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Spain - Ejército del Aire - History

It seems that the first aerial ascent in Spain was performed in Madrid, on 12 August 1792, by the well-known aeronaut Vicente Lunardi, who had already made other ascents in various nations of Europe. The balloon had been funded by H.M. King Carlos IV, for the pious purpose that the money raised from the sale of tickets for entry into the Royal site of el Buen Retiro gardens, where it would be used in relief of the sick poor of the Royal Court's hospitals. Some ascents were devoted to studying the possibilities of balloons in the war, not only as mobile vantage point, but also as a way of raising the morale of the troops.

The first documented ascent which was performed in the world with such purposes took place in the Academy of artillery in Segovia. After the exhibition of Lunardi is not doubted the military possibilities of the aerostats and has decided to build one for the purposes of experimentation. The project of the globe was based on mathematical calculations in such a way that it could raise up to a certain height, that wasn't so much that he would not "discover nor record field enemy with comfort" height which was fixed at 500 yards.

The balloon was 45 Castilian feet in diameter and 93 long, with the form "of a cask of wine" for its handling and maneuvering available records and valves, which were actuated by ropes to keep the desired elevation. The first tests were conducted on 3 and 5 November 1792 carrying two officers and a lady, getting raised to 80 ft, although in the third flight, on November 6, they would be forced to make an emergency descent, when the force upward balloon broke three of the five ropes that had secured it.

The 14th day of the same month was held an exhibition at the Royal site of San Lorenzo de el Escorial. Captain Professor D. Luis Proust, officers D. Pedro Fuertes, D. Manuel Gutiérrez and D. César González, and the cadets D. Gernaldo Sahagosa were raised before the King and D. Pascual Gayangos, students from the Royal School of artillery, this ascension was able to demonstrate the possibility of "having in campaign, and in any situation and time of day, a watchtower governed, or traveling"", at will, and susceptible to much elevation to discover the grounds of the contour of his army, and the movement as evolve in the disposition of his attack, and during the enemy variations that attempt, with equal application to the inside of a square, or her outward record".

Just nine years after the first balloon of the Montgolfier brothers already thought to employ the captive balloon for recognition, to which the Minister of Guerra, count of Aranda, considered information that made the memory of these ascents, "the most essential object in war".

The historical context in which Spanish airpower emerged and grew was too complex to warrant a smooth path of doctrinal development. Lack of political leadershipor stability, economic and technological under-development, and an un-supportive social context made it impossible for Spain to build a strong national airpower capability. While in other countries civilian initiatives pushed the air enterprise, in Spain the military would have to undertake this task. A colonial war in Africa would serve to bring airplanes into the fight and Spain would begin developing an airpower doctrine founded more in its practical use than in its theoretical potential.

An experimental flying unit and the first aerodrome were established to test and operate these aircraft. In 1913, as soon as the first pilots were trained and more airplanes were bought, the Air Military Service was officially born and organized as a branch of this Aeronautic Service. The first expeditionary unit, with 14 aircraft, 10 pilots and 6 navigators, was assigned to cooperate with the Army in colonial warfare in North Africa a few months later. Spain's entry into the ?eld of aviation was marked by the estahlishment of an airmail and passenger service in l92l. An aircraft industry was set up two years later, but continual shortage of raw materials served to impede the growth of the young industry.

Spanish pilots and military leadership were able to apply experiences gained and new technology to increase the effectiveness of their airpower in the 1920s, when a clearer doctrine began to be generated. Although political events interfered with the organizational process, in the 1930s doctrinal thinking had taken root among many military aviators and a sound doctrinal body was promulgated in different books, publications, and official documents. Unfortunately for airpower advocates, they would never see their objective of an independent service realized. Political, economic, and social support never existed, and interservice rivalry would prevent their dream coming true.

Added to these difficulties was the political and economic unrest which led eventually to the civil war in 1936. The air forces of the "two Spains" were not "about equal" at the outbreak of the civil war. The bulk of the Spanish Air Force threw in its lot with the Republic at the outset. Through its revolutionary societies among the troops, the Popular Front had the Navy and the Air Force almost completely in its hands. Yet it had good reason to worry about the tightly organized units of ths Falange, with their high morale end enthusiaea.

