Portuguese Air Foce

Força Aerea Portuguesa


One of the less affluent nations in the Western alliance of NATO is Portugal. In centuries past, explorers from the country roamed the oceans, their sails adorned by Henry the Navigator's cross seen above. Nowadays, Portugal's military aircraft can be seen inside and outside of the country bearing the same symbol. Post World War II Portugal's attention remained focussed on its African colonies to which the country managed to hold on long after their British and French allies had left theirs. This resulted in long and bloody conflicts which naturally led to defeats as Portugal could not possibly continue fighting insurgencies with that intensity. 1974's Carnation Revolution led to the fall of the military junta and the granting of independence to the final colonies of Moçabique, Angola and Guinee Bissau. This was followed by withdrawal of military units back to Portugal, including air force units stationed in Africa and a focussing on NATO. 

The 1980's Força Aerea Portuguesa was centered around Italian designed and German supplied FIAT G.91R-3's and former U.S. Navy Vought A-7P Corsair II's rebuilt from A-7A's. The FIAT's, once back on Portuguese soil flew with Escuadra 301 "Jaguares" at Montijo near Lisbon. They as well as the Corsairs provided some measure of air-to-air and air-to-surface capability.The Corsairs were based on Monte Real between Lisbon and Porto however, flying with Esc 302 " Falcoes"  and Esc 304 "Magnificos". It wasn't until the mid 1990's that the Lockheed-Martin F-16 supplanted the Corsairs. Some years before, second hand German Alpha Jets replaced the FIAT's giving  the FAP a combat capable trainer. The arrival of the Alpha Jet signalled the end for Portugal's Lockheed T-33A and Northrop T-38A. For primary training purposes, the De Havilland Canada DHC.1 Chipmunk had served alongside the Cessna T-37C. These gave way during the nineties to SOCATA TB.30 Epsilons supplied by France. 

Portugal's rotary winged force relied for decades on the trusty French Sud Alouette III. The sturdy Alouette had given stirling service in Africa and could even be seen in those days armed with a door mounted  machine gun by way of a makeshift gunship. Today, the Alouette still serves, albeit in reduced numbers in the helicopter training role. Over water Search and Rescue had given rise to the purchase during the 1970's of Aerospatiale SA.330 Pumas, a type that nowadays has been replaced with the Agusta-Westland EH.101.

FIAT G.91R-3 5460, Esc 301, Montijo, 28 June 1987.

A-7P 15533, Soesterberg, 21 June 1995.

Alpha Jet A 15209, Esc 301, Kleine Brogel, 19 June 2001.

DHC.1 1333, Esc 101, Montijo, 28 June 1987.

T-37C 2406, Esc 102, Montijo, 28 June 1987.

T-33A 1924, Esc 103, Montijo, 28 June 1987.


T-38A 2602, Esc 102, Fairford, 19 July 1991.

SA.316B 9377, Esc 552, Montijo, 28 June 1987.

SA.330C 9505, Esc 751, Coxyde, 17 July 1986.


Todays FAP (Força Aerea Portuguesa) operates two Escuadras with F-16's. These are a mix of new built F-16A's en B's (17 A + 3 B) completed to Block 15 OCU standard, but recently converted to Block 15 MLU standard to the same specification as those flown by Western European partners Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands en Belgium. The F-16's were initially flown by the resurrected Esc 201 "Falcoes" at Monte Real which had closed down when the Sabres retired in 1979. The F-16 force was doubled after 2000  with another 20 former USAF F-16A/B's from Block 15 (16 A+ 4 B) to enable Esc 301 "Jaguares" to convert from Alpha Jets to F-16's and move from Beja to Monte Real in the process. The F-16's are true Swing Role aircraft, capable of performing any air-to-air and air-to-ground mission required. 

 F-16A-15OCU 15113, Esc 201, Kleine Brogel, 24 October 2000.

F-16AM, 15126, Esc 301, Monte Real, 30 August 2010.

F-16BM, 15137, Esc 301, Monte Real, 30 August 2010.

C-130H 16804, Esc 501, Brussels-Melsbroek, 27 September 2002.

C-130H-30 16806, Esc 501, Montijo, 31 August 2010.

Da.50 17440, Esc 504,  Brussels-Zaventem, 22 May 2000.


