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Base Aérea das Lajes
Base Aérea Nº 4
Aeroporto das Lajes
Lajes Field, as seen from the southeast coast of the island of Terceira
|Owner||Portuguese Air Force|
|Operator||Portuguese Air Force|
|Serves||Praia da Vitória/Angra do Heroísmo|
|Commander||Colonel Tito Mendonça|
|Elevation AMSL||55 m / 180 ft|
Lajes Field or Lajes Air Base (pronounced: [ˈlaʒɨʒ]; Portuguese: Base Aérea das Lajes), officially designated Air Base No. 4 (Base Aérea Nº 4, BA4) (IATA: TER, ICAO: LPLA), is a multi-use airfield, home to the Portuguese Air Force Base Aérea N º4 and Azores Air Zone Command (Portuguese: Comando da Zona Aérea dos Açores), a United States Air Force detachment unit (operated by the 65th Air Base Group of United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa), and a regional air passenger terminal located near Lajes and 15 km (9.3 mi) northeast of Angra do Heroísmo on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal. Located about 3,680 km (2,290 mi) east of New York City and about 1,600 km (990 mi) west of Lisbon, Portugal; the base sits in a strategic location midway between North America and Europe in the north Atlantic Ocean.
The origin of the Lajes Field dates back to 1928, when Portuguese Army Lieutenant colonel Eduardo Gomes da Silva wrote a report on the possible construction of an airfield in the plainland of Lajes, for that branch's aviation service (Portuguese: Aeronáutica Militar). However, the location of Achada on the island of São Miguel was chosen instead at the time for the construction of the field. In 1934, the Achada airfield was condemned due to its inadequate dimensions and adverse weather conditions, resulting in the construction of a landing strip of packed earth and a small group of support facilities by the Portuguese military at Lajes.
World War II
During World War II, the designation of the airfield was changed to Air Base No.4 and the Portuguese government expanded the runway, sending troops and equipment to Terceira, including Gloster Gladiator fighters. The military activities in the Azores grew in 1942, as the Gladiators began to be used to support allied convoys, in reconnaissance missions and on meteorological flights. In addition, the first Portuguese Junkers Ju 52 arrived in July 1942 to fly cargo missions.
By 1943, the British and American armed forces were allowed basing rights in Portugal, and the Royal Air Force took over Lajes Field as RAF Station Lajes. The Azores permitted British and American airplanes to protect Allied shipping in the mid-Atlantic.
On 1 December 1943, British and U.S. military representatives at RAF Lajes Field signed a joint agreement outlining the roles and responsibilities for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and United States Navy (USN) at Lajes Field. The agreement established guidelines and limitations for the ferrying of aircraft and the transport aircraft to Europe via Lajes Field. In return, the US agreed to assist the British in improving and extending existing facilities at Lajes. Air Transport Command transport planes began landing at Lajes Field immediately after the agreement was signed. By the end of June 1944, more than 1,900 American airplanes had passed through this Azorean base. Using Lajes Field, the flying time relative to the usual transatlantic route between Brazil and West Africa was nearly cut in half from 70 to 40 hours.
Lajes Field was one of the two stopover and refueling bases for the first transatlantic crossing of non-rigid airships (blimps) in 1944. The USN sent six Goodyear-built K-ships from Naval Air Station South Weymouth in Massachusetts to their first stopover base at Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland and then on to Lajes Field in the Azores before flying to their final destination at Port Lyautey (Kenitra), French Morocco. From their base with Fleet Air Wing 15 at Port Lyautey, the blimps of USN Blimp Squadron 14 (ZP-14 or Blimpron 14) conducted night-time anti-submarine warfare (ASW) to search for German U-boats around the Strait of Gibraltar using magnetic anomaly detection (MAD). In 1945, two ZP-14 replacement blimps were sent from Weeksville, North Carolina to the Bermudas and Lajes before going on to Craw Field (Kenitra Air Base) at Port Lyautey.
The United States and the United Kingdom transferred control of Lajes to Portugal in 1946. The Portuguese redesignated Lajes as Air Base No. 4 and assigned it to the air branch of the Portuguese Army. However, talks between the U.S. and Portugal began about extending the American stay in the Azores. A temporary agreement was reached between the U.S. and Portuguese governments giving the U.S. military rights to Lajes Field for an additional 18 months: the relationship between the Portuguese and American governments continues to this day, where the U.S. military resides under a tenancy status. Lajes Field remains Portuguese Air Base 4 under the direction of Headquarters Azores Air Zone commanded by Portuguese Air Force brigadeiro (equal to a U.S. two-star general).
