Jamaica Air Wing
The primary Air Wing role is supporting the infantry in military operations, thus providing air mobility to virtually any location in the region. The Air Wing provides operational support to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (Police), primarily in the form of aerial surveillance. The unit conducts drug eradication in an ongoing operation code-named ‘Operation Buccaneer’, the main effort being to destroy plantations of illegal marijuana plants.
Among the other tasks on which the unit's aircraft are employed are Long Range Maritime Patrols (LRMPs) to conduct offshore surveillance and coastal patrols. Through LRMPs, the aircraft locates and report on foreign vessels fishing illegally and conducting illicit trade in Jamaican waters. The Air Wing provides assistance to the Ministry of Health in conducting casualty and medical evacuations.Annually, the Air Wing conducts an average of 130 such mercy missions, with patients usually being flown from rural hospitals to those in the Kingston Metropolitan Area for specialized treatment. This is the most frequent operational mission flown by the Air Wing.
The JDF Air Wing is called on from time to time to provide assistance to various national and private agencies. The Unit has flown many missions on behalf of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and Forestry Department, conducting search and rescue for lost or injured hikers. Similar missions are flown to save lives at sea. In the aftermath of natural disasters, JDF AW provides crucial assistance to government agencies in support of relief operations. The Air Wing also transports VIPs including heads of state, government ministers, ambassadors and high ranking military officers.
When Jamaica attained Independence in 1962, one of the responsibilities that the new Nation acquired was that of defence. It was soon realized that the newly formed Jamaica Defence Force needed air support. The Jamaica Air Squadron was therefore formed in early 1963 as a part of the Jamaica National Reserve by the then Chief of Staff Brigadier P E Crook, and hence became the first flying entity of the Jamaica Defence Force. Its first four pilots (Captains Garth Drew, Robert “Bobby” Dixon, John Harrison and Jack Oliphant) were enlisted from the Jamaica Flying Club, all of whom had been Commissioned Royal Air Force pilots (Dixon and Oliphant saw active service), and were the first flying instructors in Jamaica. They were later joined by Lieutenants Derrick Ffrench and Paul Stockhausen (both locally Commissioned Officers). The first Officer Commanding was Major Basil Thornton, who at the time was the Chairman of the Jamaica Flying Club. These pilots had to fly their own aircraft, as at the time the JDF had none.
On 03 July 1963, the Jamaica Air Wing was officially formed with Captain Victor Beek (on secondment from the Ministry of Education) as its first and only member. On the 09 July 1963, Jamaica received four Cessna 185B aircraft through a Military Assistance Package from the US Government. These aircraft were painted white with blue trimmings, and had the national colours painted in bands over the wings. These aircraft were commissioned as JDF A-1, A-2, A-3 and A-4, and had arrived with two US Air Force pilot instructors (Captains Ban Hubbard and Gene Terry) for conversion training. The first notable mission was flown on 17 August 1963 in search of a ganja boat registered as ‘NANA’. It was not until September that the first enlisted soldier (Lance Corporal Scott) was posted to the unit as a driver, and hence became the first airman.
The Jamaica Air Squadron initially operated these aircraft upon their arrival in Jamaica (since there was only one pilot in the Jamaica Air Wing at the time). They were eventually painted olive drab and taken over by the Jamaica Air Wing once additional Regular Force pilots were trained. The Jamaica Air Squadron then reverted to flying private aircraft belonging either to the club or to its members.
The JDF's Air Wing, which was formed in July 1963, was headquartered at Up Park Camp and had a base at Montego Bay. Expanded and trained successively by British Army Air Corps and Canadian Air Force personnel, the Air Wing had a strength of 250 officers and personnel in 1986. It was equipped for ground force liaison, search and rescue, police cooperation, survey, and transport missions.
In 1986 its inventory included predominantly United States-made aircraft but also some Canadian, British, and French models: five Bell 206A, three Bell 212, and two Aerospatiale Alouette II light helicopters; two of the Britten-Norman Islander light transports of the short-take-off-and-landing type; one each of DHC-6 Beech KingAir 90 and Beech Duke DHC-6 light transport models; and four Cessnas, including two l85s and two light transports: the 210 and 337. The aircraft were well adapted for use in areas of the hilly interior of the country, where there were few landing fields.
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