Armed Forces Overviews
Honduras

Honduran Air Arms / Fuerza Aérea Hondureña

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By Wim Sonneveld

República de Honduras

History On July 30, 1502, Columbus arrived off the island of Guanaja. Sailing on into harsh storms, the fleet rounded a cape where, encountering calmer waters, Columbus is reputed to have exclaimed "Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de estas honduras" (Thank God we have now left these depths), christening the country. Initially, however, the Spanish called these new beautiful lands Higueras, the name used by the indigenous groups. Twenty years elapsed before the conquistadors returned to take possession of the new territory. No threat by indigenous people to the Spanish was posed until Lempira's rebellion in the same year. A Lenca chieftain, Lempira was a charismatic leader who amassed a force of up to 30,000 men. The mass insurrection was impossible for the Spanish to control. Cities were burnt down and others besieged. The rebellion continued for three years, before the Spanish killed Lempira in 1539.

Independence from Spain was gained on September 15, 1821. The provinces of Central America declared themselves an independent republic on July 1, 1823. A civil war immediately followed, and in 1839, the Central American Republic was finished.

The man credited with beginning the modernization of Honduras was Dr Marco Aurelio Soto, who was elected president in 1876. He reformed the powers of judiciary and Church, professionalized the armed forces and put communications and education infrastructures into place. The banana industry that developed in the late 19th century was to become the dominating factor in Honduras's future. US fruit companies began to move into the rich agricultural lands of the north coast. Through expansion of interests, the companies also gained control of the country's railways, principal factories and major energy and telegraph companies, set up banks. Political power and influence followed economic might.

With the 1932 election of president Tiburcio Carías Andino the foundations were laid for the modern state of Honduras. A coup in 1956 introduced the military as a new element into the hierarchy of power. A new constitution the following year gave the armed forces the right to disregard presidential orders they perceived to be unconstitutional, strengthening the position of the military and affecting the development of the state over the next twenty years. In 1963, a coup installed Colonel Oswaldo López Arellano as president. Though elected in 1965, López remained a ranking officer forging a close alliance between the military and the National Party. Above all his first period of office is remembered for one of the more bizarre conflicts in modern Central American history, the so-called Soccer War. On July 14, 1969, war broke out on the Honduras-El Salvador border. Ostensibly caused by a disputed result in a soccer match between the two countries, the conflict stemmed from tensions generated by a steady rise in illegal migration of compassions from El Salvador into Honduras in search of land. After three days of war and around two thousand deaths, the OAS negotiated a ceasefire, establishing a demilitarized zone along the border. In 1980, a peace treaty was signed.

Following the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua in 1979, Honduras found itself at the center of US geo-political strategy. Elections in 1981 brought Roberto Suazo Córdova to power. Suazo was closely allied to the anti-Communist Colonel Alvarez Martinez, head of the police force (the FSP) and later Commander in Chief of the armed forces. These two men made Honduras to become the focus for the US-backed Contra war in Nicaragua, accepting in return over US$1.5 billion of direct economic and military aid during the 1980s. US-funded training camps along the border were used to launch Contra attacks into Nicaraguan territory, while the Honduran army provided logistical support and participated in maneuvers with the steadily growing numbers of US troops based in the country. The relationship between the military and government grew closer.

In 1989, president Rafael Leonardo Callejas came to power and introduced a neo-Liberal austerity program. Successful in the short term, the program led to a rise in poverty levels. In 1993, the Liberal candidate Carlos Roberto Reina was elected president. He was not able to prevent the economy sliding further into recession, or to halt social instability. Reina's successor, Liberal Carlos Flores Facussé, took office in January 1998. Flores tried to reduce Honduras's international debts, when Hurricane Mitch ripped across the mainland, unleashing colossal volumes of rainfall in an apocalyptic trail across the country. After causing landslides and storm surges that killed over a thousand people in the capital Tegucigalpa. It is estimated that Mitch killed over 7000 people in Honduras, thousands more remain unaccounted for. After the hurricane, the rebuild of the country proceeded well although traces of its power can still be found all over the country.

source: Travel-Guide

 

Fuerza Aérea Hondureña (FAH)