In 1947, the Portuguese Esquadra 41 started to operate from Lajes, equipped with Boeing SB-17, Grumman HU-16 Albatross, Douglas C-54 Skymaster and, later Sikorsky H-19. This unit was responsible for the search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Atlantic between Europe and North America.
In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance was established. Portugal, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and various (other) western European countries were charter members of NATO. By reason of the NATO alliance, Lajes was available for use by those countries, and the use of Lajes was one of Portugal's primary contributions to the alliance.
In 1953, Lynde D. McCormick, the Commander-in-Chief of United States Atlantic Command organized a subordinate unified command in the Azores called U.S. Forces Azores (USFORAZ). A small staff of United States Army, United States Air Force, and United States Marine Corps personnel composed the joint staff of USFORAZ, serving as the liaison between the U.S. and the Portuguese in the Azores.
In the late 1950s, USAF air refueling/tanker aircraft were stationed at Lajes to provide inflight refueling for U.S. aircraft transiting the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the tanker units left Lajes by 1965, but others returned later, especially the USAF KC-135 Stratotanker. This transfer, coupled with the introduction of newer long-range aircraft, resulted in a gradual decline in Lajes traffic. The Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and its successor, the Military Airlift Command (MAC), became responsible for USAF activities at the base, and for a while the 1605th Military Airlift Support Wing acted as USAF host unit.
Lajes Field also played a crucial role in Cold War politics. From 1932 to 1968, Portugal was under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, yet the U.S. Government maintained friendly relations with the Estado Novo regime, especially after 1943. With rising postwar tensions between the East and the West, the United States understood the strategic importance of Lajes Field and continued its close friendship with the Salazar Government in Portugal.
During the Portuguese Colonial War, from 1961 to 1975, the Air Force Hospital at Lajes operated as the main centre for treatment and rehabilitation of mutilated and heavy burned soldiers of the three services of the Portuguese Armed Forces.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Lajes Field also supported U.S. airlift missions to Israel, highlighting the importance of the U.S. Air Force base at Lajes.
Another important Cold War operation at Lajes was the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Facility Lajes (NAF Lajes), a tenant activity at the air base. NAF Lajes, and its associated Tactical Support Center (TSC)/Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Center (ASWOC), supported rotational detachments of U.S. Navy P-2 Neptune and later P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft that would track Soviet attack, guided missile, and ballistic missile submarines in the region. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and end of the Cold War, P-3 operations at Lajes declined, and the Naval Air Facility was inactivated in the late 1990s.
Following the Portuguese Air Force reorganization of 1978, Lajes Air Base comes to have two resident flying units: Squadron 503 - equipped with CASA C-212 aircraft and Squadron 752 - equipped with Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma helicopters. In 1980, a detachment of Squadron 301 - equipped with Fiat G.91 fighter-bombers - starts to be based at Lajes, this being augmented and becoming Squadron 303 "Jaguares" in 1981.
The Mw 7.2 Azores Islands earthquake affected Terceira Island. Damage to Lajes Field was minimal, but Portuguese communities throughout the island suffered extensive damage. Military personnel responded with food, shelter, equipment, and manpower.
In the summer of 1984, Lajes undertook a new mission known as "SILK PURSE." Boeing EC-135s began operating out of Lajes Field as an airborne command post for the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Europe. Along with the aircraft came the U.S. European Command battle staff and flight crews from United States Air Forces in Europe. This mission was ended in late August 1991.
In 1990, Squadron 303 is disbanded.
Lajes supported the large airlift during the Gulf War. On the first day of the deployment over 90 aircraft transited Lajes. Strategic Air Command (SAC) created a provisional tanker wing, the 802nd Air Refueling Wing (P) Provisional, at Lajes to support the airlift. At the height of the operation a peak of 33 tanker aircraft and 600 troops deployed to Lajes. Soon after the Gulf War ended, Lajes command changed from Air Mobility Command, to Air Combat Command.
In 1993, squadrons 503 and 752 are merged in a single mixed unit operating both C-212 and Aérospatiale Puma, theis being the 711 Squadron "Albatrozes" (Albatrosses).