The cardinal reason for German involvement in Spain was political, not military; Hitler saw an opportunity to keep the democracies (and even his troublesome ally, Italy) tied down in efforts to prevent an escalation of the conflict into a general European war while he pursued his political objectives elsewhere. The stories that Hitler and company were instantly delighted to find a testing ground in Spain for their new arsenal are now largely discounted.

Varying air power capabilities existed on both sides (Nationalist and Republican) during the Spanish conflict, but in general the aircraft of the German Condor Legion and the Nationalist forces were decidedly inferior t othe Russian-built aircraft that served the Republicans. Much of the German Luftwaffe strategy for the conduct of air warfare as formulated during the mid-to late 1930s was “confirmed” by the events and experiences of the Spanish Civil War — confirmed, at least, in the minds of the Germans.

Publicity on the use of airpower in civil war focused on the bombing of the city of Guernica (the center of the city was destroyed, killing at least 1,600 civilians) in the spring of 1937. For many observers, the US Air Corps Tactical School included, this situation helped to reinforce the evolving theories on “Douhetian”-style bombing. However, what influenced the Luftwaffe most was an “air support” attack which took placea few days before Guernica. This action helped achieve considerable success for the Nationalist ground forces. The defending soldiers were so terrified by the German aircraft that they fled in panic.

During the turbulent years of the civil war, military aid including aircraft, was dispatched to Franco by the Germans and Italians, while on the other hand, the Republican forces received aid from the Russians. The thorough testing received by these aircraft resulted in valuable combat data being incorporated into new and improved models. Two Soviet planes employed in Spain were the I-16 Rota ?ghter and the SB-2 twin-engined bomber. The German ME-109 filighter, the HE-111 twin-engined bomber, and the JU-52 transport proved later to be the most famous aircraft to come out of the Spanish testing ground.

Established as an autonomous service in 1939, the Air Force since that time continued to operate a miscellaneous collection of German, Italian, Russian, British and American aircraft. As replacement parts for these aircraft were needed and could not be secured, large numbers of them were grounded. Following Franco's victory in 1939, reconstruction of the war-torn aircraft industry was ordered and aircraft construction was given priority. This revival was interrupted, however, by the outbreak of the second World War. Since Spain had just concluded an exhausting war, Franco quite wisely chose to avoid aligning his country with either side and thus was able to steer a course of neutrality for the duration. Because the Allies needed all the aircraft they could build to enlarge their own squadrons, Franco had no qualms in going to his old ally, Germany, for modern aircraft.

At that time plans called for a first-line air force of around 1,500 aircraft. Since the Gertnan Luftwaffe at that time was generally accepted as the most formidable and best organized airforce in the world, it was selected as a model for the reorganization of the Spanish Air Force. In addition to the aircraft obtained from Germany, license rights were procured for the manufacture of German military aircraft in Spain. The Germans augmented this aid with aircraft jigs, tools, technicians, and production advisors.

In 1941, the Institute Nacional de Industria {INI} was created to act a sa developtnent and investment corporation for Spanish industry. This agency ran one-third of CASA, which was the largest airframe and aircraft assembly organimtion in Spain. CASA, the only aircraft concern considered capable of producing modern aircraft in quantity, had four factories which built various types of aircraft of national and foreign design for the Spanish Air Force. A number of Heinkel-111 twin-engined light bombers, with the Spanish designation CASA-2111, were turned out at the Sevilla factory. Another CASA plant outside of Madrid was engaged in the production of obsolesccnt Junkers-52 tri~motor.

La Hispano Aviacion, located in Sevilla, produced the HA-43 and the HA-1109J. The HA--Li was a two-setat monoplane trainer, while the HA-1109J was a development of the ME-109, with a different engine. Instead of the German DB-605 engine, the HA-1109 was equipped with an upright Vee Hispano-Suiza. Armament consisted of three 20mm cannons. Maximum speed was around 355 knots. INTA, an agency under the Spanish Air Ministry, produced a series of primary trainers. These include the operational HM-1 and experimental HM-3, HM-5, and HM-9.

