amphibious operation, but the organization of an operation of this kind constituted an enormous challenge due to the state of neglect of the Navy. Under the leadership of the Navy Minister Magalhães Correia, the Navy was however able to improvise a flotilla of adapted merchant and fishing vessels that was able to join the few operational warships for the carry out of the operation. One of the vessels of this flotilla was the merchant ship Cubango which was transformed in a seaplane tender, so in the only aircraft carrier ever employed by the Portuguese Navy. Supported by the Cubando, four CAMS 37 flying boats of the AN were part of the force. The naval flying boats carried away an important task of reconnaissance and support of the Government ground forces, being able to identify the rebel positions and the ambushes prepared against the landing forces, despite the rebel anti-aircraft fire which included the use of improvised surface to air rockets adapted from fireworks materiel. The action of the Naval Aviation ended by being crucial for the victory of the Government forces in the early May.

Meanwhile, a program of naval re-equipment - launched by the Portuguese Government - was on course. In the scope of this program, a seaplane carrier started to be constructed in Italian shipyards in 1931. The construction was however terminated due to the increase of the initial agreed price, refused by the Portuguese Government and which decided to deviate the available amount for the construction of other different types of ships. Two warships capable of carrying seaplanes were however built, these being the colonial avisos (sloops) of the Afonso de Albuquerque-class, commissioned in 1934. Each of these ships carried a Hawker Osprey observation seaplane. Later, in 1941, another seaplane carrying capable ship would be constructed, this being the hydrographic ship NRP Dom João de Castro.

The AN is reorganized through the Decree-law 27059 of 30 September 1936. By this new organization, the Naval Aeronautics includes the Navy Air Forces (FAA, Forças Aéreas da Armada), its bodies of command and management, its maintenance services and its personnel. The FAA would include permanent and reserve forces, being under the command of the Major-General of the Navy through the commanders of the naval air stations, naval bases or naval forces where they were incorporated. The basic unit of the air forces would be the flight (esquadrilha), each including six to 12 single engine or three to six multi-engine aircraft of the same type. The flight would be subdivided in sections of two or three aircraft and several flights may form groups of flights. The AN further included the Directory of Naval Aeronautics (technical and administrative management body of the AN), the naval aeronautics establishments (naval air stations and naval air posts, respectively, permanent and eventual bases of air forces) and the Admiral Gago Coutinho Naval Aviation School. This organization was adjusted in 1938, by the inclusion of the role of senior commander of the FAA, responsible to command the air forces that were not incorporated in naval bases or forces. The director of Naval Aeronautics could be dual-hatted as senior commander of the FAA, this becoming permanent in 1941.

The Civil War and the Japanese invasion of China, would lead the Portuguese Navy to reinforce again the naval forces in Macau in 1937, including the reactivation of the naval air station of the territory, which was initially equipped with the two Hawker Osprey seaplanes of the avisos NRP Afonso de Albuquerque and NRP Bartolomeu Dias, as a decision had been taken to cease the operation of seaplanes by those ships, replacing them by additional armament. The Macau Naval Air Station was soon after reinforced with four additional Hawker Ospreys acquired by the Ministry of the Colonies. This naval air station was integrated in the privative colonial Navy Services of Macau and came to include also an aviation school. Due to the limitations of the Taipa facilities, a new air station was built at the Outer Harbour of the Macau Peninsula, being inaugurated in March 1941. The Macau Naval Air Station was deactivated after an accident with a Osprey which felt over Macau, exploding and killing its crew on the 26 June 1942. The seaplanes continued however to be stored in the air station until the 16 de January 1945, when it was bombed and destroyed by aircraft from the carrier USS Enterprise, in a never well explained attack.

As part of the project of the new Lisbon Naval Base complex, a new naval air base was planned to be built at the Montijo Peninsula, to replace the Bom Sucesso facilities of the Lisbon Naval Air Station. This base was planned to be able to operate both seaplanes as landplanes. Despite started to be built still in the 1930s, the construction would be delayed due to the World War II, only being finished in the 1950s.

During the World War II, the Naval Aviation participated in the military effort to defend the strategic Azores islands, that was under a serious threat of being invaded both by the Axis and by the Allies. In the scope of this effort, the Azores Naval Air Station was reactivated at Ponta Delgada, being equipped with Grumman G-21 and Grumman G-44 amphibious aircraft. These were used in the coastal patrols and also in the search and rescue of survivors from the ships that were torpedoed by submarines.

In 1943, taking advantage of cooperation of the Portuguese Government with the Allies, the AN was able to receive 16 Bristol Blenheims light bombers and with them to create its first real air strike force. As the Blenheims were landplanes, the Bom Sucesso was only able to operate seaplanes and the new Montijo naval air naval base was not yet ready, the Blenheims were installed in improvised facilities built in an adjacent area of the Lisbon Airport, forming the Flight B of the FAA. Despite not being based at Bom Sucesso, Flight B was dependent from the Lisbon Naval Air Station. Latter, the Blenheims were replaced by 17 Bristol Beaufighters. Besides the Blenheim and the Beaufighter, Flight B also included Airspeed Oxford bomber crew training aircraft and Miles Martinet target tug aircraft. The lack of adequate base facilities and the bad condition in which its aircraft were received, meant that the Flight B had always issues of operationally, being disbanded soon after the end of World War II.

After Portugal being one of co-founders of NATO, in the scope of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, the Portuguese Naval Aviation received Curtiss SB2C Helldivers dive bombers in 1950. With then, it organized an anti-submarine warfare flight, initially based in the Aveiro Naval Air Station at the São Jacinto Peninsula. On the contrary of what had happened with Flight B, the Helldiver Flight would soon become an example of efficiency, being considered one of the best anti-submarine units of NATO. With the inauguration of the new Commander Sacadura Cabral Naval Air Station, at Montijo, in 1953, the anti-submarine units would start to operate from this base, already equipped with Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon and then with Lockheed P-2 Neptune.

By that time however, the Portuguese naval aviation was near its end. In the scope of the Portuguese deep military reforms of the late 1940s and 1950s that included the integration of the several branches of the Armed Forces, placing them under a unified chain of command headed by the Minister of National Defense and the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the process of creating an independent air branch was also in an advanced course. Although an almost unanimous opinion existed in that the Military Aeronautics should completely separate from the Army to form the basis of the new independent air branch, there was a deep disagreement about if the new branch should also absorb and include the much smaller naval aviation or if this should continue to be a different entity linked to the Navy. These disagreement caused one of the most intense political debates of the time in Portugal, with the supporters of the opposite solutions passionately pleading for their opinions in the Parliament, in the mass media and in other forums. On the contrary of the Military Aeronautics aviators who felt aviators above all and so fully defended the complete autonomy of their arm, the naval aviators felt both aviators and sailors so defending the continuation of the existence of a naval aviation as part of the Navy.

Finally, in 1952, the Government advanced to an intermediary solution that consisted in the integration of the naval aviation in the new air branch of the Armed Forces (which was initially designated "Military Aeronautics" and only later "Portuguese Air Force"), but keeping it as an autonomous entity inside that branch, partially linked to the Navy. This entity was the Naval Air Forces (Forças Aeronavais), which included the roles, units, aircraft and personnel of the former Naval Aeronautics. The Naval Air Forces were responsible for assuring the air forces of cooperation with the Navy, being able to be put under its command if needed. Besides this, the Navy continued to provide personnel for this entity, including members of the former AN and the new naval personnel that continued to offer to serve in the aviation. This personnel kept including their naval ranks and uniforms. The Naval Air Forces ended however to be disbanded and fully integrated in the Air Force in 1958. At that time, the naval aviators were obliged to choose if to continue to be aviators as part of the Air Force or if to continue to be sailors as part of the Navy. The last naval aviators left the Air Force in the early 1960s.