Military aviation in Honduras commenced on April 19, 1921, when the first Honduras flight took place in a Bristol F.2b. A national flying school with several French made Coudron G-3, a German made Aviatik, and the single Bristol was founded in 1923 with Italian aviators. The predecessor of the current air force, named Escuela Nacional de Aviación (ENA), was founded in April 16, 1931. The Honduran air force became an independent part of the armed forces since its inception in 1931 and has sported the designation Fuerza Aérea Hondureña (FAH) since 1938 when its first combat aircraft were purchased, 3 North American NA-16's and 3 Ryan STM's. Contrary to other Latin American states, American military aid to Honduras didn't poured in after the country declared war on the Axis powers in 1942. The signing of the Rio Pact in 1947, however, followed the supply of five Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, the first high performance fighters of the Honduran air force, formed the next landmark.

Five Bell P-63E KingCobras contributed to the force's steadily expansion in the same year. After nine years, the first batch of ten Vought F4U-5 Corsairs arrived in Honduras, being based at the airport of Toncontin (near Tegucigalpa), followed in 1960/1961 by a second batch of nine F4U-4 aircraft. The type should gain great fame in FAH service. During the Morocon Conflict with Nicaragua in 1957, Honduran fighters flew many patrol flights along the common border, without seeing engagements with Nicaraguan counterparts.

The Soccer War of 1969 was undoubtedly the most important operational trial in FAH history. Honduran Corsairs managed to shoot down three confirmed aircraft operated by the Fuerza Aérea Salvadoreña, among these 2 FG-1D Corsairs and a Cavalier F-51 Mustangs. One other Corsair and a C-47 are listed as probable. A lower level of expertise problem with the Salvadoran opponents mainly caused the Honduran air-hegemony. When war broke out, the air force used just two permanent bases, Toncontin (near Tegucigalpa) and La Mesa (near San Pedro Sula), although a large number of smaller airstrips were used for military operations. The Corsairs forced a decisive change in the Salvadoran war proceedings, and the battle ended after less than 100 hours.

After the war, a limited arms race took place with El Salvador, both countries obtaining 'new' fighters from mainly the same country, Israel. El Salvador received eightteen ex IDF/AF Ouragans, followed by a nine of Magisters and three more directly from France, while the FAH was reinforced with sixteen heavily modified ex IDF/AF Super Mystère B.2's. The Super Mystères were delivered from 1976, providing the FAH with a continuing air-superiority in the region until 1987 when their duty was taken over by twelve Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II's. In 1977, the FAH received ten Canadair CL-13 Sabre 4's From Yugoslavia. In 1970, 6 F-86K Sabres were purchased in the black market from former Venezuelan Air Force stocks.

The strike capability of the air force was strengthened from 1975 with the delivery of the first batch of 6 new Cessna A-37B Dragonflies. The type, combat proven in Vietnam, became a favorite aircraft among Latin American air forces for counter insurgency operations. In the early eighties, eleven more Dragonflies were delivered and missions were flown to bomb Nicaraguan positions along the border, from which the Nicaraguan hunt for Contra-rebels was made on Honduran soil. The arrival of the Tigers in 1987 was instrumental for the continuing of air superiority over Central America as no other country in the region operated sophisticated fighters. Until today, the FAH is one of the best-equipped air forces in Central America. The FAH does not operate in separate squadrons; all aircraft are operating under command of their home base.

Base Aérea Teniente Coronel Hernán Acosta Mejia (Tegucigalpa-Toncontin)
The military base of Toncontin is situated on the east side of the international airport of the capital Tegucigalpa and houses the transport and helicopter fleet of the FAH. The air force headquarters, the FAH staff college, and Honduras Air Museum make up the base residents. The base commander of Toncontin is responsible for operating the transport aircraft and helicopters of the FAH and has many different types of aircraft at his command. The air force is one of few left operators of the venerable Dakota. In the mid-eighties the FAH-transport capability was boosted with the arrival of five C-130A/D Hercules. Only one example is still active and dressed up in a neat white color scheme following it's overhaul with ENAER in Chile.

The most important helicopter in the air force inventory is the Bell 412SP, delivered in 1986. About eight are currently in service and are - among a variety of tasks - operated in support of the Honduran Special Forces. The Bells largely replaced the Hueys, a type that can be found in storage or on the dump in countable numbers. Small numbers of Cessnas and Pipers are active; some of these were impounded from drug-smugglers. Finally, the VIP-fleet of the Honduran president, with an IAI 1124 Westwind and an Agusta A109E Power resides under the command of Toncontin air base.