By 1951 the Spanish Air Force possessed only two radar sets. Anti-aircraft existed only in project form. Flying equipment would last only a few days. The majority of the Spanish Air Force had never seen a jet. One reason for the continuing interest shown Spain was the country's important strategic position with reference to both naval and air bases. Of primary importance was the country's geographic position in relation to the rest of Europe. Geographically, Spain was far enough removed from Communist air bases in Eastern Europe to afford some security to aircraft based on the Iberian Peninsula. This favorable strategic position, however, was offset by Spain's impoverished economic difftctilties brought about by a devastating civil war and a form of government that resulted in the isolation of the country.

Since the Spanish Air Force had to rely solely on the production of domestic plants, the status of the Air Force was reflected in the number and type of obsolete aircraft delivered by the industry. Technical guidance previously derived from Germany and Italy was no longer available. Spain did not possess the know-how or the research facilities necessary for independent development, therefore, the industry maintained an anachronistic position of containment. One effect of this isolation with respect to the Spanish Air Force as late as 1953 was to stabilize the Spanish aircraft industry at about the 1936 level of design.

In exchange for the 1953 agreement letting the USAF use airbases in Spain, surplus F-86Fs were subsequently delivered to the Ejercito Del Aire Espanol to replace their hopelessly obsolete Hispano-built Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters. Beginning in 1955, the Ejercito del Aire Espanol received a total of 270 ex-USAF F-86F fighters, which were reconditioned by the Construcciones Aeronauticas S.A (CASA) near Madrid. By 1959 the Ejercito had also received jet US-built Lockheed T-33 trainers and DC-3 and DC-4 transports.

In the mid-1960s the Spanish government initiated an aggressive re-armament effort that culminated with the incorporation of top shelf F-5 Freedom Fighters and F-104 Star Fighters. Eighteen Lockheed-built F-104Gs and three Lockheed-built TF-104Gs were delivered under MAP to Spain's Ejercito del Aire in 1965. They replaced some F-86F Sabres. Other F-86Fs were replaced by the Northrop F-5 beginning in 1967, and the last Spanish Sabre was phased out of service at the end of 1974.

Between October 1971 and September 1972, Spain acquired an initial batch of 36 ex-USAF F-4C Phantoms through the Mutual Defense Aid Program to replace the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter and the North American F-86F Sabre in front-line air defense fighter units in a program known as Peace Alfa. The F-4Cs were designated C.12, the C standing for fighter (Caza) and the 12 indicating that the Phantom was the 12th fighter type to enter service since the Civil War. A few more were acquired later in the 1970s. The Spanish F-4C Phantoms were replaced by McDonnell Douglas EF-18A/B Hornets in the late 1980s.

The 1970s brought further refurbishment with the assimilation into the Ejercito of French-developed Mirage III and F-1. Dassault’s delta, as the III was commonly called, formed the backbone of the Spanish Air Force for much of the 1970s and early 1980s. The Mirage III was one of the biggest success stories in the field of post-WW II combat aircraft design. The much admired Mirage III first flew on 17 November 1956, so the design was more than a decade old when it joined the Ejercito. The other major platform was the Mirage F-1, a single seat strike fighter which made its maiden flight on 23 December 1966. It became operational with the French Air Force in the spring of 1974. The F-1 was one of Dassault’s biggest export success stories.

With the end of World War II and the beginning of significant US assistance in the 1950s, the Spanish air force became an important part of Spain's defense structure. Despite substantial US involvement in its development, however, there was not as much contact or as many exercises with NATO countries as might have been expected. By the time the Franco regime came to an end in 1975, the air force had a strength of 35,700, an inventory of mostly US-made aircraft, and only 20 percent of the defense budget. The air force was the most modern of the three services in 1975, with a force built around U.S.-made F-4s and F-5s and French-made Mirage IIIs and F-ls.

The Civil War, Franco's political patronage, and a cumbersome seniority system for promotions, had made the problem of a bloated officer corps even worse. By 1980, the Air Force, which was (and still is) considered the most efficient service, had 1 general and 250 other officers for each of its modem combat aircraft. The problems of the Air Force were not so much organizational as in the areas of outdated and obsolete equipment, ships, and aircraft. In 1983, a major step was taken with the purchase of 72 EF-18 aircraft.

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Page last modified: 16-01-2013 19:00:43 ZULU