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Força Aérea Brasileira (FAB) Brazilian Air Force

Established in 1941, the FAB (Brazilian Air Force) was the newest of the services and gradually has gained a larger share of the budget. The strength of the FAB--50,000 members in 1997 (including 5,000 conscripts), 272 combat aircraft, and forty-five armed helicopters -- made it the largest air force in Latin America. The strength of the Brazilian Air Force (Forca Aerea Brasileira — FAB) of almost 43,000 officers and men and about 600 aircraft in 1982 made it the largest air force in Latin America. The FAB's budget is relatively large because of its civil air budget.

The minister of aeronautics, in addition to commanding the air force, controls all civil air activities: the construction and operation of airports through the Brazilian Airport Infrastructure Firm (Empresa Brasileira de Infraestructura Aeroportuária--Infraero), and air traffic control through the Civil Aviation Department (Departamento de Aviação Civil--DAC).


Brazilian military aviation began on 13 January 1913, when the Brazilian School of Aviation was founded. On 2 February 1914, the school began operations at Campo dos Afonsos near Rio de Janeiro with three Farman biplanes and five Blériot monoplanes that it had purchased from Italy. Organized under the Minister of War, the school was to train aviators for the Army and Navy.

The Brazilian Air Force had not always been a separate and coequal member of the country's defense establishment. Like the United States Air Force, it had its beginnings in the Army, and it was World War II that provided the impetus for its separation and independence. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, U.S. leaders watched events unfolding in Europe and looked Southward as they considered possible threats to national security. Hemispheric defense was the watchword of the day, and Brazil figured significantly in the calculations of that defense.

The United States needed to deny possible hostile nations a foothold in this hemisphere and to have secure bases for its own forces. U.S. efforts to accomplish those two goals, along with some provocation from the German submarine forces, brought Brazil into the war on the Allies' side. Tied up in these events of 1938-42 was the creation of the Brazilian Air Force.

Beginning in 1940, the United States made military equipment and assistance available to the Brazilians. A United States Military Mission was established in Brazil, surplus coast defense material was sold to Brazil at bargain prices, and training aircraft, light tanks, scout cars, and various other types of vehicles were supplied.10 All of this generosity was designed not only to enhance Brazilian capability but also to draw the Brazilians into a confidential relationship and onto the "side" opposing the Axis powers. What the United States really needed was access to air bases in northeastern Brazil that would allow its forces to cover the South Atlantic shipping lanes and concurrently deny the area to the Germans or Italians.

The air force, through its Directorate of Civil Aviation, was responsible for the early development of civil air operations. In addition to subsidizing the purchase of equipment for private airlines, the air force also instituted airmail and passenger service to sparsely settled areas that would not have been profitable for private companies.


The line of military command extended from the minister through his chief of staff, who heads the Air Force General Staff (Estado-Maior da Aeronáutica--EMAer), down to the commanders of the three general commands: General Air Command (Comando Geral do Ar), General Support Command (Comando Geral de Apoio), and General Personnel Command (Comando Geral do Pessoal) and three departments: Research and Development, Civil Aviation, and Training. There were also seven regional air commands under the General Air Command that cover the entire country. Numbered from one to seven, the headquarters of the regional air commands include Belém, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Brasília, and Manaus.

The minister of aeronautics, in addition to commanding the air force, had the added responsibility of controlling all civil air activities. The line of military command extended from the minister through his chief of staff down to the commanders of five major commands: Air Defense, Tactical, Maritime, Transport, and Training. There were also six territorial air commands that covered the entire country. Numbered from one to six, the headquarters of the regional air commands were located at Belém, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Pôrto Alegre, and Brasilia, respectively.

The Air Defense Command consisted of a one-squadron wing, the 1st Air Defense Wing (1° Ala de Defesa Aérea, known as 10 ALADA), which operated 16 Mirage III aircraft, 12 interceptors, and four trainers. In early 1981 Mattos announced that construction of the country's first SAM missile base was to begin near Florianópolis, the capital city of Santa Catarina on the southern coast. This was to be the first in a planned series of such bases that would become part of the Air Defense Command. A French company, Thompson CSF, had installed communications systems, computers, and radars in the BrasIlia-Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo triangle that will be part of the overall air defense system. Army-operated Roland mobile SAM launchers were deployed in the same general area.

