Fuerza Aérea Ecuatoriana - FAE
The origins of the air force (Fuerza Aérea Ecuatoriana--FAE) date to the early 1920s when, under the guidance of an Italian military mission, Ecuador acquired several planes and established a flying school near Guayaquil. During the 1930s, the air force, still subordinate to the army, came under growing United States influence as it purchased a number of Curtis Wright training planes and employed United States advisers. By the time of the brief war with Peru in 1941, the air force had forty-eight pilots but, lacking modern combat aircraft, did not present a serious threat to the Peruvians.
During World War II, the United States transferred a number of training aircraft to Ecuador, provided advanced training to Ecuadorian pilots, and operated the air base at Salinas. The first combat squadron was formed with seven obsolescent Seversky P-35 fighters. After becoming independent from the army in 1944, the FAE received additional planes under the United States Military Assistance Program, including twenty F-47 Thunderbolts to replace the P-35s, Catalina maritime patrol aircraft, and a number of C-47 transports. During the 1950s, the air force purchased its first jet fighters, Gloster Meteors, from Britain, along with Canberra B-6 jet-engined bombers. The FAE deactivated the bomber squadron in 1981; although it retained the three surviving Canberras in reserve status, they were no longer flyable by 1987. Sixteen F-80s supplied by the United States in 1958-60 permitted creation of a second jet fighter squadron.
During the 1970s, new oil revenues enabled the FAE to modernize its combat fleet by purchasing British Jaguars to replace the Meteors and F-80s in the ground attack role, as well as Cessna A-37Bs suitable for training and counterinsurgency operations. After the United States licensed the export of General Electric engines, Ecuador purchased twelve Israeli Kfir fighters in the early 1980s. The FAE also placed an order for sixteen Frenchmanufactured Mirage F-1s, plus two Mirage trainers, deliveries of which began in early 1979. All combat aircraft were equipped with French- or Israeli-origin air-to-air missiles. Total personnel strength was believed to be somewhat less than 5,000 in 1988.
As of 1989, Jaguars, Kfirs, and Mirages provided the FAE's three fighter squadrons with a small but modern and effective combat air arm. The FAE had also received a number of Lockheed At-33 Shooting Stars from United States stocks, refurbished for light attack and advanced training roles (see table 21, Appendix). The jet pilots were a highly select group, well-trained and competent. The quality of other FAE personnel varied, and the mixture of equipment sources presented a maintenance and training problem. The FAE as a whole had only a marginally satisfactory safety record.
The FAE divided Ecuador into two air zones, the first covering the coastal areas from its headquarters at Taura near Guayaquil and the second covering the remainder of the country from Marshal Sucre International Airport at Quito. These two facilities also functioned as the FAE's principal air bases. The first-line combat squadrons operated from Taura, although they were regularly deployed to other air bases in various parts of the country. The Mera airfield--developed by the Texaco-Gulf oil consortium--was the only one in the Oriente long enough to accept jet aircraft. The air force paratroop squadron, a combat commando unit, was disbanded after its involvement in the kidnaping of the president in 1987. It was replaced by a special police unit, wearing a distinctive uniform, with responsibility for air base security.
The Military Air Transport Command incorporated the civil airline operated by the military, Ecuadorian Military Air Transport (Transportes Aéreos Militares Ecuatorianos--TAME), as well as the international civil airline, Ecuatoriana. TAME had both military and civilian crews, including many retired FAE pilots. The passenger and cargo fleet with dual civil-military markings consisted mainly of Boeing 707s, 720s, and 727s.
Israeli teams under contract carried out major overhaul for many aircraft, including commercial planes flown by TAME. FAE technicians working under Israeli supervision maintained and carried out some overhaul of Kfirs, T-34s, and A-37s at Cotopaxi Air Base at Latacunga. In addition to serving as Ecuador's principal maintenance and training center, Cotopaxi had the country's longest landing strip.
The Air Force Academy, located at Salinas, provided a three-year course for aspiring FAE officers. Cadets received basic flying instruction mainly on T-34s. After commissioning, those officers selected for jet training attended the Military Aviation School and received instruction on the At-33, the A-37, and the Strikemaster. Future helicopter pilots trained at Manta. A specialists' school in Guayaquil offered nonflight instruction for technicians and engineers. The eighteen-month program consisted of six months of basic military instruction followed by training courses in maintenance of jet and reciprocating engines, air frames, hydraulics, electronics, radar, and aerial photography. The Air War College at Quito offered a general staff course of two academic years' duration, qualifying field-grade officers for promotion to senior ranks and general staff assignments.
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