The resident Portuguese 711 Squadron was deactivated on 30 November 2006. With this act the long-serving Aerospatiale Puma was retired from service. The Puma helicopters were replaced by the modern AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin: the Portuguese government purchased twelve units for SAR, CSAR and Fisheries enforcement. Air Base No.4 received three Merlins on permanent detachment from Esquadra 751 "Pumas" from Air Base No.6 at Montijo, near Lisbon. They saw immediate service starting 1 December 2006. However, maintenance problems developed in the next coming months which, coupled with a shortage of spare parts from the manufacturer, led to such a low serviceble rate forcing the Portuguese Air Force to pull the Merlin from service in the Azores. The last Merlin flew back to Montijo on 19 March 2009. In order not to compromise the SAR mission, the Portuguese Air Force decided to reactivate the Puma fleet: in July 2008 a formation of four Puma helicopters made the trans-Atlantic crossing from Beja to Lajes via Porto Santo Airport on Porto Santo Island and Santa Maria Airport on Santa Maria Island.
The Portuguese Air Force continues to operate one SAR unit Squadron 752 "Pumas" operating five ubiquitous and reliable Aerospatiale Pumas to fly patients among the islands, from ships during SAR missions and during other transport duties. The entire Merlin fleet is expected to return to full operational status eventually, giving way to the definitive retirement of the Puma helicopters. There is also a long-standing CASA C-212 Aviocar detachment from mainland Squadron 401 "Cientistas".
In 2009 Lajes provided rescue support of shipping lanes across the Atlantic, a safe haven for medical or mechanical emergency situations in aircraft crossing the Atlantic, and support for the USAF's continuing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fighter, tanker and transport planes frequently stopped there, either east or westbound. The next decade expects to see a rise in the number of U.S. Department of Defense aircraft to transit Lajes supporting the newly created AFRICOM.
The base also supports other NATO and non-NATO armed forces assets crossing the Atlantic for transport, VIP, exercise, relief or humanitarian duties.
The civilian terminal also plays an important role in support of passenger and cargo airliners, executive, corporate and private jets flying to the island or beyond as the central location in the Azores group of islands makes it an ideal spot for refuelling or stopover. In the past five years, large Antonov An-124 and An-225 aircraft have been seen frequently transporting outsized cargo for destinations in North and South America.
Civilian operators may use Terceira Airport/Lajes Air Base after requesting a landing permit according to the rules inscribed in the AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication) for Portugal, issued by the Portuguese Directorate of Civilian Aviation (INAC).
Lajes provides support to 15,000 aircraft, including fighters from the US and 20 other allied nations each. The geographic position has made this airbase strategically important to both the United States and NATO's war fighting capability. In addition, a small commercial aviation terminal handles scheduled and chartered flights from North America and Europe, especially mainland Portugal. It also supervises commercial air traffic with the other islands in the Azorean archipelago and trans-Atlantic refuelling and stopovers for commercial airlines, executive and corporate jets, air cargo haulers, small private aircraft, governmental flights, humanitarian missions, and other flights.
Today, Lajes continues to support transiting aircraft. Beginning in 1997, large scale fighter aircraft movements under the new USAF operating concept known as the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) filled the Lajes flightline. Lajes also has hosted B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer bomber aircraft on global air missions, and also supported many routine NATO exercises, such as the biennial Northern Viking exercise. Lajes Field services aircraft from various nations, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. The airfield was an alternative landing site for the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter and also now plays as the number one diversion airport for medical or mechanical emergency diversion situations for all types of aircraft. An annual average of 50 aircraft of all types divert to Lajes as a mid Atlantic safe haven.
In August 2006, Portuguese news agencies reported that both governments were in discussions for a new agreement that could allow the use of Lajes for the training of a permanent F-22 Raptor squadron. Since 1943, the use of Lajes by the U.S. military has allowed Portugal to strengthen diplomatic relations with the U.S. as well as obtain military equipment for the Portuguese Armed Forces, including two A-7P Corsair II squadrons and the co-finance of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft under the Peace Atlantis I program.
Recently, in August 2010, Portuguese news agencies advised for the termination of the F-22 Raptor plan to use Lajes as a platform for DACT training over the Atlantic Ocean. DoD sources were cited as the plan cancelled due to budgetary constraints. This was regarded locally as a setback for the military environment at Lajes, as well as raising doubts from regional political forces who have concerns regarding the base future as well as the safety of the Azorean employed workforce.
Despite NATO and non-NATO fighter and transport planes which continue to use Lajes on a regular basis, the US DoD movements are now at an all-time low. With more and more airplanes making use of air-to-air refueling, Lajes has been for some periods of time, ranging from weeks to months, almost deserted except for the occasional C-130 or KC-135.