The Portuguese Navy would only came back to have aviation again in 1993, when naval helicopters were received to be embarked in the Vasco da Gama-class frigates, forming the Navy's Helicopter Squadron, based at the Montijo Air Base (the former Sacadura Cabral Naval Air Station).

The Army artillery light aviation

The separation of the Military Aeronautics from the Portuguese Army did not bring an end to the aviation in this branch, as the Army activated and maintained for a brief period of time a small separate aviation service.

This service originated in the need identified by the Army to continue to keep an aviation service equipped with light aircraft under its direct control, for the artillery air observation role. Plans were then made to create the artillery observation light aviation as part of the artillery arm and so separated from the Military Aeronautics.

In 1952 - at the same time that the Military Aeronautics was becoming independent, ending its links to the Army - the Army Minister Abranches Pinto boosted the activation of this light aviation service, with the acquisition of 22 Piper L-21 Super Cub observation and liaison aircraft and the sending of artillery officers to be trained as pilot-observers at the US Army aviation schools. At the same time, an airfield was built in the grounds of the Army Artillery School at Vendas Novas, to serve as the base for this unit. Eight of the L-21 became permanently based at Vendas Novas, being piloted by the few available pilot-observers of the artillery arm and used in the observation and direction of artillery fire against targets beyond the visual range of the ground observers. The remaining aircraft were only used in large Army maneuvers, when they were piloted by Air Force pilots. By the influence of the US Army aviation doctrine, the concept of Army light aviation evolved and it was anticipated that it would also be equipped with helicopters and it would have other missions beyond the artillery observation.

The process of the raising of the Army light aviation is however terminated in 1955, with its mission being assumed by the Air Force. The Army L-21 were then transferred to the Air Force, where they formed an Army cooperation flight based at the Tancos Air Base.

Creation of the independent air branch

The creation of the independent air branch of the Portuguese Armed Forces occurred in the scope of the deep military and defense reforms implemented in Portugal, arising from the lessons learned in World War II, from the Portuguese participation in NATO and from the Cold War. By the Decree-law 37909 of 1 August 1950, the Portuguese Government was reorganized and started to include the role of Minister of National Defense and, under this, the role of Under-Secretary of State for the Aeronautics (Subsecretário de Estado da Aeronáutica) to be only filled upon the reorganization of the air forces. The status of the Government member responsible for the air forces is however inferior to those responsible for the Navy and the Army, who keep the rank of ministers. Besides foreseen already the existence of an independent air force, this act created de facto the Portuguese Armed Forces as an integrated organization encompassing the Navy, the Army and the foreseen third branch, establishing an unified chain of command for all the branches, under the military coordination of the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.

An independent air branch is finally created by the Portuguese Parliament through the Law 2055 of 27 May 1952, at this time, maintaining the designation "Military Aeronautics", inherited from the former Army aviation. The Military Aeronautics was defined as being aimed at the defense of the air space of the Portuguese homeland and of its overseas territories and at cooperating with the land and naval forces. At Government level, it was administered by an Under-Secretariat of State of the Aeronautics (SEA, Subsecretariado de Estado da Aeronáutica), functioning in the Government Presidency Office, under the responsibility of the Minister of National Defense. The SEA included the Office of the Under-Secretary of State, the Directory General and the Higher Council of the Aeronautics. At this time, no specific incumbent was appointed Under-Secretary of State for the Aeronautics, with the Minister of National Defense Santos Costa temporarily assuming the direct management of the SEA. The military head of the Military Aeronautics was the Chief of Staff of the Air Forces, who had the rank of general, reported directly to the Under-Secretary of State and directed both the Directory General of the SEA and the General Command of the Air Forces.

By a curious coincidence, the President of Portugal at the time was general aviator Craveiro Lopes. So, in promulgating Law 2055, Craveiro Lopes indirectly caused himself to cease to be an Army officer and become an officer of the new air branch.

During 1952, the Law 2055 is complemented by a number of other legislative acts intended to refine the framework of the organization of the air branch, including the Law 2056 of 2 June (defining the recruiting and military services in the air forces), the Decree-law 38 805 of 28 June (defining the organization and responsibility of the SEA) and the Decree-law 39 071 of 31 December (defining the general norms relative to the personnel of the Military Aeronautics). Namely, the Decree-law 38 805 establishes the 1 July 1952 as the day for the transference of the air assets, bodies and infrastructures of the Army and Navy ministries to the SEA, this date marking so the effective creation of the independent air branch.

From the Army Ministry, were transferred the:

  • General Command of the Aeronautics, Lisbon - integrated in the SEA and disbanded at 9 September 1952;
  • Aeronautics Materiel General Storage, Alverca
  • Aeronautics Materiel General Workshops (OGMA), Alverca
  • Independent Aviation Fighter Group, Espinho - with two squadrons of Hawker Hurricane fighters. Its aeronautical infrastructures became the Base Airfield No. 1 in 1953, being deactivated in 1955;
  • Air Base No. 1, Sintra - serving as the Military School of Aeronautics and focused on training;
  • Air Base No. 2, Ota - with two fighter squadrons equipped with the recently received Republic F-47 Thunderbolt, as well as squadrons of Supermarine Spitfire and Junkers Ju 52/3m. It would soon receive the first Portuguese jet aircraft, forming the Fighter Aviation Operational Group, which included two fighter squadrons with Republic F-84G and a fighter training squadron with Lockheed T-33. This unit would also include the Dragões and São Jorge flight demonstration teams. After the activation of the Monte Real Air Base, Ota would cease to be an operating fighter base and become a training base, housing the Air Force specialist technicians training unit from 1960;
  • Air Base No. 3, Tancos - with Lysander and Hawker Hurricane squadrons, which were being phased out. It would receive the F-47 squadrons transferred from Ota, until their disbandment. It would become an Army cooperation and paratrooper training and transport base, equipped with light aircraft, paratrooper transport planes and helicopters;
  • Air Base No. 4, Lajes - supporting transport, reconnaissance and search and rescue missions, with a composite squadron equipped with Boeing SB-17G Flying Fortress, C-54, and the first helicopter operated by the Portuguese Armed Forces, the Sikorsky UH-19;
  • All other aeronautical infrastructures depending from the Army (including the military facilities at the Lisbon Airport, home of the Military Air Transports units and which became the Base Airfield No. 1 in 1955 and the Monte Real airfield, which would be inaugurated as the Air Base No. 5 in 1959, becoming the main operating base of the Portuguese fighter aviation).
  • From the Navy were transferred:

  • High Command of the Navy Air Forces, Lisbon - integrated in the SEA and disbanded at 9 September 1952;
  • Directory of Naval Aeronautics, Lisbon - co-located with the previous and also integrated in the SEA and disbanded at 9 September 1952;
  • Admiral Gago Coutinho Naval Aviation School, São Jacinto, Aveiro - being equipped mainly with D.H. Tiger Mouth and North American SNJ-4 and continuing to serve as the anti-submarine training base of the Air Force. Transitorily serving also as operational naval air station, stationing the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver anti-submarine unit. From December 1953, it became also known as No. 5 Air Base, latter becoming the No. 2 Base Airfield and then the No. 7 Air Base;
  • Lisbon Naval Air Station, Lisbon - under transference from the Bom Sucesso Dock and Lisbon Airport facilities to the new air base at Montijo, where it became the Commander Sacadura Cabral Naval Air Station. The base was initially equipped with flying boats moved from Bom Sucesso (including Grumman G-21B and G-44) and with land based aircraft moved from the former Flight B at Lisbon Airport (including Airspeed Oxford and Beechcraft AT-11/D-18S). It became the air-naval cooperation base of the Air Force, being home of its PV-2 Harpoon and latter P2V Neptune anti-submarine squadrons. From December 1953, it became also known as No 6 Air Base;
  • All other aeronautical infrastructures depending from the Navy.
  • The Military Aeronautics would include air forces for independent operations, air forces of cooperation and training units. The air forces for independent operations included the fighter, warning and control, search and rescue, transport and eventually bombardment units. The air forces of cooperation included units of cooperation with land forces and units of cooperation with naval forces, namely in the defense of the maritime communications against submarines. These air forces could be assigned, respectively, to the Army and to the Navy, with the air forces of cooperation with the naval forces being available to the Navy for its employment in case of war and for operational training in times of peace.