Transport, as in many countries is the realm of the Lockheed C-130H Hercules. Three standard length C-130H's as well as three stretched C-130H-30's serve with Esc 501 "Bisontes" at Montijo. Their neighbours of Esq 502 "Elefantes" operate five CASA 295M's as light transports delivered from an order for 12 aircraft. 

Further light transport is performed by nine CASA 212-100's remaining from 24 delivered flying with Esc 401 "Scientistas" at Montijo. Special mention deserve the pair of CASA 212-300's with Esc 401. Their role is that of maritime surveillance support. 

A trio of Dassault Falcon 50's serve with Esc 504 " Linces"  and are tasked with VIP transport. For reasons of convenience they are based at the Portela de Sacavém airport.

C.212-100 16517, Esc 401, Montijo, 31 August 2010.

C.212-300 6502, Esc 502, Boscombe Down, 8 June 1990.

C.295M 16706, Esc 502, Montijo, 31 August 2010.


Portugal's rotary wing force has been greatly modernised during the past 20 years. Apart from a detachment at Lajes, Azores, the Pumas have been replaced by the Agusta-Westland EH.101 Mk.514, Mk.515 and Mk.516. Like the Puma's before them they fly with Esc 752 "Pumas" at Montijo. All twelve have now been delivered, comprising six Mk.514's, two Mk.515's and four Mk.516's. Long range maritime reconnaisance is provided by the ubiquitous Lockheed P-3C Orion. Since the late eighties, Portugal's Air Force has flown six former Royal Australian Air Force P-3B's converted to a modernised standard known as the P-3P. The Dutch government's decision in 2003 to retire the Dutch Navy's Orions gave the FAP the opportunity to buy five P-3C's at bargain prices and these now equip Esc 601 "Lobos" at Beja. Not exactly part of the Air Force, the Portuguese Westland Lynx fleet of five Lynx Mk.95's equip Escuadra de Helicopteros da Marinha which also is based at Montijo. EscHelMarinha provides detachments for Portuguese Navy frigates. 

EH.101 Mk. 516 19611, Esc 752, Montijo, 31 August 2010.

Lynx Mk.95, 19201, EscMarHeli, De Kooy, 10 May 2000.

P-3C 14807, Esc 601, Beja, 1 September 2010.


Training is performed within Portugal itself. A single squadron, Esc 101 "Roncos" fly the SOCATA TB.30 Epsilons, 18 of which were delivered. The Portuguese Air Force Academy has a small fleet of three Czech built Omnipol L.23 Blanik metal gliders, for which a number of DHC.1 Chipmunks have been retained to serve as tow aircraft. Six Chipmunks which have been given uprated engines still serve with the Academy at Sintra, the gliders themselves being based at Ota with Esc 802 "Águias". 

L.23 10203, Academia da Força Aerea, Ota, 30 August 2010.

DHC-1 1315, Academia da Forca Aerea, Sintra, 31 August 2010.

TB.30 11405, Esc 101, Sintra, 31 August 2010.


Esc 301  is a staunch member of NATO´s almost anually held Tiger Meets. The unit first took part in a NATO Tiger Meet during 1978 which was held at Kleine Brogel in Belgium. At the time, the unit still flew FIAT G.91´s. The G.91 seen below left gives an impression of the Tiger livery the FIAT´s would wear. On the Alpha Jet, Tiger schemes could be elaborate as well as evidenced here at Kleine Brogel in 2001. The F-16 has so far not been seen in Tiger schemes, although this may come about in any future Tiger Meet.

During the 1970's de FAP operated a demo team called Asas de Portugal (Wings of Portugal), flying T-37C's. This team was dissolved when the T-37's retired. Some years ago, a pair of Alpha Jets flying with Esc 103 "Caracóis" at Beja in the advanced training role were gave rise to the come back of Asa de Portugal. They were given a suitable colour scheme. Furthermore, Beja also houses de "Rotores de Portugal" demo team of three Alouette III's. They are from Esc 552 "Zangões".

G.91R-3 5454, Esc 301, Montijo, 28 June 1987.

Alpha Jet A 15250, Esc 301, Kleine Brogel, 19 June 2001.

F-16AM, 15133, Esc 301, Leeuwarden, 22 July 2008.

Asas de Portugal, Santiago de la Ribera, 4 June 2006.

SA.316B 19377, Rotores de Portugal, Santiago de la Ribera, 4 June 2006.

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink