Mexican Air Arms
By Wim Sonneveld
Fuerza Aérea Mexicana
The Fuerza Aérea Mexicana was founded during the revolutionary period, when different revolutionary factions used aircraft for aerial reconnaissance and bombings on ships as well as enemy positions. The majority of the pilots being American mercenaries.
The first naval air combat on the American continent occurred in 1914 in Mexico. The Air Service, later known as the Mexican Air Force, established its first airfield at Balbuena, just outside Mexico City. Aviation workshops producing aircraft of national design as well as engines were also established. The Air Force participated in many campaigns through the 1920's and 1930's in support of the army in putting down many rebel factions and armed bands, flying a number of Mexican, American, French, English general purpose aircraft (DH DH-4B, Douglas O-2M, Farman F-50, Bristol F2B, Chance Vought Corsairs O2U-2M, TNCA Serie B etc.)
During WW II the FAM undertook anti-submarine patrols using armed AT-6 Texans and Vought Kingfishers. During the second half of the war the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force, fought in the liberation of the Philippines in 1945, flying Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighterbombers, that would later serve in the post war air force as the sole pure fighter of the FAM. During the 1960s the FAM received its first jet aircraft in the form of the Lockheed T-33A and the DH Vampire Mk3, forming the first jet squadrons.
The seventies saw the beginning of the phase out of the majority of the lend-lease aircraft that served the FAM.
In recent years the FAM has undergone a major reorganization to meet the needs in the war against drugs and in humanitarian roles. In the late nineties many Russian built helicopters were procured; six Hercules transport aircraft were acquired from the United Kingdom and Israel, boosting the FAM's heavylift capacities. Additional Arava transports were also added in 2002. On the helicopter front, four Bell 412EPs were delivered during the same year, followed by four ex-Israeli CH-53-2000, marking the switch from Russian to American equipment. With the arrival of three EMB145s the FAM received a considerable airborne early warning capacity, demanded in its ongoing counternarcotics battle. Plan Merida saw deliveries of more Bell 412s to the FAM, whilst France is supplying twelve EC725 helicopters. The FAM's medium-lift capacity has been enhanced with the delivery of C295s and C-27Js, marking the end of the career of troubled An-32 transports.
Moreover, the venerable T-bird was finally withdrawn in 2007, but a decision concerning the fate of the Northrop F-5E/F fighters has yet to be taken.
Mexican Naval Air Arms / Armada de Mexico - Fuerza Aeronaval
The history of Mexican naval aviation goes back to 1918, when a Mexican built float biplane TNCA Serie A was successfully tested at the port of Veracruz, being flown by Mexican Air Service pilot Tte. P.A. Carlos Santa Ana. In 1926 a unit of float planes was created for the Mexican Navy, but without aircraft or personnel. Comodore P.A. Carlos Castillo Breton, became the first Mexican naval pilot in 1927 after receiving his training in Mexico and the USA.
Between 1927 to 1943, a few aircraft were acquired, an Mexican built Azcarate E trainer float plane, a Fairchild KR-34 float plane and possibly (not confirmed) two Waco aircraft, a Model UIC and a Model PBF, with a total of seven naval officers gaining their wings, although some of these joined the FAM. WW II saw the creation of the Naval Aviation school in 1943 at Las Bajadas, Veracruz, with three Consolidated Model 21-M (ex-FAM), three Fairchild PT-19's (ex-FAM) and two Fleet Model 11-32's (ex-FAM). The first Naval Aviation unit was also created in 1943: the 1er. Escuadron Aeronaval was equipped with six Vought Kingfishers OS2U-3s, some of which were later used as float planes. These were also ex-FAM aircraft, used to patrol the Gulf of Mexico for submarines and were later used for training at the Naval Aviation School.
In the post war years, the role of Mexican Naval Aviation was defined as supporting the ground and sea naval units in Search & Rescue, coastal patrol and assistance to the general population in case of emergencies or disasters. For the last reason, aircraft like the Consolidated PBY Catalina, Beech C-45, Bell 47, and Grumman J2F-6 Ducks were among the various types of aircraft that were acquired, also including Boeing Kaydets and Beech T-34s for training.
In the nineties, the Mexican navy started to acquire Russian built aircraft and helicopters like the Mil Mi-2, Mil Mi-8 and Antonov An-32B, supplemented by French, American and German made helicopters and even Finnish built L-90 Redigos. In 1999, the Mexican navy started a programme to homebuild kit planes and light helicopters at Las Bajadas, Veracruz. Two types of aircraft, the Lancair IVP and Super ES, have been built and one helicopter type.