    The air forces were under the command of the General Command of the Air Forces - headed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Forces - and would normally be grouped in air bases, with each air base usually stationing squadrons or groups of squadrons of the same type. Under the General Command of the Air Forces, two subordinate commands were established, these being the Command of the Operational Air Forces and the Air Forces Instruction and Training Command.

    In campaign, the air forces would constitute formations designated "air forces in operations", which would include groups headed by lieutenant-colonels, squadrons headed by majors and flights headed by captains. The newly created squadron (esquadra) replaced the flight (esquadrilha) as the main tactical air unit, with a standard fighter squadron including usually 25 aircraft, comparing with the 15 of the previous fighter flights. It was foreseen that the groups could be grouped in groupings (agrupamentos) or regiments headed by colonels and in air brigades headed by generals. The supreme command of all air forces in operations would be assumed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Forces.

    The personnel of the Military Aeronautics was divided in two separate branches, these being the Land Air Forces (Forças Aeroterrestres) and the Naval Air Forces (Forças Aeronavais), with these last being responsible to assure the air forces of cooperation with the naval forces. While the Land Air Forces were fully integrated in the Military Aeronautics, the Naval Air Forces had a special status, continuing to be partially linked to the Navy. This branch was made of naval personnel detached from the Navy in extraordinary deployment, except the sergeants aviators and some other specialized personnel non existent in the Navy. The special status of these personnel meant, that besides continuing to be part of the Navy, their members had naval ranks and wear naval uniforms.

    The third anniversary of the independent air branch was marked by, probably, the most serious disaster of the Portuguese military aviation. On the 1 July 1955, a formation of 12 F-84G jets was flying over several Portuguese cities, as part of the anniversary commemorations, when it entered in a group of low clouds over Coimbra, with eight of the aircraft ending up in hitting the Carvalho mountains near Vila Nova de Poiares, causing the death of the eight pilots.

    The air branch becomes the Portuguese Air Force

    On the 7 July 1955, Kaulza de Arriaga is appointed as the first Under-Secretary of State of the Aeronautics. This Army engineer officer will mark the deep development of the air branch.

    After the experience acquired in four years as an independent branch of the Armed Forces, the air forces suffer an important reorganization, through the Decree-law 40949 of 26 December 1956. In the scope of this reorganization, the branch receives the alternative name of "Air Force", which will prevail over "Military Aeronautics", with this last designation falling into disuse. From then on, the branch will be known as the "Portuguese Air Force" (FAP, Força Aérea Portuguesa).

    The title of the military head of the FAP slightly changes from "Chief of Staff of the Air Forces" to "Chief of Staff of the Air Force". The General Command of the Air Forces and the Directory General of the Under-Secretariat of State of the Aeronautics (SEA) are disbanded, being replaced by the Air Force Staff (EMFA, Estado-Maior da Força Aérea).

    The air regions and zones - that were already foreseen when the independent air branch was created - are finally created, with the transitory Command of the Operational Air Forces and the Air Forces Instruction and Training Command being disbanded. In its respective territories of jurisdiction, each air region command is responsible for the mobilization of personnel and other resources for the Air Force, for the air defence, for the air cooperation with land and naval forces and for the air transports. The air zones commands are responsible for the air defense, cooperation with the land and naval forces and other functions delegated on them by its parent air region command. The Portuguese national metropolitan and overseas territory is divided in the following air regions and zones:

  • 1st Air Region, Lisbon - covering Continental Portugal, the Azores, Madeira, Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde;
  • Continental Portugal and Madeira Air Zone - commanded directly by the 1st Air Region command;
  • Azores Air Zone - covering the Azores isles;
  • Cape Verde Air Zone - covering the Cape Verde islands and latter also the Portuguese Guinea, becoming the Cape Verde and Guinea Air Zone.
  • 2nd Air Region, Luanda - covering Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe;
  • 3rd Air Region, Lourenço Marques - covering Mozambique, Portuguese India, Macau and Portuguese Timor.
  • Meanwhile, the foreseen warning system is developed and their infrastructures built, becoming the Air Defense System (SDA, Sistema de Defesa Aérea). Originally, it was planned to include a central command and a network of radar sites. The first radar site at Montejunto is activated in 1955 and the central command infrastructures in Monsanto, Lisbon are activated in 1956, with other radar sites being activated in the following years. The final organization and architecture of the SDA are clarified in 1957. It comes to include:

  • GDACI 1 - No 1 Detection, Warning and Interception Direction Group:
  • 10 Squadron, Monsanto Mounts, Lisbon - Sector Operations Centre;
  • 11 Squadron, Montejunto Mountains - detection and control radar station;
  • 12 Squadron, Pilar Mount, Paços de Ferreira - detection and control radar station;
  • 13 Squadron, Serra da Estrela peak - detection and control radar outpost;
  • 14 Squadron, Fóia Mountain - detection and control radar station (foreseen, but only activated many years later)
  • The GDACI 1 covered Continental Portugal and was under the command of the 1st Air Region. A GDACI 2 under the command of the Azores Air Zone, with radar sites in the Terceira Island (21 Squadron) and Santa Maria Island (22 Squadron), was also foreseen, but it was never activated.

    The possible integration of units of paratroopers in the air forces was already foresee in the legislation which created the independent air branch in 1952. On the 9 July 1955, a group of 188 Portuguese military personnel receives the paratrooper brevet in the Spanish Military Parachute School at Alcantarilla, in the graduation ceremony these elements being awarded with green berets, becoming the first beret users in the Portuguese Armed Forces. By the Decree 40 395 of 23 November 1955, the Portuguese Paratroopers are finally organized. The Paratroopers were part of the SEA, but were under the command of the Ministry of the Army for the purpose of its employment in the ground and respective training. The initial unit - the Paratroopers Caçadores Battalion - was activated on the 1 January 1956, being barracked at Tancos, with the nearby Air Base No 3 being responsible to provide the means for its air transportation and launching. The organization of these troops would be adjusted by the Decree 42 073 of 31 December 1958, ceasing its links to the Army, with the Paratroopers becoming under the complete command of the Air Force, where they will stay until 1993.

    The organization of the FAP suffers an adjustment defined by the Decree-law 41492 of 31 December 1957. Among other adjustments, this act terminated with the separation between the Land Air Forces and the Naval Air Forces branches, creating an unified establishment for the FAP. While the officers aviators of the Land Air Forces were automatically integrated in the unified establishment, the officers aviators of the Naval Air Forces would only integrate in it if they expressly required, returning to the Navy establishment if not. Many of the naval aviators opted to maintain themselves in the Navy, with some of them remaining however in extraordinary deployment in the Air Force until reaching the limit of age or rank. The last remaining Navy aviators would leave FAP in the early 1960s.