Portugal has explored contingencies in the event the United States military eventually abandons Lajes, including the possibility of entering an agreement with the People's Republic of China. On June 27, 2012, an airplane carrying Premier Wen Jiabao made a four-hour stop at Lajes during which time he toured the island.
On 14 December 2012 it was announced that personnel at Lajes Field will be reduced in 2014 with a reduction of 400 military personnel and 500 family members. After these reductions about 900 military personnel and their family members will remain. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) has questioned the studies that showed cost savings to be had from moving operations to England.
Airlines and destinations
|Azores Airlines||Boston, Lisbon, Pico Island, Porto
Seasonal: Oakland, Toronto-Pearson
Seasonal charter: Madrid
|SATA Air Açores||Corvo, Flores, Graciosa, Horta, Pico, Ponta Delgada, São Jorge|
|TUI Airlines Netherlands||Seasonal: Amsterdam|
Portuguese Air Force
Azores Aerial Detachment:
- Esq. 502 "Elefantes" - tactical and general transport duties, medical evacuation, maritime patrol, and search and rescue support; flying one EADS CASA C-295, deployed from Montijo AB.
- Esq. 751 "Pumas" - search and rescue squadron flying two AgustaWestland AW101, deployed from Montijo AB. Now undertaking the SAR and airevac mission within the Santa Maria FIR - Flight Information Region.
United States Air Force
Lajes Field is the home of the 65th Air Base Group, which in turn is subordinate to the United States Air Forces in Europe. The group provides base and en route support for the U.S. Department of Defense, NATO, and other authorized aircraft transiting the installation. Is expected to transition to an Air Base Group category in 2014. Due to the global economic crisis, the US government decided to reduce the military contingent at Lajes to no more than 170 active duty personnel. Families will relocate stateside or elsewhere, several buildings, dorms and homes will be made redundant. This much reduced effective will still be responsible to keep Lajes operational mission active although at a much reduced scale, with relevant changes to be implemented from March 2014.
In addition to the 65th Air Base Wing, other units at Lajes Field include the U.S. Army Military Traffic Management Command’s 1324th Military Port Command, U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command’s 729th Air Mobility Support Squadron, Detachment 6 of the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Detachment 250 - Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Defense Property Disposal Office, and the Defense Commissary Agency.
Lajes Field is also the home of the 65th Communication Squadron, which provides communication in the form of High Frequency Global Communications Systems (HFGCS), ground radio, ground radar, SatCom (Satellite Communications), and cryptography to the base.
Accidents and incidents
- On January 31, 1951, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster operated by the Portuguese Air Force crashed into the sea while approaching Lajes Field, having taken off from Lisbon, Portugal, killing all 14 on board.
- On August 9, 1954, a Lockheed L-749A-79 Constellation operated by Avianca crashed three minutes after take off. It flew left into the hills instead of right towards the sea, killing all 30 on board.
- On October 10, 1956, a United States Navy Douglas R6D-1 Liftmaster transport on a Military Air Transport Service flight disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean during a flight from RAF Lakenheath, England, to Lajes Field with the loss of all 59 people on board.
- On September 3, 1976, a Venezuelan Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed while attempting an emergency landing during Hurricane Emmy. On final approach, a wind gust slammed the aircraft into a hillside, killing all 68 people aboard. Most of the passengers were members of the student chorus of the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, traveling to Barcelona.
- On February 4, 1998, an Antonov 12BP operated by Air Luxor crashed on take off when the number three engine shut down and feathered. The plane then veered right, stalled and crashed into a hill killing all 7 on board.
- On 24 August 2001, Air Transat Flight 236 en route to Lisbon from Toronto, Canada made an emergency landing at Lajes with no loss of life (the Airbus A330 had 293 passengers and 13 crew members on board), after running out of fuel over the Atlantic and gliding about 120 km (75 mi).
- On 6 August 2014, Thomson Airways flight 157 was forced to make an emergency landing while on its way from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to Manchester, United Kingdom. Thomson Airways spokeswomen said the plane encountered "technical difficulties". The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was carrying 288 passengers and 8 crew.
