Rafael Hernandez Airport
[Ramey Air Force Base]
Punta Borinquen Radar Site
Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen
The Rafael Hernandcz Airport civilian facility is home base to the U.S. Coast Guard and Puerto Rico Air National Guard, as well as the U. S. Customs & Immigration Service.
In 1939 the site for a major new air base was selected at Punta Borinquen. This site was located at 18 degrees 30' N - 67 degrees 8' W, on the northwest comer of the island, 212 feet above sea level. It was some 60 miles west of San Juan and six miles north of Aguadilla, the nearest settlement. The Punta Borinquen lighthouse was on the site. Some 3,796 acres covered by sugar cane, had been purchased at a cost of $1,215,000. On 18 September 1948 it was renamed Ramey Air Force Base, in honor of Brigadier General Howard K. Ramey (1896-1943), who was killed in the South Pacific on a reconnaissance mission during World War II.
Ramey Air Force Base was an important Strategic Air Command installation in Puerto Rico during the early Cold War, hosting the 72d Bombardment Wing. The 60th Bomb Squadron first operated the B-52 from August of 1959 to June of 1971 while assigned to the 72nd Bomb Wing at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. In 1971, B-52 operations ceased at Ramey.
The Rafael Hernandez regional airport is a sorely underutilized piece of prime airport infrastructure. It boasts the longest runway of any aviation facility in the Caribbean and South America, measuring 13,000 feet or more than two miles long (including its overrun) and is surrounded by over 1,200 acres of undeveloped land. Compared to Puerto Rico's main airport Luis Muñoz Marin International in Carolina, that measures only 75 acres and is developed to its fullest according to FAA regulations, Aguadilla has an enormous economic development potential.
The Airport is the largest cargo airport in Puerto Rico after Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan. In FY 1999, the Airport accounted for 20% of all cargo movements in Puerto Rico. The Airport has the potential to serve as the major commercial service airport for western Puerto Rico. Passenger traffic at the Airport grew rapidly from 54,291 passenger movements in FY 1989 to 278,240 passenger movements in FY 1995, with scheduled service from and to New York and Orlando provided by American Airlines, Carnival Airlines and other carriers. Starting in FY 1996, passenger movements began to decline and, in February 1998, scheduled passenger traffic at the Airport ceased completely for a two month period after Carnival Airlines discontinued its operations due to the airline's bankruptcy proceedings. From May 1998 to March 1999, Kiwi International Airlines operated scheduled passenger service from the Airport to Orlando, Florida and Newark, New Jersey. Kiwi ceased operations at the Airport also due to the airline's bankruptcy proceedings.
The Airport covers approximately 1,508 acres of land including what was previously the airfield portion of Ramey Air Force Base. The Base was deactivated in 1973, and in 1978 the airfield portion was transferred to Puerto Rico Ports Authority ("PRPA"), which has operated it since that time as a commercial airport. The Airport was formerly known as Borinquen Airport (the area where the Airport is located is called Punta Borinquen) until it was renamed Rafael Hernández Airport. The Airport is informally known as Aguadilla Airport.
Road access to the Airport is provided by Road 110 on the East and Route 107 on the South. Road 110 and Route 107 connect to State Highway 2 a four-lane highway, which links the cities of Ponce, Mayagüez, Aguadilla, Arecibo and San Juan.
The Airport's runway is 11,700 feet long and 200 feet wide with additional 50-foot wide shoulders. It is equipped with high intensity lighting. The orientation of the runway provides about 99% wind coverage for aircraft operations. Three taxiways provide access between the runway and the passenger terminal, air cargo facilities, and aircraft parking areas. The taxiways are 100 feet wide, with 37.5-foot shoulders. The existing passenger terminal building is located inside of a concrete hanger (Building 405) that was renovated in 1989. The passenger facilities occupy about 39,160 square feet of the 72,360-square foot building. The passenger terminal aircraft parking apron provides about 94,500 square feet of usable apron.