    In 1958, FAP starts to receive its first North American F-86F Sabre transonic jet fighters. Captain Moura Pinto does the first F-86F flight on 22 September 1958 and, two days latter, the same pilot does the first Portuguese supersonic flight, by doing a dive with one the Sabres. The F-86F are transitorily based at Ota, while the planned fighter air base at Monte Real was still under construction.

    In the late 1950s and already partially foreseeing the conflicts that would arise in the Portuguese overseas territories, the FAP increased its effort to implement itself in those territories, as it was planned since its creation as an independent branch. In April 1959, marking the return of the Portuguese military aviation to Africa, the FAP carried away the Exercise Himba. This included the deployment of six Douglas C-54 Skymaster, two Douglas C-47 Dakota and six Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon aircraft to Angola, as well as a force of 80 paratroopers. In Luanda, with the local population assisting, this force carried away simulations of airborne assaults and of bombardment and attacks against ground targets. Similar demonstrations were also done in other cities of Angola.

    As part of this effort, FAP developed the Military Air Transports (TAM, Transportes Aéreos Militares) in order to assure the military air connection between European Portugal and the Portuguese Overseas. Initially, already existing C-47 and C-54 aircraft were used for this role, although with limitations. FAP then acquired the more capable Douglas DC-6 in the early 1960s. However, an effective air connection with the Overseas would only be implemented in the early 1970s, when FAP was able to acquire Boeing 707 intercontinental jets and with them finally replace an important part of maritime transport.

    In the late 1950s, FAP also initiated the activation of the 2nd and 3rd air regions and of the Cape Verde and Guinea Air Zone. A network of bases and other airfields were implemented in Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, in the early 1960s, with a number of flying units being installed in those bases.

    On 4 October 1959, the important Air Base No 5 at Monte Real is inaugurated, stationing the 501 Operational Group, which included the F-86F squadrons transferred from Ota. From then on and until today, Monte Real will become the main operating base of the FAP's fighter aviation squadrons. Other air bases in construction were that of Beja (Air Base no 11) and that of Ovar (Maneuver Airfield no 1), which would be inaugurated, respectively, in 1964 and 1966. These two bases would not have Portuguese air assets permanently based there for many years, the first stationing jet training air units of the German Air Force and the other serving as a NATO forward naval air base.

    In 1961, the Air Force becomes again a pioneer amongst the Portuguese Armed Forces, when incorporates the first female military personnel, these being the paratrooper nurses. These female paratrooper nurses would soon be employed in combat operations in Africa.

    The Air Force in the Overseas War

    From 1961 to 1975, the Portuguese Air Force was deeply engaged in the three theaters of war of the Portuguese Overseas War, both with aviation and paratrooper forces. In the Overseas War, the Air Force had both strategic and tactical air missions.

    The strategic mission consisted of the interterritorial connection between European Portugal and the Portuguese Guinea, Angola and Mozambique theaters, using DC-6 and later Boeing 707 aircraft. After acquiring the Boeing 707 in the early 1970s, the Air Force was able take a large share of the transport missions that until then were made through the use of merchant ships, reducing the connection time between the different territories.

    The tactical missions undertaken by the Portuguese Air Force in the three theaters of war were:

  • Attack missions (independent, reconnaissance, support and escort), using F-86, F-84 and Fiat G.91 fighters, PV-2 Harpoon and B-26 Invader bombers and North American T-6 light attack aircraft. Armed helicopters and Dornier Do 27 light aircraft armed with rockets were also used in some of these missions.
  • Reconnaissance missions (visual and photo), using light aircraft like the OGMA/Auster D.5 and the Do 27, but also using B-26, PV-2, P-2 Neptune, C-47 and other aircraft prepared for air photo reconnaissance;
  • Tactical transportation missions (assault, manoeuver, general and casualty evacuation), using Alouette II, Alouette III and Puma helicopters, OGMA/Auster D.5, Do-27 and other light aircraft and Nord Noratlas and C-47 heavy aircraft;
  • Other missions (liaison, control, operational air command post, VIP transportation and others), using several types of aircraft.
  • The missions were carried away from a well developed network of air bases and other airfields. By the early 1970s, in the Angolan theatre there was a central air base, two sector air bases, eight satellite airfields and nine other airfields. In the Guinean theatre there was a central air base, three satellite airfields and other three airfields. In the Mozambican theatre, there was a central air base, four sector air bases, seven satellite airfields and five other airfields. Besides these, there was an high number of other air fields and runways, with almost all isolated military garrisons having their own. The air connections between the theatres and European Portugal were further supported by transit airfields in São Tomé Island, São Tomé and Príncipe and in Sal Island, Cape Verde.

    In Angola and Mozambique, Volunteer Air Formations (FAV, Formações Aéreas Voluntárias) units were formed, composed of civilian volunteer pilots who assisted the Air Force in several missions, mostly transport and reconnaissance, using both civilian and military light aircraft.

    The Air Force also participated in ground and air-ground operations with its paratrooper forces, which became one of the main shock forces of the Portuguese Armed Forces. These troops, in the beginning of the War were mainly launched by parachute to the operations areas, but later were mainly employed in air assault operations using Alouette III and Puma helicopters. Besides the four regular paratrooper battalions (one in Angola, one in Portuguese Guinea and two in Mozambique), the Air Force was also involved in the creation of the paramilitary elite Paratrooper Special Groups in Mozambique. In order to terminate the guerilla infiltrations in the Angolan northern border, a special composite aviation/paratrooper unit - integrating trackers, paratroopers, helicopters and light aircraft - was created, this becoming the Counter Infiltration Tactical Unit (Unidade Táctica de Contra-Infiltração).

    Mainly due to the international arms embargo to Portugal, the Air Force had to struggle with a 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. As an example, in 1972, to cover Angola - a territory with almost the size of all the Western Europe - the FAP had available only 30 helicopters, 44 light aircraft, 13 transport planes, six light bombers and four jet fighters, most of these being aircraft from the 1950s.

    On the other side, the nationalist movements that opposed Portugal were generously supported by the Soviet Union, by other Communist countries and even by some countries of Western Europe, receiving state of the art equipment, what made them to be in many cases equipped with more modern weapons than the Portuguese. A large challenge faced specifically by the Air Force was the increasing antiaircraft capacity of the nationalist forces. This evolved to a dramatic situation in the Guinea theater, when the PAIGC forces received SA-7 Strela surface-to-air missiles and began using them against the Portuguese aircraft. The Portuguese pilots were able to evade the first detected missile launches, but in March 1973, a Fiat G.91 jet is hit and shot down, followed by another G.91 in the same month and then by two Dornier Do 27 and one T-6 in the following month. This originated the loss of FAP's air supremacy, limiting its air activities, namely in the air support to the ground forces and the air casualty evacuation, what caused a negative impact on the morale of the Portuguese forces, especially amongst the constantly flagellated border garrisons. After the initial surprise, the Air Force was however been able to quickly fully resume air operations, adopting mitigating measures, like the changing of the flight profiles or the painting of the aircraft with anti-radiation paint.

    The use of surface-to-air missiles by the nationalist forces and the threat of possible air attacks launched from the bordering countries hostile to Portugal, raised the need for the FAP to be equipped with supersonic fighters. The Dassault Mirage III was identified as the only fighter with the needed characteristics that was able to be acquired, as other possible alternatives were denied to Portugal. A secret process of acquisition of Mirage III was then launched but ended however in being suspended due to the termination of the conflict in 1974.