- Aviation in the Azores
- Portugal during World War I
- Satellite map images with missing or unclear data
- AIP Part 3 - AD 2 Aerodromes
- "Lajes Field History - The U.S. Enters the Azores". Washington D.C.: 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs/Air Force ePublishing. 6 June 2006. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Blimp Squadron 14
- Kaiser, Don (2011), "K-Ships Across the Atlantic", Naval Aviation News (PDF), 93 (2), retrieved 6 June 2011
- Kaiser, Don (2011). "Blimp Squadron 14". Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Mais Alto 348, p. 37
- The deactivation resulted in the storage of one unit at Lajes, one at the Museum at Sintra and the remaining eight helicopters placed in storage at Air Base No.º11 in Beja
- A copy can be read off at eAIP Portugal - Home.
- Atlantic Crossroads, Vol. 11
- "Red Flag Over the Atlantic: China is angling to take over a U.S. airbase in the Azores", National Review Online, November 5, 2012.
- Barnes, Julian E. (18 March 2016). "U.K. or the Azores? Location of U.S. Intelligence Center Stirs Debate". wsj.com. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
- "PAF DC-4 aircrash" Aviation Safety Network Database. Retrieved: 13 April 2012.
- "Avianca Constellation aircrash" Aviation Safety Network Database. Retrieved: 13 April 2012.
- Aviation Safety Network Aircraft Accident Douglas R6D-1 (DC-6) 131588 Land’s End, UK
- US Navy and US Marine Corps BuNos Third Series (130265 to 135773)
- Chronology of Significant Events in Naval Aviation: "Naval Air Transport" 1941 -- 1999
- Grossnick, Roy A., United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995, Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, undated ISBN 0-945274-34-3, p. 214, claims the date was 11 October 1956.
- Lee, Gabriel. "Silicon Valley Scale Modelers". Retrieved 2010-08-03.
On September 3rd, 1976 FAV7772 crashed into a hill just short of the Lajes Air Base in the Azores Island of Terceira while flying in Hurricane Emmy, killing the flight crew of 10 and the 58 members of the Central University Choir who were all between the ages of 17 and 21. Among them a young married couple of university students who had recently found out that they were expecting. The Hercules had attempted to land twice before crashing in the nearly zero visibility rain (called Hurricane Emmy) and into the nearby volcanic rocks that formed a hill (approximately 1 mile short from the runway). The first sign that something tragic had happened that night was when an insomniac priest heard the sounds of a crash near his home and proceeded to investigate in the driving rain. He stumbled across a landscape littered with sheet music with the title GLORIA AL BRAVO PUEBLO (Glory to the Brave people), Venezuela’s National Anthem, the first verses of the national anthem translating to "Glory to the Brave peoples that overthrew the yoke of tyranny." He found the plane wreckage and inevitably the remains of the crash victims. There are still a number of unanswered questions about that flight. Why was the radar site on the island of Lajes, a NATO Air Base and the radar installation itself operated by the USAF, working erratically and not getting fixed? Why was no disciplinary action for negligence brought up against the USAF officer in charge of the radar that night? Subsequent investigations found that the USAF Officer was not at his duty station and was instead playing pool, leaving an untrained Portuguese soldier who spoke no English in charge. English is the international language of Aviation communication. It was found in these investigations that FAV7772 had communicated a need to land to get out of Hurricane Emmy and into safety, not to mention that they were also getting low on fuel. The Portuguese soldier couldn’t give FAV7772 landing instructions.
- "Venezuelan Air Force C-130 crash" Aviation Safety Network Database. Retrieved: 13 April 2012.
- "Air Luxor An-12 aircrash" Aviation Safety Network Database. Retrieved: 13 April 2012.
- A330 'glider' drama facts revealed. Flight International, 26 Oct 2004. Retrieved 5 Jan 2007.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.
- Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History, 1984
- Gonçalves, Cte. J. Munkelt (April 2004). "O Amanhecer da Asa Rotativa na Aviação Militar Portuguesa" [The Dawn of the Rotary Wing in the Portuguese Military Aviation] (PDF). Mais Alto (in Portuguese). Portuguese Air Force (348): 36–42. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
Media related to Lajes Air Base at Wikimedia Commons
- Terceira: US Congress voted opposing limiting military presence in Lajes – Washington, DC
- Lajes Field Official Home Page
- United States Air Forces in Europe
- Air Mobility Command
- Air Force News Agency
- 65th Air Base Wing
- Global Security
- Air Base No. 4 (BA4) at the Portuguese Air Force official website
- Esquadra 751 or 751 Squadron "Pumas" (AW101 Merlin) at the Portuguese Air Force official website
- Esquadra 751 official site
- First transatlantic crossing of non-rigid airships by USN Blimp Squadron ZP-14