report by: Thierry letellier
Lajes Field or Lajes Air Base (Portuguese: Base Aérea das Lajes), officially designated Air Base No. 4 (Base Aérea Nº 4, BA4) (IATA: TER, ICAO: LPLA), is a multi-use airfield, home to the Portuguese Air Force Base Aérea N º4 and Azores Air Zone Command (Portuguese: Comando da Zona Aérea dos Açores), a United States Air Force detachment unit (operated by the 65th Air Base Group of United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa), and a regional air passenger terminal located near Lajes and 15 km (9.3 mi) northeast of Angra do Heroísmo, on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal.
The islands of the Azores have played an important part in trans-oceanic navigation since their colonization in the 15th Century. The Azores were a logistical point for the discovery of new worlds, a port of call for ships engaged in trade between Europe and America. The Azores, known as the gem in the Atlantic for ocean travelers, is located 900 miles from the coast of Portugal and 2,000 miles from the Americas. Lajes Field, on the island of Terceira, became a crossroads in the Atlantic as the air connection between Europe and the America. The British use of the Azores was only one half the contribution Lajes Field made during World War II. As early as May 1941, the U.S. recognized the importance of the Azores as a staging point for bombers and air transports to Europe.
By using Lajes Field American aircraft could reduce the flying time between the United States and North Africa from 70 hours to 40 hours. This considerable reduction in flying hours enabled aircraft to make almost twice as many crossings per month between the United States and North Africa and demonstrated clearly the geographic value of the Azores during World War II. After the war, the United States and the United Kingdom transferred control of both Lajes and Santa Maria bases to Portugal on 2 June 1946. Lajes played a key supporting role that led to the success of the Berlin Airlift. Throughout Operation VITTLES, C-47, DC-4 and C-54 aircraft transited Lajes Field en route to Germany. More than 3,000 aircraft passed through Lajes during Operation VITTLES. Over the course of Operation VITTLES Lajes Field once again demonstrated the base’s strategic importance in projecting American air power throughout the world. This capacity was also demonstrated in March 1949, when four KB-29 tankers staged from Lajes in the first aerial refueling for a B-50, (the Lucky Lady II) on the initial leg of the first non-stop aerial-refueled flight around the world.
On 6 October 1973, the countries of Egypt and Syria launched an attack on Israel. On 12 October 1973, the Military Airlift Command (MAC) received orders to move supplies and ammunition to Israel. During the initial 48 hours of the Operation NICKEL GRASS airlift, an unprecedented 136 landings and 88 departures were directed, managed, and supported by Lajes Field. The airlift lasted until 14 November 1973 and resulted in the delivery of 22,395 tons of cargo. There were a total of 312 C-5 and 845 C-141 sorties through Lajes during the operation In the summer of 1984, Lajes undertook a new mission. EC-135s began operating out of Lajes Field. This operation, known as the Silk Purse Control Group, functioned as an airborne command post for U.S. Commander-in-Chief of Europe. The Silk Purse mission was highly classified and little was known of its activities at Lajes, but overall, this mission focused on deterring aggression from the Soviet Union. Lajes supported the massive airlift during the Gulf war. On the first day of the deployment over 90 aircraft transited Lajes. Strategic Air Command staged a provisional tanker wing at Lajes to support the airlift. At the height of the operation a peak of33 tanker aircraft and 600 troops deployed to Lajes. At one point during Operation DESERT SHIELD there was a maximum of 56 aircraft on the ramp – which included SAC, MAC, Guard, Reserve, Marine, Navy, and several fighter aircraft drop-ins.
My decision to get there came from my impossibility to join the Red Flag Alaska 16-1 media-day . The most interesting part of this exercice were the Indian Air Force delegation with 4 SU-30 and 4 Jaguars . When I knew that they were supposed to come back via Lajes; I had no hesitation to come there for few days. Just after my landing and pick-up the car rental I made a short tour around the base. 2 Egyptian Air Force Hercules were on the apron close to the Tunisian AF C-130J. At the western side of the apron were 2 Canadian CF-188 and an Hercules. The last plane was an USAF KC-135.The Indian delegation originally scheduled for Tuesday arrived on Wednesday afternoon . Before that, we had the good surprise to get the arrival of 2 AMI F-35 with 2 B-767 and a single C-130J .The 8 Indian AF fighters were supported with 2 IL-78 Tankers and 2 C-17. On thusrday , the Italians and Indians were on their way. Westerly for the Italians; with final destination was Luke AFB. And Istres AB was the next stop for the Indians. To complete this pleasant list we got the visit for a C-295 ,an Hercules and a Merlin from Portuguese Airforce. If the occasion comes again, i will not hesitate to return there for a few days of relaxing spotting.