The Tactical Command (Comando Aerotático) comprised three groups of fighter aircraft equipped with a total of 32 Northrop F-5E fighters and four F-5B trainers. There were also six to eight counterinsurgency and reconnaissance squadrons equipped with 139 AT-26 Xavante strike-trainers (including 11 RT-26 reconnaissance version).

The Maritime, or Coastal, Command (Comando Costeiro) operated the fixed-wing aircraft aboard the carrier Minas Gerais in addition to various land-based squadrons engaged in antisubmarine patrols and search-and-rescue activities. Aircraft used included the EMB-lil, the maritime patrol and reconnaissance version of the Bandeirante; the Lockheed RC-130E Hercules; and the Grumman Albatross, production of which began in 1949. The command also had Bell 47G and SA-330 Puma helicopters. The major bases of the Maritime Command were located in Santa Cruz, Rio Grande do Sul; Florianópolis, Santa Catarina; Salvador, Bahia; and Recife.

In the 1980s the Air Transport Group had various groups for general transport missions. Aircraft included two KC-130 Hercules for air-to-air refueling in addition to several other C-130s and Bandeirantes for routine transport. The Troop Transport Group (Grupo de Transporte de Tropas) at Campo dos Afoncas supported the army's paratroop units using 21 DeHaviland Buffalos, some of which operated as troop carriers at Camp Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Manaus, Amazonas. The Special Transport Group (Grupo de Transporte Especial) was equipped with a wide variety of aircraft for VIP transport and special missions. The Training Command also had a variety of aircraft, including Brazilian as well as foreign-made planes.


Under the control of the regional air commands were more than 800 aircraft of different types (fighter, attack, patrol, SAR, transport, helicopters and reconnaissance). These are grouped into Esquadrões (squadrons) which form Grupos (groups). According to its tasks, the different Grupos are: Grupo de Aviação (GAV: fighter, attack, SAR, helicopter), Grupo de Defesa Aérea(GDA: interception), Grupo de Transporte(GT: transport, flight refuelling), Grupo de Transporte de Tropa (GTT: transport, troop carrying and parachutist drop). Other smaller units are the Esquadrões de Instrução Aérea - EIA (flight instruction squadrons) and the FAB aerobatics squadron, or Esquadrão de Demonstração Aérea.

Located in São José dos Campos, Embraer (Empresa Brasileira Aeronautica, meaning Brazilian aeronautics enterprise), the country's foremost manufacturer of airframes. Brazil in the early 1980s had not yet begun to produce aircraft engines. In addition to its popular commercial airliner known as the Bandeirante, Embraer also made Xingu jet trainers and Xavante jet fighters for its own forces and for export. In 1981 Embraer was ranked among the top 10 aircraft producers in the noncom munist world.

The EMB-110 Bandeirante was designed by the Ministry of Aeronautics as a general-purpose military aircraft, but its civilian version has been purchased by as many as two dozen countries, including the United States, where it has been used by several feeder and commuter airlines. The Transport Command of the Brazilian Air Force had about 100 Bandeirantes in inventory in 1982. The plane's military designation is C-95. A similar aircraft, EMB-111, was designed for maritime surveillance and designated P-95 by the air force. The Coastal Command used 12 P-95s in its patrol operations in 1982.

Power plants (twin turboprop) for the EMB-110 and EMB-111 were supplied by Pratt and Whitney Aircraft of Canada. The AT-26 Xavante, named after an Indian tribe, is the Italian Aermacchi MB-326, a ground attack jet manufactured by Embraer under license. In addition to Brazilian Air Force use in both the Tactical Command and the Training Command, the AT-26 has also been sold to the air forces of Paraguay and Togo, which purchased nine and six aircraft, respectively.

The Xingu (air force designation VIJ-9) is a twinturboprop general-purpose transport and advanced trainer used by the Transport Command; it has also been used in Colombia, Britain, Belgium, and some Middle Eastern countries. In March 1982 France received the first two Xingus of an order placed in late 1980 for a total of 41 of the popular planes. The French will assign 25 to the air force and 16 to the navy for transport and training activities.

A new basic trainer for the Brazilian Air Force reached the production stage in 1982, and the first aircraft—EMB-312, designated T-27 Tucano by the air force—were scheduled for delivery to air force units before the end of the year. A São Paulo newspaper reported in October 1982 that Embraer had agreed to supply 100 Tucanos to Libya. Also in the development stage was the AMX, a supersonic jet fighter that will be coproduced by Aermacchi and Embraer with a view toward competing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) market.

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