    Near the end of the conflict, the FAP was finally able to launch a program to replace some old assets by modern aircraft. Namely, CASA C-212 Aviocar were acquired to replace the Nord Noratlas and C-47 Dakota in the intra-theater transport role, while Reims Cessna FTB337G Milirole were acquired to replace the T-6 in the armed reconnaissance and to complement the Do 27 in the liaison and forward air control roles. These aircraft however only arrived after the end of the conflict and so ended not to be employed.

    Late Cold War

    Partly due to the Overseas War, on the 25 April 1974, middle rank officers of the Portuguese Armed Forces launched a military coup that became known as the "Carnation Revolution" and overthrew the Estado Novo regime. This led to a re-orientation of the Portuguese policy towards the grant of independence to the Overseas territories, with ceasefires being quickly negotiated and agreed with the several nationalist movements. The independence of the several territories followed, occurring between September 1974 (Guinea-Bissau) and November 1975 (Angola). In the middle of the turmoil of the Revolution and the turbulent independence process, the FAP still had to perform some air operations to counter the violation of the Angolan northern border by foreign forces, to support the withdrawal of the Portuguese forces scattered across the several territories and to aid the evacuation of the hundreds of thousands of Portuguese civilians that had to fled from those territories. The FAP gradually withdraw from the several Overseas territories, delivering its bases and part of its aircraft to the authorities of the new countries.

    A reverse process occurred however in Portuguese Timor, to where FAP had to send a detachment of Alouette III helicopters and another of paratroopers to aid the local authorities in the independence process of what would become East Timor and which was degenerating in a civil conflict. These two detachments ended to become the only relevant forces with which the Portuguese Governor could count. When Indonesia launched the invasion of East Timor on the 7 December 1975, the FAP detachments were with the Governor in Atauro Island, withdrawing with him to aboard two Portuguese warships, with the helicopters being destroyed and abandoned on the island.

    By 1976, the around 850 aircraft inventory that the Air Force had in 1974, were reduced to a third, with most of old assets being phased out and part of the new ones (especially Alouette III helicopters) being sold. The 2nd and 3rd air regions and the Cape Verde and Guinea Air Zone had been disbanded, as well as their air bases and other units.

    The FAP had to re-orient itself from the focus in the counter-insurgency operations in Africa to a focus in the defense of Western Europe against a possible threat from Warsaw Pact forces, in the scope of the Cold War. In the scope of this, a major reorganization of the Air Force started in 1977. This included the creation of the national air command, headed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and, under it, the creation of the Operational Command of the Air Force (COFA), by the transformation of the 1st Air Region Command. In the process, the Air Force Academy was also created, assuming gradually the responsibility for the training of the FAP officers, until then trained in the Military Academy. The reorganization also focused on the flying units, with the creation, disbandment and dislocation of several squadrons. The changes also felt in some details, like the changing of the aircraft paint schemes (with most of them adopting the Southern NATO camouflage scheme) and the changing of the flying units designation system. The squadrons ceasing so to be designated by a number that reflected the number of their base and started to be designated by a number that reflect their primary mission and type of aircraft flown.

    The reorganization of the FAP was accompanied by its re-equipment. This included the reception of C-212 Aviocar and C-130 Hercules aircraft that replaced the remaining Nord Noratlas, C-47, DC-6 and Boeing 707 and the reception of Reims Cessna FTB337G that replaced the remaining Do 27 and T-6. Besides the transport versions, some of the C-212 Aviocar were specially fitted for the execution of electronic warfare and geophysical survey missions. Later, C-212 of the maritime patrol version would also acquired. Due to the obsolescence and eminent phasing out of the F-86 Sabre and the P-2 Neptune, plans were also done to acquire Northrop F-5 fighters and Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. As part of the fighter acquisition program, the FAP received 12 Northrop T-38 Talon jet trainers - its first supersonic aircraft - to prepare its pilots to operate the foreseen F-5 fighters. However, instead of the F-5, the FAP ended to receive Vought A-7P Corsair II to be primarily used in the air interdiction and in the tactical air support maritime operations missions, in order to respond to the compromises assumed with NATO. The lack of fighters, meant that the A-7P were also used in the air defense missions, despite lacking the adequate characteristics for that role. Portugal remained so without an effective national air defense, from the retirement of the last F-86 in 1980 to the introduction of the F-16 in 1994, with FAP not being able to respond to many violations of the Portuguese air space during that period. Besides the A-7P, the FAP continued to operate the Fiat G.91 in the close air support and battlefield air interdiction roles, with one of the squadrons equipped with this aircraft being based at Lajes, to guarantee also the air defense of the Azores islands. The acquisition of the maritime patrol aircraft also delayed, with FAP receiving the P-3P Orion only in 1988. From the phasing out of the P-2 Neptune in 1977 to the acquisition of the P-3 Orion, the air patrolling of the enormous Portuguese maritime area was carried away mainly by using C-130 and C-212 Aviocar, including aircraft equipped with MAD.

    The process of the modernization of the Air Force also included the launching of the SICCAP/PoACCS (Portugal Air Command and Control System) project, which was a pioneer in adopting the new architecture and concept of the NATO ACCS, being intended to replace the old SDA air defense system. As part of these project, the air surveillance and detection units were re-equipped, including the reception of new radars and the air control center at Monsanto was enhanced.

    In the 1980s, the Portuguese Air Force collaborated in the firefighting of the increasing number of wildfires that affected the large forest areas of Portugal. For this, FAP acquired the MAFFS aerial firefighting system to be installed in its C-130 aircraft. Despite the MAFFS equipped C-130 being a fundamental and cheap tool of the Portuguese forest firefighting system, its intervention stopped to be required by the civil protection authorities, with the role being transferred to private aerial firefighting companies.


    The end of the Cold War caused the Portuguese Air Force to accompany the shift of the focus of the Portuguese Armed Forces from a conventional war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact forces to the international peace enforcement missions. The FAP started to participate in a number of missions by itself or in support of missions led by the Army and the Navy. Most of these missions have been carried away under the scope of the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and the former-WEO. Recent FAP international operations include the NATO Assurance Measures Romania, the Baltic Air Policing, the Icelandic Air Policing, the Operation Active Endeavour, the Operation Atalanta and the Operation Sea Guardian.

    Besides the multilateral missions, FAP also participated in national unilateral military operations abroad, including those carried away in Angola (1992) and in Guinea-Bissau (1998).

    With the end of the Cold War, the Portuguese Air Force suffered new changes, aiming at the rationalizing its forces. This included the deactivation of some air bases - including Tancos (transferred to the Army), São Jacinto (becoming a civilian airfield) and Ota (becoming the Military and Technical Training Center of the Air Force) -, the transference of the Paratroopers to the Army and the privatization of the OGMA aircraft workshops. The 1990s, also saw the FAP ceasing to have the exclusivity of the military air activities in Portugal, with the activation of the Navy's Helicopter Squadron and the creation of the Army Light Aviation Group (that ended by never becoming operational).

    In 1993, the Air Force received 50 Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, which replace the remaining Fiat G.91 in the close air support role and the Cessna T-37 in the advanced training role. In 1994, FAP finally received the first General Dynamics F-16 fighters, with them regaining an effective air defense capacity. A second batch of F-16 would be received in 1998. The F-16 gradually replaced the A-7P Corsair II, initially in the the air defense role (transitorily assumed by these in the 1980s) and latter also in the ground attack role, with the last Portuguese Corsair II aircraft being retired in 1999.