The 141st Air Control Squadron (ACS) is a mobile radar command, control and communications element of the U.S. Air Force Theater Air Control System. The unit can be tasked by the Control and Reporting Center (CRC) to perform the following tasks: Battle management, weapons, surveillance, identification, and data link management. It also, can be assigned to deploy and operate directly subordinate to Air Operation Center. These activities include: Establishing long and short haul communication, providing continuous surveillance, assisting in air rescue operations, providing aircraft control and advisory services, establishing and maintaining data links, gathering and forwarding intelligence products, providing classification of airborne objects, and providing threat warnings to forward, lateral, and subordinate users including Army air defense units. In addition, the 141st ACS has been directly tasked to support the DoD Counterdrug Operations in the Caribbean, Central, and South America Region
Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen moved to this location from San Juan in the fall of 1971, at which time the Coast Guard took possession of an outstanding hangar with adjacent support facilities. The responsibility for the station complex, formerly part of Ramey Air Force Base and later Naval Station Roosevelt Roads West Annex, was assumed by the Coast Guard on 1 July 1976.
The primary mission of Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen is search and rescue. Secondary missions include: law enforcement, aerial support for ATON, and logistic support. Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen is located at Rafael Hernandez Airport on the Northwest tip of Puerto Rico. The closest city is Aguadilla, just 10 minutes to the South. Included in the boundaries of the base are the housing area, clinic and dispensary, station library, community center, swimming pool, exchange, mini-mart, package store, gymnasium and other fitness facilities, chapel, and theater.
The U.S. Coast Guard has rehabilitated an additional 70,000 square feet of apron at its facility. A further 176,000 square feet of apron is also available on the north side of the Airport adjacent to the runway. A 194,150 square yard apron south of the runway, known as the "Charlie Area" exists, but requires major rehabilitation to reactivate. The "old B-52 apron" of 184,000 square yards is in good condition.
United States Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen is a direct descendant of Air Station San Juan, which was located on the Isla Grande Naval Station. In November 1971, the Air Station relocated to its present location at what was then Ramey Air Force Base in Aguadilla, and became known as Air Station Puerto Rico. Two years later the Air Force discontinued its operation at Ramey turning the facilities over to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States Navy. The Coast Guard assumed the host role in July of 1976 when the Navy vacated the station. This alternative was chosen by the Commandant of the Coast Guard over three other options: discontinuance of air operations in Puerto Rico, building at Roosevelt Roads, or building at San Juan Airport. It was then that this unit was designated Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen. The name is derived from the Taino Indian name for the island of Puerto Rico.
The Air Station originally utilized three HU-16 Albatross aircraft and two HH-52A helicopters to effect its search and rescue missions. Three HH-3F helicopters replaced these aircraft in March of 1973. The need for a long range law enforcement reconnaissance aircraft resulted in the addition of three HU-25A Falcon jets to the Air Station's inventory in late 1983 and early 1984. In 1985, four new HH-65A short range rescue helicopters replaced the three HH-3Fs. The HU-25A Falcon Jets were replaced by the HC-103H Hercules in 1987. The Air Station currently operates three C-130s along with its complement of HH65As.
Air Station Borinquen consists of the hanger, the support buildings adjacent the hanger, and the housing area. The housing area presently has 225 units, a Coast Guard Club with adjoining swimming pool, La Plaza complex containing an exchange, mini-mart, and a preschool and daycare center. The Air Station has a complement of approximately 165 enlisted and 35 officers; 150 civilians are also employed on base. The rest of the base housing is occupied by various Army, Air Force, Navy, and Federal Agency personnel.
The Air Station operates within the San Juan SAR Sector, an area of over one million square miles. The primary mission, search and rescue, is but one facet of the multi-mission responsibility. Of special note was the unit's significant response to the devastation left by Hurricane Hugo. This was truly a "Team Effort". Other duties include support for aids to navigation, surveillance for illicit drug traffic, air interdiction of drug trafficking, and marine environmental protection. The Air Station prosecutes approximately 300 Search and Rescue cases and flies approximately 450 law enforcement sorties per year.
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