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Chilean Air Force History

Chile's military aviation was officially inaugurated in February 1913 with the creation of the army's Captain Ávalos Prado Military Aviation School (Escuela de Aeronáutica Militar "Capitán Ávalos Prado"--EAM) at El Bosque, outside Santiago. In 1915 aircraft participated in the annual military maneuvers for the first time. The shortage of aircraft caused by World War I severely impeded the development of Chilean military aviation. With the end of the war in 1918, a dozen British fighter monoplanes were obtained to equip the First Aviation Company. As early as 1916, naval officers had also undertaken flight training at the EAM. The end of the war in Europe permitted the formation of the Naval Aviation Service (Servicio de Aviación Naval).

In 1921 the Chilean government contracted for the services of a British naval and air mission. The EAM was also reorganized, and additional aircraft were acquired. In 1924 a German air mission arrived and was entrusted primarily with the development of civil aviation. It was precluded from overt involvement in the development of the Chilean military and naval air arms by the Treaty of Versailles.

The military and naval air services were merged as the Chilean Air Force (Fuerza Aérea de Chile--FACh) on March 21, 1930, thereby becoming the world's fourth independent military air arm. The formation of the FACh coincided with a growing economic crisis that necessitated cutbacks in the armed forces, severe curtailment of procurements, and a steady attrition of fielded matériel. Demoralized as a result of pay reductions and the political chaos then rampant in the country because of the Great Depression (see Glossary), the Chilean Navy staged a work stoppage from August to November 1931. The mutiny finally collapsed after the air force bombed the fleet. Although little physical damage was done, this event significantly affected naval morale and the subsequent development of the navy by demonstrating the vulnerability of warships to air attack.

The FACh also owed its early independent existence to the activities of British training missions during the 1920s. Like the Chilean Navy, the FACh retained certain Prussian influences, deriving mostly from the military and naval air services from which it had been formed. However, the FACh probably has been the most receptive of Chile's uniformed services to United States influence. A succession of United States air-training missions began in the early 1940s.

Beginning in the 1940s, United States military missions have imparted certain tactical doctrinal concepts. However, they diluted the original German influence to a markedly lesser degree than elsewhere in the region. In 1941, following the entry of the United States into World War II, a United States air mission was established in Chile and charged with reorganizing the FACh. In 1944 significant quantities of equipment for the army and air force, including 230 aircraft procured under the Lend-Lease Agreement, the legal apparatus for military equipment transfers during World War II, began to arrive in exchange for the availability of Chilean bases to the United States. By 1990 the Air Brigade (Brigada Aérea) was the main operational formation, and the wing was an administrative unit generally concentrated at a single base wing (ala base), included an Antiaircraft Artillery Group (Grupo de Artillería Antiaérea--GAA). An antiaircraft artillery regiment in La Colina serves primarily as an administrative headquarters and training school for the five dispersed antiaircraft artillery groups. The First Wing (Ala 1) and Fourth Wing (Ala 4) each also include an Electronics Communications Group (Grupo de Comunicaciones Electrónicas--GCE).

The First Air Brigade, headquartered at the Los Cóndores Air Base, Iquique, coverednorthern Chile from the Peruvian border to the Río Huasco in southern Atacama Region. It controlled both the First Wing--based in Cerro Moreno, Antofagasta, and comprising the Seventh Group (Grupo 7) and Eighth Group (Grupo 8)--and the Fourth Wing, in Los Cóndores, which consisted solely of the First Group (Grupo 1). The First Wing included the Cerro Moreno Liaison Squadron (Escuadrilla de Enlace Cerro Moreno) and GCE 31. The Seventh Group and the Eighth Group are located at Cerro Moreno. The Eighth Group included inventory that formerly equipped the nowdefunct Ninth Group (Grupo 9). The Fourth Wing included the Los Cóndores Liaison Squadron (Escuadrilla de Enlace Los Cóndores), GAA 24, and GCE 34. The First Group in Los Cóndores served as a combined light-strike and combat-training unit. In early 1992, the First Group began replacing its Cessna A-37B Dragonflies with a mix of Enaer/CASA T-36 Halcón trainers, locally built in a joint venture between Spain's Aeronautic Constructions, S.A. (Construciones Aeronáuticas, S.A.--CASA) and Chile's National Aeronautical Enterprise (Empresa Nacional de Aeronáutica--Enaer), and A-36 light-strike aircraft.

The Second Air Brigade, based in Los Cerrillos, Santiago, covered the region southward from the Río Huasco to the Río Bío-Bío and consisted of the Second Wing (Ala 2), which combined the Second Group (Grupo 2) with the existing Tenth Group (Grupo 10) and Eleventh Group (Grupo 11). The Second Wing included GAA 31 and GCE 32. The Second Group in Los Cerrillos was a special unit operating Canberra PR-9s in the Reconnaissance Squadron (Escuadrilla de Reconocimiento) and Beech 99As in the Electronic War Squadron (Escuadrilla de Guerra Electrónica). The Second Group's inventory included the two Gates Learjet 35As of the Aerial Photogrammetric Service (Servicio Aéreo de Fotogrametría--SAF) that are based at Los Cerrillos.

The Third Air Brigade, headquartered at El Tepual Military Air Base, Puerto Montt, covered the region between the Río Bío-Bío and Cerro San Valentín in southern Aisén Province. It consisted of the Fifth Wing (Ala 5) at Puerto Montt, which in turn consisted of the recently reactivated Third Group (Grupo 3), a light-strike unit based at Temuco, and the Fifth Group (Grupo 5), a light-transport unit based in Puerto Montt. The Fifth Wing also included GAA 25 and GCE 35.

The Fourth Air Brigade, based at the Carlos Ibáñez Military Air Base, Punta Arenas, covered the region southward from Cerro San Valentín to Cape Horn. It consisted of the Third Wing (Ala 3), which was made up of the Fourth Group, the Sixth Group, and the Twelfth Group, all based at Punta Arenas. The Sixth Group (Grupo 6) was a special operations unit. This brigade also controled the Nineteenth Antarctic Exploration Group, based at Lieutenant Marsh Military Air Base on King George Island in the Chilean Antarctic Territory. The Third Wing, at Chabunco, included GAA 23 and GCE 33.

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