    Already in 2005, the FAP receives AgustaWestland EH-101 helicopters to replace its Aerospatiale Puma. The EH-101 are mainly used in the search and rescue role, being based at the Montijo Air Base, with some permanently deployed at Lajes Air Base, Azores and Porto Santo Military Airfield, Madeira. However, due to maintenance issues with the EH-101, some of the Puma helicopters had to be reactivated in the 2008-2011 period, to assure the SAR missions from the Azores.

    This was followed by the introduction of the EADS CASA C-295, which replaced the C-212 Aviocar. Also former-Netherlands Naval Aviation Service P-3C Orion replaced the P-3P Orion fleet. The F-16 fleet has completed the Mid Life Update conversion and update, with the fighters now in service with two squadrons at Monte Real Air Base.

    Besides its usual role of air policing of the country, a recent new type of important missions for the FAP have been the air security of high visibility events happening in Portugal, aiming to protect them especially against terrorist attacks using renegade aircraft. Major air security operations have been carried away for such events as the UEFA Euro 2004, the 2010 Lisbon NATO summit and the 2010 Pope Benedict XVI visit to Portugal. For these missions, FAP employed the SICCAP air control and command system, which coordinated the action of F-16 fighters responsible to intercept fast flying aircraft and of armed helicopters intended to intercept slow flying aircraft. Depending of the mission, FAP was supported and coordinated the action of NATO AWACS aircraft, by Portuguese Navy anti-aircraft frigates and by Portuguese Army antiaircraft units.

    General organization

    The general organization presently in force for the Portuguese Air Force was established in December 2014. Accordingly, with this organization, the FAP is commanded by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and includes:

  • the Air Force Staff;
  • the central bodies of administration and management;
  • the air component command;
  • the bodies of advisement;
  • the Inspection General of the Air Force;
  • the base bodies;
  • the elements of the operational component of the system of forces;
  • the bodies and services regulated by particular legislation.
  • In terms of planning, the FAP is structured in three levels of responsibility:

  • Long term planning — it is of the responsibility of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force seconded by the Vice-Chief of Staff, who runs the Staff of the Air Force.
  • Short term planning — it is of the responsibility of the three major commands of the FAP, that change the doctrinal directives into operational and technical directives: Air Command, Air Force Personnel Command and Air Force Logistics Command.
  • Execution — The base units, depending hierarchically and functionally from the respective functional and technical Command, are responsible for the execution. They are formed into three Groups: Operational Group, Maintenance Group and Support Group, organized according to the mission and means assigned. These units are responsible for applying the directives, having the air operations as outcome.
  • Chief of Staff of the Air Force

    The Chief of Staff of the Air Force (Chefe do Estado-Maior da Força Aérea, CEMFA) is the commander of the Portuguese Air Force. It is the only full General (four-star rank) of the Air Force. The CEMFA is the principal adviser of the minister of National Defense and of the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces in all Air Force specific matters, having the competence foreseen in the Law and participates, inherently, in the bodies of advisement in it foreseen.

    By inheritance, the CEMFA is also the National Aeronautical Authority and in this quality is directly dependent from the ministry of National Defense.

    The CEMFA is directly supported by the Office of the CEMA - headed by a major-general - and by the Air Force Legal Department.

    The CEMFA is assisted by the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Air Force (VCEMFA), who is the Air Force second-in-command. The VCEMFA is a lieutenant-general superordinate to all the other Air Force officers of the same rank. Under the direct dependency of the VCEMFA are the Lisbon Support Unit, the Air Force Documentation Service and the Sub-Registry.

    Air Force Staff

    The Air Force Staff (Estado-Maior da Força Aérea, EMFA) is the body responsible for studying, conceiving and planning the Air Force activities, supporting the Chief of Staff of the Air Force decisions. The EMFA is headed by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force assisted by the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force (Subchefe do Estado-Maior da Força Aérea, SUBCEMFA), who is a major-general pilot-aviator.

    The EMFA includes the divisions (1st - Personnel, 2nd - Intelligence, 3rd - Operations and 4th - Logistics) and the support bodies.

    It is installed in the Air Force's Alfragide complex, in the suburban area of Lisbon.

    Central bodies of administration and management

    The central bodies of administration and management have a functional character and are intended to assure the management and the execution of essential specific activities, namely in the management of human, material, financial, intelligence and infrastructure resources. They are headed by general officers, directly subordinated to the CEMFA. These have functional and technical authority over all the units and bodies of the Air Force, regarding their scopes of responsibility. All of these bodies are installed in the Air Force's Alfragide complex. The bodies are:

  • Air Force Personnel Command (CPESFA) - it has the mission of guaranteeing the administration of the human resources of the Air Force. It is commanded by a lieutenant-general. It includes the Justice and Discipline Service, the Social Welfare Service and the Religious Support Center. Besides these, it has under its command the directorates of Personnel, of Training and of Health, the Military and Technical Training Center of the Air Force and the Recruitment Center.
  • Air Force Logistics Command (CLAFA) - it has the mission of administering the material, communications, information systems and infrastructure resources of the Air Force and to guarantee the fulfillment of the requirements for the certification of the navigability of the military aircraft. It is commanded by a lieutenant-general. It has under its command the directorates of Supplying and Transports, of Communications and Information Systems, of Engineering and Programs, of Infra-Structure and of Weapons Systems Maintenance, as well as the General Storage Complex of the Air Force (Depósito Geral de Material da Força Aérea, DGMFA);
  • Air Force Directorate of Finance - it has the mission of administering the financial resources made available to the Air Force. It is headed by the director of Finance, who is a major-general. It has under its command the Administrative and Financial Service.
  • Air component command

    The Air Command (Comando Aéreo, CA) is the air component command. It is commanded by a lieutenant-general directly subordinated to the CEMFA, with a major-general pilot-aviator as second-in-command. It is installed in the Air Force Monsanto chain complex in Lisbon, with its air operations center being located in an underground bunker.

    The CA has the mission of mission of supporting the exercise of command from the part of the CEMFA, in view of the preparation, the readying and the sustentation of the forces and means of the operational component of the system of forces, of the accomplishment of the missions regulated by particular legislation and other missions given to the Air Force, keeping the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces permanently informed of the employed forces and means and of the development and results of their respective operations, of the planning, command and control the air activity, of the administration and management of the units and bodies of the fixed component placed under its direct dependence and of the planning, guidance and control of the military security of the units and bodies of the Air Force.

    Besides the second-in-command, the CA includes also the air operations bodies, the operations support bodies, the Coordinating Office of the Air Force Military Security and the Support Group. The air operations bodies are headed by the Director of Air Operations, who is a brigadier-general. Under the command of the CA are the air zone commands, the air bases, the maneuver airfields, the transit airfields, the Firing Range, the radar stations and the training centers.

    The air zone commands have the mission of planning, supervising and controlling the readiness of the air power resources and the air activity in their areas of responsibility. They are also responsible for guaranteeing, under the terms established in international agreements, the relationships with the foreign forces stationed at the bases under their hierarchic authority. Presently, only the Azores Air Zone Command is active, having the Lajes Air Base under its command. The Madeira Air Zone Command is also foreseen in the Air Force organization, but it is not yet active, with the units located in the Madeira isles (Porto Santo Airfield and Pico do Arieiro Radar Station) staying under the direct command of the CA.

