Jamaica was inhabited by Arawak Indians prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. The Spanish were displaced by the British who turned Jamaica into the most important of the British Caribbean slaving colonies. Within 100 years, virtually the whole island had been divided up into large plantations. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, Jamaica became relatively prosperous under orthodox colonial rule until the early 20th century. Since independence in 1962, the political arena has been dominated by the struggle between the right-wing Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) and the leftist People's National Party (PNP). The head of state is the British Monarch, represented by a Governor General who has nominal and rarely used powers.
Jamaica's armed forces, the JDF, consist of a ground force supported by small air and coastal patrol contingents. The mission of the JDF is to defend the country against aggression and to maintain essential services and protect the civil population in the event of a disaster. The JDF is also responsible for coastal surveillance and air-sea rescue operations. In addition, the JDF is supporting counter-drug operations. The JDF's predominant ground force element consists of the First Battalion and a support and service battalion. The First Battalion includes the Air Wing and Coast Guard, as well as a headquarters unit at Up Park Camp in Kingston, an engineering unit, and other supporting units.
Air Wing - We fly for All
The Air Wing was formed in July 1963, one year after independence. Headquarters are at Up Park Camp, where the wing's helicopter force is based. The need for light aircraft resulted in the delivery of four U-17A Skywagons, followed by a Bell 47 helicopter in the same year: JDF H-1, starting an enduring love affair with Bell helicopters. During the seventies the Air Wing grew to maturity, with more helicopters delivered. The remainder of seven Bell 206s and three Bell 212s served until the late nineties. The fixed wing element consisted of two Beeches, two DHC-6 Twin Otters, two Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders and a various types of Cessnas during the seventies and eighties. At the turn of the century the Bell 212s were replaced by an equal number of Bell 412EPs and the Bell 206s by four AS355 Twin Squirrels with sophisticated surveillance equipment. In turn, the AS355s were replaced by four Bell 407s. The main event in the 2000s was the formation of the Jamaica Military Aviation School at Kingston Norman Manley IAP to train pilots on two Diamond DA40s and a pair of Bell 206s. The school was later renamed to Caribbean Military Aviation School and newer Diamond models followed in 2017. Number 1st Flight is fixed wing and is also based here, operating a Beech 350 for maritime patrol missions as well as Diamond DA42s. The 2nd and 3rd Flights are utility and reconnaissance helicopter flights respectively. Both are operated out of the JDF's headquarters, Up Park Camp in Kingston. The JDF will augment its current operational helicopter fleet nine Bell 429 and a single Bell 412EPi.