In the early 2000s, Mexican naval aviation reported to have 118 aircraft, of which 68 are fixed wing in 9 squadrons and 50 helicopters in 9 squadrons, either in land bases or assigned on board of ocean patrol boats and frigates.
Additions around the turn of the century included six MD-902 Explorers for shipborne duties, the ten Zlin 242Ls for basic pilot training, one Bombardier DHC-8-Q200 as a transport aircraft for the naval command, two Robinson R-22 and one R-44 light training helicopters and some more Mi-8MTV-1s. The Robinsons were quickly withdrawn though, and replaced by a handful of Schweizer 300s.
In 2004, three ex-Israeli E-2C Hawkeyes were delivered, but their spell with the navy proved unsuccessful and they were soon grounded due to a lack of spareparts for their outdated radars. EADS upgraded eight C212-200 Aviocars to series 400 standard, the upgrade program of eleven Bo105CBS-2 and CBS-4 to Bo105 Super 5 saw it's first deliveries in the spring of 2004. The next acquisition were two Eurocopter AS565 Panthers for shipborne duties and more Panthers and Mi-8s have followed since. The An-32 has been replaced by four EADS C295s and a number of CN235MPAs is currently under delivery, partly financed by the Merida Initiative. Under the same plan, three UH-60Ms have been delivered, providing more teeth on the narco battlefield.
Mexican Police Aviation / Policía Federal (PF) / Procuraduría General de la República (PGR)
Policía Federal (PF)
The Policía Federal (PF) or federal police, was formed out of the Policía Federal de Caminos y Puertos on December 13th, 1998. The PFP resides under the Secretaria de la Seguridad Publica (SSP) and maintains its own aviation element reporting to the
Dirreción General de Apoyo Táctico y Operaciones Especiales (GOPES). Although the main task of the air element is transportation of police forces providing internal security, the element also operates helicopters for patrolling tasks.
Initially, the PFP operated only a handful of light helicopters taken over from the Policía Federal de Caminos. The acquisition of five Mil Mi-8MTV-1 Hips from Russia in 2000 proved a major step forward. Five EC120s and three AS350/355 Ecureuils were delivered in the same year, performing patrol duties.
The year 2000 also counted for the expansion of the fixed wing fleet. With just a couple of aircraft taken over from its predecessor, the PFP required light aircraft for patrol duties, for which five Cessna 182s were obtained. Air transportation is
provided by various bizjets, turboprops and two CN235s. To enable the force to carry large numbers of troops to hotspots in the vast country, four Boeing 727s were taken over from national carrier Mexicana in 2002.
Mexico City is the main base of the PF's aviation element. In July 2003, the PF was forced to put up for sale most of it's older aviation equipment to rationalize logistics and operations. With Mexico's new government taking office late 2006, the government's seal and new colours were applied to the PF's aircraft. Following the Merida Initiative, deliveries of modern equipment, like Black Hawk helicopters, is well underway.
Procuraduría General de la República (PGR)
Whereas internal security is the main task of the Policía Federal (PF), the Procuraduria General de la República (attorney general, PGR) represents the judicature of the republic. The main concern of the PGR nowadays is the battle against organized crime (mainly narcotics related). To fulfill this demanding task, the PGR operates, among other assets, its own aviation element. Managed by the Dirección General de Servicios Aéreos (DGAS), a function currently hold by an air force general, the PGR operates a wide array of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
In December 2006, Mexico's new government took a hard stance against the drug-cartels. A major campaign was launched within days after the new president was sworn in. One of his first decisions was to increase the involvement of the armed forces in the battle against drugs. The most visible aspect for the aviation community will be the transfer of all poppy eradication operations to the armed forces. In April 2007, the transfer of five eradication bases and no less than eight Cessna 206s and fifty Bell 206s helicopters to the Fuerza Aérea Mexicana (air force) was almost complete, following a lull of six months in eradication efforts. The FAM will take care of the maintenance and operation of the entire eradication fleet. Re-registration of a number of aircraft takes place at BAM 5 Zapopan (JAL). Beside this move, many impounded aircraft without proper maintenance records have been put
up for auction in recent years. Some of these can still be seen dumped at various PGR facilities as sees any use in these wrecks, except for local scrap dealer. The rationalization already caused the PGR to stop flying a few types, which have been operated for years, like Cessna twins, Commanders and Gulfstream Is.