    Bodies of advisement

    The bodies of advisement are intended to support the decisions of the CEMFA in special and important matters regarding the preparation, discipline and administration of the Army. These bodies are:

  • Higher Council of the Air Force (CSFA) - it is the higher body of advisement of the CEMFA. Under the presidency of the CEMFA, it includes all the lieutenant-generals of the Air Force;
  • Higher Council of Discipline of the Air Force (CSDFA) - it is the body of advisement and support of the CEMFA in disciplinary matters;
  • Historical-Cultural Commission of the Air Force (CHCFA) - it is the body of advisement and support of the CEMFA in historical-cultural matters;
  • Higher Board of Health of the Air Force (JSSFA) - it has the mission of analyzing and advise about the appeals regarding decisions taken by the competent entities, based in the opinions issued by other medical boards of the Air Force.
  • Inspection-General of the Air Force

    The Inspection-General of the Air Force (Inspeção-Geral da Força Aérea, IGFA) is the inspection body of the Air Force. Its mission is to support the CEME in the exercise of the role of control and evaluation and in the prevention and investigation of accidents. It is headed by the Inspector-General of the Air Force, who is a general officer in the reserve.

    The IGFA includes Office of Accident Prevention, the departments of Inspection and of Audit and the Secretariat.

    Base bodies

    The mission of the base bodies have is the training, the sustainment and the general support of the Air Force. The mission of the base units is to guarantee the air activity and the logistical and administrative support to the units and bodies located on them. The base bodies include the Air Force Academy, the units and bodies under the hierarchical dependency of the VCEMA, CPESFA, CLAFA, CA and air zone commands and the cultural bodies.

    The Air Force Academy is a public university establishment responsible for the training of the officers of the Air Force. The base units are the Air Force airfields where its air assets are stationed. They include main air bases - which have their own air units - and forward air bases (including transit and maneuver airfields) - which only have stationed air assets deployed from the main air bases. The cultural bodies are intended to guarantee the cultural activities of the Air Force, including the collection, study, consultation and exhibit of the aeronautical historical-cultural heritage. They include the Air Museum, the Air Force Historical Archive, the Air Force Music Band and the "Mais Alto" magazine.

    Air bases

    The air bases are the FAP's units that are responsible for guaranteeing the readiness of the flying units and the logistic and administrative support of the units and bodies located on their facilities but dependent from other commands. They always include an airfield and are responsible for their own defense. Besides the air bases, FAP has other secondary base units, that are called transit or maneuver airfields.

    Each air base includes operational and support groups. The operational group is the sub-unit responsible for the flying activities of the base, being designated by a two or three digit number, of which the first one or two digits correspond to the number of the air base. As its sub-units, it includes the flying squadrons or other flying units based at the air base. The support group is the sub-unit responsible for the support activities of the air base, including logistics, security and personnel affairs.

    The standard organization of each air base usually includes:

    1. Commanding officer (colonel pilot-aviator);
    2. Second-in-command (lieutenant-colonel pilot-aviator);
    3. Commanding officer support bodies:
    4. Combat Operations Center, including the Air Operations, Security and Defense Coordinating, Communications and Meteorology centers;
    5. Direct support bodies: Command Office, Justice Section, General Secretariat, Social Action Office and Chaplain;
    6. Planning and control bodies: Planning, Accident Prevention, Military Security and Quality and Environment offices;
    7. Execution sub-units:
    8. Operational Group, including: Group Commander (lieutenant-colonel pilot-aviator), Operations Officer, Secretariat, Air Traffic Squadron, Materiel Squadron, training flying units and operational flying units;
    9. Support Group, including Group Commander (lieutenant-colonel), Technical Office, Procurement Office, Secretariat, Computer Center, Health Center, Supply Squadron, Administration and Commissariat Squadron, Personnel Squadron, Base Maintenance Squadron, Ground Electrical Materiel Maintenance Squadron and Air Police Squadron.

    Elements of the operational component of the system of forces

    The elements of the operational component of the system of forces are the forces and means of the Air Force intended to fulfill operational missions. These elements are:

    1. the operational planning bodies - these are the bodies responsible for the elaboration of plans and orders of operations, aimed at the operational employment of the forces and assets;
    2. the Air Command and Control System - responsible for the command and control of the forces and assets of the air component;
    3. the operational air units - these units are integrated sets of personnel, aircraft, materiel and equipment, organized under a commanding officer, for the execution of operational missions, tasks and actions;
    4. the antiaircraft intervention units - units of these type are foreseen but none has been created. They would have the mission of guaranteeing the antiaircraft defense of the units, bodies, and deployed forces and assets of the Air Force, as well as of other sensitive areas and points.


    The squadron (esquadra) is the basic flying unit of the Portuguese Air Force. Each flying squadron usually has a single type of aircraft and is stationed and under the administrative command of a specific air base, although it can have part of its aircraft deployed in other bases.

    In theory, each squadron would have 25, 12 or 6 aircraft, depending if it was, respectively, a unit of light, medium or heavy aircraft. In practice, the number of aircraft of each squadron depends on the available materiel. Due to the trend for the reduction of the size of the FAP, presently each model of aircraft is concentrated in a single squadron, the exception being the F-16 that are divided by two squadrons (one with air defense and the other with attack missions).

    Until 1977, the flying squadrons were designated by a two or three digit number of which the first digits corresponding to the number of its base and the last digit being the order of the squadron in that base. With this system, whenever a squadron changed base, its number also changed. In 1977, the flying squadrons started to be designated by a number that identifies its primary mission and type of aircraft flown and its unrelated with its base, so being kept even if the squadron changes base. In the squadron number, the first digit identifies its primary mission, the second identifies the type of aircraft operated and the third identifies the sequential order of the squadron among the units with the same primary mission and aircraft operated.

    So, the first digit can be:

    1 - Instruction squadron; 2 - Fighter squadron; 3 - Attack squadron; 4 - Reconnaissance squadron; 5 - Transport squadron; 6 - Maritime patrol squadron; 7 - Search and rescue squadron; 8 - Special function squadron.

    The second digit can be:

    0 - Fixed-wing aircraft; 1 - Mixed; 5 - Rotary-wing aircraft.

    Squadrons can be subdivided in flying flights (esquadrilhas), which are the smallest flying units of the Air Force. In the past, independent flying flights have existed, but now they only exist as sub-units of flying squadrons. Presently, the squadrons are not usually subdivided in flying flights, although they include non-flying flights (operations and maintenance).

    The standard organization of each squadron includes:

    1. Squadron commander (major pilot aviator);
    2. Secretariat;
    3. Standardization and Evaluation Section;
    4. Accident Prevention Section;
    5. Mobility and Support Section;
    6. Operations Flight:
    7. Fire Section,
    8. Operational Planning Section,
    9. Mission Support Section;
    10. Maintenance Flight:
    11. Control and Planning Section,
    12. Preparedness Section;
    13. Aircraft and crews.

    Flying squadrons are grouped in air groups (grupos), usually existing one of such units per main air base. Each group is identified by a two or three digit number, of which the first one or two correspond to the number of the air base and the last one is the order of the group inside the base.

    It is to note that the Air Force uses the flying unit terminology also in its non flying units. So, non flying groups, squadrons and flights also exist.

    Bodies and services regulated by particular legislation

    The Air Force includes the Air Search and Rescue Service (Serviço de Busca e Salvamento Aéreo, SBSA), which is regulated by particular legislation. The SBSA is headed by the CEMFA and is responsible for the search and rescue actions, related with aircraft accidents, occurred in the Lisbon and Santa Maria search and rescue regions.

    System of forces of the Air Force

    As a whole, the Air Force is part of the system of forces of the Portuguese Armed Forces. The system of forces of the Air Force itself includes a fix component and an operational component.

    Fix component

    The fix component of the system of forces includes the set of commands, units, establishments, bodies and services that are essential for the organization and general support of the Air Force. These are all non-deployable elements and include air bases and other airfields, radar stations, training establishments and a number of other types of bodies.

