Lajes Air Base Diagram.
Lajes Field or Lajes Air Base (Portuguese: Base Aérea das Lajes), officially designated Air Base No. 4 (Base Aérea Nº 4, BA4) (IATA: TER, ICAO: LPLA), is a Portuguese Air Force facility home to the Azores Air Zone Command (Comando da Zona Aérea dos Açores) Base Aérea nº 4 and to a United States Air Force detachment, and located near Lajes on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal. Located about 2,300 mi (3,680 km) east of New York City and about 1,000 mi (1,600 km) west of Lisbon, Portugal, the base sits in a strategic location midway between North America and Europe in the North Atlantic Ocean. The USAF part of the base is operated by the 65th Air Base Wing of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE).
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, on Terceira Island, for that branch's aviation service (Aeronáutica Militar). However, the location of Achada on São Miguel Island 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, Terceira island.
World War II
During World War II, the designation of the airfield was changed to Air Base No. 5 and the Portuguese government expanded the runway and sent troops and equipment to Lajes, including Gloster Gladiator fighters. The military activities in the Azores grew in 1942 as the Gladiators progressed into flying cover for allied convoys, reconnaissance missions, and meteorological flights. Also in July 1942, the first Portuguese Ju 52 arrived to fly cargo missions.
In 1943, the British and American armed forces were allowed basing rights in Portugal, and the RAF took over Lajes Field as RAF Lagens. 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 Lagans Field signed a joint agreement outlining the roles and responsibilities for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and United States Navy (USN) at Lagens Field. The agreement established guidelines and limitations for the US to ferry and transport aircraft to Europe via Lagens Field. In return, the US agreed to assist the British in improving and extending existing facilities at Lagens. Air Transport Command transport planes began landing at Lagens 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 Lagens 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.
Lagens Field also served as one of two main 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 Lagens Field in the Azores before flying to their final destination at Port Lyautey, French Morocco. From their base with Fleet Air Wing 15 at Port Lyautey, the blimps of USN Blimp Squadron ZP-14 (Blimpron 14) conducted nighttime anti-submarine warfare (ASW), surveillance of German U-boats around the Straits of Gibraltar using magnetic anomaly detection (MAD). In 1945, two ZP-14 replacement blimps were sent from Weeksville, North Carolina to the Bermudas and Lagens before going on to Port Lyautey. See also: http://www.warwingsart.com/LTA/zp-14.html .
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 U.S. still exists today. 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). The U.S. military resides at Lajes under tenancy status.
In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 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. Similarly, Iceland provided the use of Keflavík International Airport as its principal contribution to NATO.
In 1953, 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, 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 came back later, especially the USAF KC-135 Stratotanker. This transfer, coupled with the introduction of newer aircraft with longer ranges, caused 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 Oliveira Salazar, but the U.S. Government had friendly relations with him, especially from 1943 on. With rising postwar tensions between the East and the West, the United States understood the importance of Lajes Field and remained close friends with the Salazar Government of Portugal.
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 disestablished in the late 1990s.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Lajes Field had also supported U.S. airlift missions to Israel, highlighting the importance of the U.S. Air Force base at Lajes.
In 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.
In 1980, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck 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.
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 (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.
On August 24, 2001, Air Transat Flight 236 between Toronto, Canada, and Lisbon made an emergency landing at Lajes with no loss of life - after running out of fuel over the Atlantic and gliding about 120 km (75 miles). The Airbus A330 had 293 passengers and 13 crew members on board.
The Portuguese resident Squadron 711 Albatrozes "Albatrosses" was deactivated November 30, 2006. With this act the long serving Aerospatiale Puma was retired from service with disposal being one stored at Lajes one at the Museum at Sintra and the remaining eight helicopters placed in storage at Air Base nº 11, Beja.
The Puma helicopters were replaced by the modern Agusta Westland AW101 Merlin, Portugal having purchased twelve examples for SAR, CSAR and Fisheries protection. Air Base 4 received three examples on permanent detachment from Esquadra 751 "Pumas" from Air Base nº6 at Montijo, near Lisbon.
They saw immediate service starting December 1, 2006 once taking over from the Puma. However, teething 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 that forced the Portuguese Air Force to pull out the Merlin from the Azores. The last detached example flew back to Montijo March 19, 2009.
In order not to compromise the SAR mission, the Portuguese Air Force decided to reactivate the Puma fleet so, in July 2008 a formation of four Puma helicopters made the ever trans atlantic crossing from Beja to Lajes via Porto Santo and Santa Maria islands.
Nowadays the Portuguese Air Force has one based SAR squadron Esq. 752 "Pumas" (reactivated in order to house this "new" Puma lease of life) operating five examples of the venerable but ubiquitous and reliable Aerospatiale Puma flying patients among the islands, from ships as well as SAR missions and other transport duties. There is also a long standing CASA C-212 Aviocar detachment from mainland Esquadra 401 "Cientistas".
In the next five years it is expected to return the entire Merlin fleet to full operational status giving way to the definitive retirement of the Puma helicopters.
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 when 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 124 and Antonov 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). A copy can be read off at eAIP Portugal - Home.
Lajes provides support to 15,000 aircraft including fighters from the US and 20 other allied nations each year. 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 transatlantic 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 Venzuela. The airfield is 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 any kind of airplanes. An annually average of 50 diversions of any type use 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 envinronment at Lajes, as well as rasing 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.
Airlines and destinations
|Air Transat|Toronto-Pearson [seasonal]
|Arkefly|Amsterdam [summer seasonal charter only]
|Small Planet Airlines|Milan [summer seasonal charter only]
|SATA Air Açores|Flores, Graciosa, Horta, Pico, Ponta Delgada, Corvo, Santa Maria, São Jorge
|SATA International|Lisbon, Porto [seasonal], Madrid [seasonal], Boston [seasonal], Oakland [seasonal], Toronto-Pearson [seasonal], Toronto-Hamilton [seasonal]
|TAP Air Portugal|Lisbon]
Portuguese Air Force
United States Air Force
Lajes Field is the home of the 65th Air Base Wing, which in turn is subordinate to the United States Air Forces in Europe. The wing provides base and en route support for United States Department of Defense, NATO, and other authorized aircraft transiting the installation.
In addition to the 65th Air Base Wing, other units at Lajes Field include 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 News 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 ground radio, ground radar, SatCom (Satellite Communications), and cryptography to the base.
Lajes Air Base
Lajes Air Base
Lajes Air Base
Lajes Air Base
Lajes Air Base - An Indian Air Force Il-78MKI landing in Lajes Field
Lajes Air Base - Lajes Field, as seen from the southeast coast of the island of Terceira
The content above was published at Airports-Worldwide.com in 2010.
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