Austrian Air Force / Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte
By Johan Mulder
The Austrian Air Force is a small but efficient air arm, formed by the Austrian Staatsvertrag signed in May 1955 by the USA, former Soviet Union, Great Britain, France and Austria. This was the premise for the full sovereignty of Austria and therefore the creation of the Armed Forces. There were some restrictions in the Staatsvertrag concerning armed forces. The most important for the Air Force was the so called Raketenverbot, which made it impossible for Austria to have A/G and A/A missiles till the early nineties.
The Luftabteilung was created on 13 September 1955. Basic flying training for the Fliegerdivision began in December 1955 using Yak 11 Moose and Yak 18 Max aircraft which were given as a present by the former Soviet-Union. They were delivered in crates by rail in mid November 1955. They were assembled by Austrians with two Russian officers. The first flight with an Austrian roundel took place at 9 December 1955 at 10:01 am. The Yak's were used to train war experienced pilots as instructors. The Yak 18 came later to Linz-Hörsching for formation flying training. The regular training of young pilots started in March 1957 at Zeltweg with the Piper PA-18.
The Austrian politicians hoped that the Air Force would receive a large number of aircraft from the USA (without any costs under the MAP), as the army got equipment and weapons. They were wrong. Austria had to buy its first aircraft consisting of PA-18, Zlin 126, Cessna 172/182, Vampire. Magister, Alouette II and S-55. Only Italy donated five Fiat G-46's. Until between 1958 and 1960 Austria purchased under the MAP (Military Assistence Program) 62 aircraft, but with no fighters.
There were 22 Cessna L-19A Bird Dogs were subsequently purchased under the MAP for a nominal $ 1 from US Forces based in Austria, seven L-19E's, six DHC-2 Beavers, ten LT-6G Texans and seventeen Bell H-13Hs.
Since that time, the Austrian Air Force grew to maturity. Being neutral, incidents did happen and are worth mentioning. The first conflict occured, when US Forces flew over Austrian territory without permission. Austria had no means to stop that, which resulted in an offer by the Soviet government to station Russian interceptors at Innsbruck.
In October 1991 two Saab 105s identified a Yugoslav MiG21 flown by a deserting Croation pilot and accompanied him to the airport of Klagenfurt, where he landed. During "Allied Force" in 1999, two extra called-in Drakens "photobuzzed" two USAFE F-16s which tried to cross the short-leg over Tyrol after the regular patrol went "bingo".
Just like other airforces in Europe, the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte are subject to ever reducing defence costs. But the "old" inventory needs replacements. The devastating avalanches in the beginning of 1999 showed the shortage of transport helicopters. As a result, Austria ordered nine Sikorsky S-70A Black Hawk helicopters as a replacement for the in 2001 phased out AB204. The transport capacity was boosted with the purchase of three former RAF Lockheed C-130K Hercules transports. They were needed for the demanding quest for UN-peacekeepers in which Austria also played a role. Also the replacement of the ageing Saab Draken is on the list again with a political recommedation to the MoD to start an RFP in summer 2001 was given in July. After a fierce competition, the Austrian government choose the EF2000 Eurofighter as its new future fighter. In the mean time, the Drakens are retired and replaced by leased Swiss Air Force F-5E Tigers.
Twelve Tigers were leased from the Schweizer Luftwaffe by the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte to fill the gap in Austrian capabilities between the retirement of the Saab Draken and the service introduction of the Eurofighter. The F-5Es began their official service with the Austrian Air Force on 9 July 2004, during a ceremony attended by the two countries' defense ministers. During these four years, the twelve F-5Es flew about 5.000 hours. Carrying Austrian Air Force markings, the aircraft were slightly modified, with different radio and navigation equipment.
As mentioned before, the Eurofighter purchase was subject to controversy in Austria, and became a political football for some time, but the 15th and final aircraft was delivered on 24 September 2009.