Guatemalan Air Force / Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca
By Wim Sonneveld
Guatemala is widely known for the traces of the Mayan culture that can still be found. Therefore, it is no surprise that tourism is the most important source of income for Guatemala followed by agriculture. Its population numbering about 9,8 million can be roughly divided in Mayan and Spanish (arriving in 1524) roots, about 50% each. Physically, Mexico and Belize in the North and Honduras and El Salvador in the South border Guatemala. It has a long pacific coastline on the West and a tiny one to the Caribbean in the Southeast of the country.
In the post War period, the republic saw its far share of internal turmoil. The October revolution in 1944 brought an end to a long history of dictatorship but the influence of the United Fruit Company was not subdued. Many reforms including a democratic constitution were made. This by no means meant a quiet political scene: the first president survived 20 military coups in his five-year incumbency! The government and United Fruit went head to head for some years and the United States backed a military coup because the government was alleged to be infiltrated by communists and the interests of US companies - like United Fruit -needed to be protected (or so it seemed). Shortly after the take over, in June 1954, a law suite was filed against United Fruit and its influence was broken.
The military rule lasted for three decades and this period saw guerrilla activities, suppression of left-wing sympathisers, war-atrocities and withdrawal of US support for a period of time. The civil war finally ended in 1984 and elections were held in 1985. Dialogue was started with the guerrillas. The early nineties went by against a backdrop of civil unrest and failing government policies. Finally, on December 29,1996 a peace treaty was signed.
Fuerza Aerea Guatemalteca
The history of the FAG can be traced back to the creation of the first aviation school, the Academia Nacional de Aviación, in 1912. The first equipment consisted of two aircraft: a Bleriot and a Nieuport. This school was operational until 1918. In this period the first interest of the military was aroused as well, but this did not lead to the formation of a dedicated unit yet. Another institute bearing the same name superseded the Academia. A Frenchman that was asked by the Guatemalan government to start certifying pilots ran it. A captain was among the first class of pilots and fuelled by the First World War, which was in its last stage by then, the group had a military character. When the French instructor, Barón René D'Eyne died in 1919, dark clouds seemed to be cast over the fledgling group.
However, another French contractor was sought by the government and permission was granted to form the Escuela Militar de Mecánicos de Aviación on March 12, 1921. This unit later evolved into the branch that is called the Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca today. But first, it was amalgamated into the Escuela Politécnica in 1927. Another reorganisation took place in 1929. On June 30, the Cuerpo de Aviación Militar de Guatemala was formed, which was renamed Cuerpo de Aeronáutica Militar in 1936. Following the October revolution a comprehensive reorganisation of the Army in 1944 was carried out. This finally led to FAGs formal inception per governmental degree on 5 March 1945.
The Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca is a relatively small air force. It has relied mostly on US aircraft types during its history. The F-51 Mustang, C-47 Dakota, T-33 and Huey are typical examples of FAG equipment. Some of these aircraft still serve the FAG today, the C-47 Dakota for example, albeit in the Turboprop variant. The A-37 is FAG's prime jet aircraft and PC-7s and T-35s are used for training. Some Fokkers and Aravas carry out transport augmenting the Dakotas mentioned before. Helicopters in use are Bell 206 and Bell 212.
The FAG is formally a subordinate to the army, its commanding officer reports to the commander in chief of the Guatemalan army. It consists of three wings: the Ala Fija operating all fixed wing aircraft, the Ala Rotativa operating all the helicopters and Ala Mantenimiento performing all the maintenance. Note that the aircraft are divided over these wings, the wings itself operate out of four bases without a fixed allocation of units to bases. The prime base is La Aurora near the capital Guatemala City, the attack, transport, liaison and helicopter squadrons are mainly based there. The other base with a seemingly fixed presence is at Retalhuleu where the Escuela Militar de Aviación can be found. The other two bases at Flores and San José host detachments of the units mentioned above.
The FAGs latest acquisition programme is the purchase of six Super Tucanos, which will replace the Vietnam era A-37 Dragonflies in the aerial interdiction and counternarcotics role.