Published on July 8th, 2022 | by Gabriel Desmond


Portuguese Air Force Celebrate their 70th Anniversary

The Portuguese Air Force celebrated its 70th anniversary with an air show at Base Aérea no 11 at Beja in the Alentejo region on 3rd July. This was also the middle weekend of the two-week NATO Fighter Meet “Real Thaw 22” which involved over 50 fighters and support aircraft from seven countries. 

The morning show involved the Portuguese AF, starting with a Hercules dropping their parachute display team. Then came four flybys by a P-3 Orion and the formation departure of two F-16s. In an excellent set-piece, an AW101 Merlin helicopter carried troops who landed by rappelling to the ground while the two F-16s made a ground attack and provided air cover. At the same time, a highly agile AW119K Koala helicopter gunship provided close support for the troops.

The PoAF types on static display included a CASA C-295, P-3C Orion, Koala helicopter, two Socata TB30 Epsilon trainers, and four F-16s, as well as a Chipmunk. Chipmunks were built in Portugal and are still in service after 70 years, based at Sintra, near Lisbon. The Portuguese C-295, in light grey, is the transport version with full cabin windows. It also has medevac roles and maritime roles.

The AW119K Koala is an eight seat single-engined helicopter with skid landing gear. It was developed from the costlier A109 which has two engines and a retractable undercarriage.

The morning show closed with a surprise display by an Airbus A340 of Hifly. This Portuguese airline supplies wet-lease aircraft to airlines, often at short notice. They are headquartered in Lisbon but base their planes at Beja’s civil terminal. The long-range A340 is fast disappearing from regular airline use. It seemed to crawl gracefully around the blue sky before a formation flypast with two PAF F-16 wingmen!

Eurofighters of the RAF and Spanish Air Force. 

Foreign air forces provided most of the afternoon displays. These included solo Eurofighters from The Spanish AF and the RAF and a Belgian F-16.  An Alphajet of Red Bull also flew. 

Team displays were by the magnificent Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori with their ten MB339s, the Moroccan AF Marche Verte with their Mudry CAP 230s and the Spanish AF ASPA team of five EC120 helicopters. The Frecce Tricolori have flown the MB339 for forty years and are due to transition to the Alenia Aermacchi M345 trainer next year.

The piston engined Mudry CAP 230 might seem a somewhat modest aircraft for a military display but the Moroccan routine is quite impressive. To emphasise their precise position-keeping the front five aircraft in the formation are initially roped together wingtip to wingtip, a unique feature for such teams! 

A highlight of the air show was the demo by the Brazilian Embraer KC-390 Millenium twin jet. This transport/tanker is in service with the Air Force since 2019. They have ordered 15 aircraft, reduced from the original 28. Portugal has ordered five which will be based at Beja. It is viewed as a C-130 Hercules replacement. Boeing is marketing it in the USA, Britain and the Middle East. The C-390 version which is a pure transport and does not have the aerial refuelling capability has been ordered by Hungary and, recently, The Netherlands.

Over seventy thousand Portuguese people came to Beja Air Base that day. Despite the intense afternoon heat they certainly must have felt proud at their Air Force’s 70th anniversary airshow.

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About the Author

Cork based Gabriel Desmond has been documenting aviation in Ireland and around the world for over 50 years. A regular contributor to Flying in Ireland, his photographs and articles have been used in a wide range of aviation publications as well as news and corporate media

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