    Divided by type, the fix component includes the following list of bodies:

    1. Base units:
    2. BA1 - Air Base No. 1, Sintra (LPST)
    3. BA4 - Air Base No. 4, Lajes, Azores (LPLA)
    4. BA5- Air Base No. 5, Monte Real (LPMR)
    5. BA6 - Air Base No. 6, Montijo (LPMT)
    6. BA11 - Air Base No. 11, Beja (LPBJ)
    7. AT1 - Transit Airfield No. 1, Lisbon (LPPT)
    8. AM1 - Maneuvers Airfield No. 1, Ovar (LPOV)
    9. AM3 - Maneuvers Airfield No. 3, Porto Santo, Madeira (LPPS)
    10. Surveillance and detection units:
    11. ER1 - Radar Station No. 1, Fóia
    12. ER2 - Radar Station No. 2, Paços de Ferreira
    13. ER3 - Radar Station No. 3, Montejunto
    14. ER4 - Radar Station No. 4, Pico do Arieiro, Madeira
    15. Training units:
    16. AFA - Air Force Academy, Sintra
    17. CFMTFA - Military and Technical Training Center of the Air Force, Ota (LPOT)
    18. CTSFA - Surviving Training Center of the Air Force, Montijo
    19. CTCFA - Canine Training Center of the Air Force, Ota
    20. NPF - Force Protection Core, Alcochete
    21. Support units:
    22. DGMFA - General Storage Complex of the Air Force, Alverca (LPAR)
    23. CT - Firing Range, Alcochete
    24. CRFA - Air Force Recruiting Center, Lisbon
    25. UAL - Lisbon Support Unit, Alfragide
    26. Cultural bodies
    27. MUSAR - Air Museum, Sintra (with branches in Alverca and Ovar)
    28. AHFA - Air Force Historical Archive, Alfragide
    29. BMFA - Air Force Music Band, Lisbon
    30. "Mais Alto" magazine, Alfragide

    Operational component

    The operational component of the system of forces includes the operational commands, forces, means and units of the Air Force.

    1. Elements of the Air Command and Control System:
    2. CRC "Batina" - Control and Reporting Centre, Monsanto, Lisbon
    3. CRC ALT "Zanaga" - Alternative Control and Reporting Centre, Beja
    4. ER1 - Radar Station No. 1, Fóia
    5. ER2 - Radar Station No. 2, Paços de Ferreira
    6. ER3 - Radar Station No. 3, Montejunto
    7. ER4 - Radar Station No. 4, Pico do Arieiro, Madeira
    8. Air units:
    9. 101 Squadron "Roncos" with Epsilon TB-30, based at BA1 (Sintra);
    10. 103 Squadron "Caracóis" with Alpha-Jet, based at BA3 (Beja);
    11. 201 Squadron "Falcões" with F-16, based at BA5 (Monte Real);
    12. 301 Squadron "Jaguares" with F-16, based at BA5 (Monte Real);
    13. 501 Squadron "Bisontes" with C-130, based at BA6 (Montijo)
    14. 502 Squadron "Elefantes" with C-295, based at BA6 (Montijo), with permanent detachments at BA4 (Lajes) and AM3 (Porto Santo)
    15. 504 Squadron "Linces" with Falcon 50, based at BA6 (Montijo), but permanently deployed at AT1 (Lisbon)
    16. 552 Squadron "Zangões" with Alouette III, based at BA3 (Beja), with a permanent detachment at AM1 (Ovar)
    17. 601 Squadron "Lobos" with P-3, based at BA3 (Beja)
    18. 751 Squadron "Pumas" with EH-101, based at BA6 (Montijo), with permanent detachments at BA4 (Lajes) and AM3 (Porto Santo)
    19. 802 Squadron "Águias" with Chipmunk, L-23 and ASK 21, based at BA1 (Sintra)

    Aerobatic teams

    The Portuguese Air Force includes two aerobatic teams, the Asas de Portugal (Wings of Portugal) and the Rotores de Portugal (Rotors of Portugal), the first one being currently inactive.

    The Asas de Portugal is the fix wing flight national demonstration team of Portugal. It is part of the 103 Squadron, based at the BA11, Beja and operates Alpha Jet aircraft. The team was first activated in 1977, with Cessna T-37 aircraft, being the heir of the old aerobatic teams Dragões and São Jorge, that employed F-84G aircraft and were active until the early 1960s. The Asas was deactivated in 1990, when its T-37 were phased out. The team was reactivated in 1997, already equipped with Alpha Jet. It was inactive from 1998 to 2001, from 2001 to 2005 and became inactive again since 2010. Despite being currently inactive, the aircraft of the 103 Squadron continue to be painted with the livery of the Asas.

    The Rotores de Portugal is the rotorcraft flight national demonstration team of Portugal. It is part of the 552 Squadron, based at the BA11, Beja and operates Alouette III helicopters. The Rotores was first created in 1976. It was inactive from 1980 to 1982, from 1992 to 1993, from 1994 to 2004 and from 2005 to 2006.

    Rank Structure

    Accordingly, with their level of responsibility and authority, the military personnel of the FAP is divided in three categories: officers (oficiais), sergeants (sargentos) and other ranks (praças). Officers are further divided in three subcategories: general officers (oficiais generais), senior officers (oficiais superiores) and junior officers (oficiais subalternos).

    Occupational groups

    Accordingly, with their training and role, each member of the FAP is part of an occupational group designated "specialty".


    The officers specialties are: Pilots aviators (PILAV), Aeronautic engineers (ENGAER), Aerodromes engineers (ENGAED), Electrical engineers (ENGEL), Physicians (MED), Aeronautical administration (ADMAER), Jurists (JUR), Psychologists (PSI), Navigators (NAV), Communications and cryptography operations technicians (TOCC), Meteorology operations technicians (TOMET), Air circulation and traffic radar operations technicians (TOCART), Interception conduct operations technicians (TOCI), Air materiel maintenance technicians (TMMA), Ground materiel maintenance technicians (TMMT), Electrical materiel maintenance technicians (TMMEL), Armament and equipment maintenance technicians (TMAEQ), Infrastructures maintenance technicians (TMI), Supply technicians (TABST), IT technicians (TINF), Personnel and administrative support technicians (TPAA), Health technicians (TS), Air police (PA) and Chiefs of music band (CHBM).

    Only the officers of the PILAV specialty can reach the ranks of lieutenant-general and general. The officers of the engineers, MED, ADMAER, JUR and PSI specialties can reach the rank of major-general. Those of the NAV, technicians and PA specialties can reach the rank of colonel. Those of the CHBM specialty can reach the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

    Sergeants and other ranks

    The sergeants and other ranks specialties are: Communications operators (OPCOM), Meteorology operators (OPMET), Air circulation and traffic radar operators (OPCART), Detection radar operators (OPRDET), IT operators (OPINF), Assistance and aid systems operators (OPSAS), Air materiel mechanics (MMA), Ground materiel mechanics (MMT), Electricity mechanics (MELECT), Electronics mechanics (MELECA), Aircraft electricity and instruments mechanics (MELIAV), Armament and equipment mechanics (MARME), Supply (ABS), Infrastructure construction and maintenance (CMI), Air police (PA), Secretariat and service support (SAS) and Musicians (MUS).

    Land vehicles

  • Unimog U-400
  • Oshkosh T-3000
  • Renault 320 DCI Premium Protec-Fire
  • Mercedes-Benz 1823 Atego
  • Humvee
  • References

    Portuguese Air Force Wikipedia

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