Base Aérea Coronel José Enrique Soto Cano (Comayagua-Palmerola)
It was not before the early eighties that an air base was constructed near Comayagua, some eighty kilometers northwest of Tegucigalpa and it was inaugurated in 1982. At the end of the decade, almost 10,000 American military personnel were based at Comayagua. In support of American interests in Central America, the USA partly funded the expantion of the air base in the mid-80's. After the war in Nicaragua, US presence in Honduras decreased quickly. Today, the US Army maintains only a small unit at Soto Cano Air Base (as the Americans call the base). Under SOUTHCOM, Joint Task Force Bravo has its headquarters at Comayagua, with 1/228 AVN operating five Chinooks and sixteen Black Hawks. The FAH flying academy (Academia Militar de Aviación) is housed at Comayagua. Air cadets start their training syllabus on the Cessna T-41 Mescalero and continue advanced training on the Embraer T-27 Tucano. Honduras was the first foreign customer of this Embraer bestseller. The Tucanos are also patrolling the Honduran skies in search for illegal flights. With their slow speed and heavy guns, they are very well suited for this job. Other aircraft types found at Comayagua are the TH-55A Osage and CASA 101 Aviojet. The single known air-to-air kill of the type was made by a Honduran example, shooting down a drug-smuggling Dakota in the early nineties. Until recently, the Osage was integrated in the training syllabus The TH-55As were used for primary training of helicopter pilots but are all written from use.

Base Aérea Coronel Héctor Caracciola Moncada (La Ceiba-Goloson)
The arrival of the first ex IDF/AF Super Mystères B.2's in March 1976 gave occasion to the construction of a military air base on the civil airfield of La Ceiba. The first batch of SMB2's was temporarily based at San Pedro Sula until La Ceiba opened as a military base in 1978. The last of sixteen examples were delivered in May 1979 to their new built home base. In 1986 the aircraft received a major overhaul and new avionics at Kelly AFB, TX. The last SMB2's were withdrawn from service in 1996, mainly because a lack of spare parts. Despite several rumours and plans to put these beauties back in the air, it never occurred. Today, the SMB2's are in a too sorry state to make them airworthy again against reasonable costs. All aircraft at La Ceiba are up for sale. The FAH defined the Super Mystère with the Israeli name Sambad, an acronym for SMB2. Equipped with Shafrir 2 missiles, the Honduran Sambads were a formidable opponent, as a Nicaraguan Mil Mi-25 Hind found out when it was shot down on September 13, 1985 in the Bocay river area in Nicaragua. The threat of the acquisition of MiG-21s by neighbouring Nicaragua forced the US administration to deliver two F-5Fs in 1987 and ten F-5Es during 1988. The F-5's are all ex-USAF aircraft. Financial difficulties keep the airframe hours relatively low. The FAH hopes for Chilean assistance keeping the fleet airworthy and eventually upgrading them.

Base Aérea Coronel Armando Escalón Espinal (San Pedro Sula-La Mesa)
The international airport at San Pedro Sula housed the FAH Vought F4U-4 Corsairs from 1969. In 1975 the first batch of A-37B Dragonflies arrived on the base and from 1976 till 1978 the newly arrived Super Mystères called San Pedro Sula their home base, awaiting their transfer to La Ceiba. After the handover of some ex-FAV F-86K's, the Sabre 4 was introduced with the FAH in 1977, ten of these were obtained from the Yugoslavian air force and served until 1986, when a lack of spare parts forced the FAH to take the type our of service. More Dragonflies followed in 1982 to replace the weary Sabre 4's and when the civil wars in neighbouring El Salvador and Nicaragua escalated. During the eighties, FAH Dragonflies flew missions in support of Honduras Army units against Nicaraguan Sandinista Army troops that entered Honduras territories in the Nicaraguan border area. The last Dragonflies arrived in 1985 including five ex-USAF OA-37Bs. All Dragonflies wear the very effective Vietnam camouflage and a un-official badge of 1 Grupo Aérotactico.