Lajes Field

Lajes Field

Infobox Airport
name = Lajes Air Base
nativename = Base Aérea das Lajes
Base Áerea Nº 4
nativename-a =
nativename-r =

image-width = 300
caption = USAF hangar, Lajes Air Base. May 25, 1989.
type = Military
owner =
operator = flagicon|Portugal Portuguese Air Force
city-served =
location =
built = 1943
used =
commander = Colonel Sílvio Pimenta Sampaio
occupants = "Comando da Zona Aérea dos Açores"
65th Air Base Wing
Lajes Search and Rescue Coordination Centre
elevation-f = 180
elevation-m = 55
coordinates = Coord|38|45|42|N|27|05|42|W|type:airport
website =
metric-elev = yes
metric-rwy = yes
r1-number = 15/33
r1-length-f = 10,865
r1-length-m = 3,312
r1-surface = Asphalt/Concrete
stat-year =
stat1-header =
stat1-data =
stat2-header =
stat2-data =
footnotes =

Lajes Field or Lajes Air Base ( _pt. Base Aérea das Lajes), officially designated Air Base No. 4 ("Base Aérea Nº 4", BA4) airport codes|TER|LPLA, is a Portuguese Air Force facility home to the Azores Air Zone Command ("Comando da Zona Aérea dos Açores") and to a United States Air Force detachment, and located near Lajes on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal. Located about 2,300mi (3,680km) east of New York City and about 1,000mi (1,600km) west of Lisbon, Portugal, the base sits in a strategic location midway between North America and Europe in the North Atlantic Ocean. The USAF portion of the base is operated by the 65th Air Base Wing of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE).


The origin of the Lajes Field dates back to 1928, when Portuguese Army Lieutenant Colonel Eduardo Gomes da Silva wrote a report on the possible construction of a airfield in the plainland of Lajes, on the island of Terceira, for that branch's aviation service ("Aeronáutica Militar"). However, the location of Achada on the island of São Miguel was chosen instead at the time for the construction of the field. In 1934, the Achada airfield was condemned due to its inadequate dimensions and adverse weather conditions, resulting in the construction of a landing strip of packed earth and a small group of supports facilities by the Portuguese military at Lajes, Terceira island.

World War II

During World War II, the designation of the airfield was changed to Air Base No. 5 and the Portuguese government expanded the runway and sent troops and equipment to Lajes, including antiquated Gloster Gladiator fighters. The military activities in the Azores grew in 1942 as the Gladiators progressed into flying cover for allied convoys, reconnaissance missions, and meteorological flights. Also in July 1942, the first Portuguese Ju 52 arrived to fly cargo missions.

In 1943, the British and American armed forces were allowed basing rights in Portugal, and the RAF took over Lajes Field. The Azores permitted British and American airplanes to protect Allied shipping in the mid-Atlantic.

On 1 December 1943, British and U.S. military representatives at Lajes Field signed a joint agreement outlining roles and responsibilities for an American USAAF and Navy role at Lajes Field. The plan set forth guidelines for U.S. for ferry and transport planes to make a limited number of landings at Lajes Field. In return, the United States agreed to assist the British in improving and extending existing facilities at Lajes. Air Transport Command transport planes began landing at Lajes Field immediately after the agreement was signed. By the end of June 1944, more than 1,900 American airplanes had passed through this Azorean base. By using Lajes Field, the flying time between the United States and North Africa could be cut from 70 hours to 40 hours - because airplanes could fly directly to North Africa instead of having to use the more circuitous air route crossing the Atlantic between Brazil and West Africa.


The United States and the United Kingdom transferred control of Lajes to Portugal in 1946. The Portuguese redesignated Lajes as Air Base No. 4 and assigned it to the air branch of the Portuguese Army. However, talks between the U.S. and Portugal began about extending the American stay in the Azores. A temporary agreement was reached between the U.S. and Portuguese governments giving the U.S. military rights to Lajes Field for an additional 18 months. The relationship between the Portuguese and U.S. still exists today. Lajes Field remains Portuguese Air Base 4 under the direction of Headquarters Azores Air Zone commanded by Portuguese Air Force brigadeiro (equal to a U.S. two-star general). The U.S. military resides at Lajes under tenancy status.

In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance was established. Portugal, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and various (other) western European countries were charter members of NATO. From then on, there was no question about the use of Lajes by these other countries - they had become NATO allies, and the use of Lajes was a primary contribution to the strength of the Alliance. This was just like how Iceland gave the use of Keflavík International Airport as its contribution to NATO.

In 1953, the Commander-in-Chief, United States Atlantic Command organized a subordinate unified command in the Azores called U.S. Forces Azores (USFORAZ). A small staff of United States, United States Army, United States Air Force, and United States Marine Corps personnel composed the joint staff of USFORAZ, serving as the liaison between the U.S. and the Portuguese in the Azores.

In the late 1950s, USAF air refueling/tanker aircraft were stationed at Lajes to provide inflight refueling for U.S. aircraft transiting the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the tanker units left Lajes by 1965, but others came back later, especially the USAF KC-135 Stratotanker. This transfer, coupled with the introduction of newer aircraft with longer ranges, caused a gradual decline in Lajes traffic. The Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and its successor, the Military Airlift Command (MAC), became responsible for USAF activities at the base, and for a while the 1605th Military Airlift Support Wing acted as USAF host unit.

Lajes Field also played a crucial role in Cold War politics. From 1932 to 1968, Portugal was under the dictatorship of Oliveira Salazar, but the U.S. Government had friendly relations with him, especially from 1943 on. With rising postwar tensions between the East and the West, the United States understood the importance of Lajes Field and remained close friends with the Salazar Government of Portugal, and farther along.

Another important Cold War operation at Lajes involved the U.S. Navy, which established Naval Air Facility Lajes (NAF Lajes) as a tenant activity at the air base. NAF Lajes, and its associated Tactical Support Center (TSC) / Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Center (ASWOC), supported rotational detachments of U.S. Navy P-2 Neptune and later P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft that would track Soviet attack, guided missile, and ballistic missile submarines in the region. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and end of the Cold War, P-3 operations at Lajes declined, and the Naval Air Facility was removed in the late 1990s.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Lajes Field had also supported U.S. airlift missions to Israel, highlighting the importance of the U.S. Air Force having a base at Lajes.

In 1976, a Venezuelan Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed while attempting an emergency landing during Hurricane Emi. On final approach, a wind gust slammed the aircraft into a hillside, killing all 68 people aboard. Most of the passengers were members of the student chorus of the University of Caracas who were on a European concert tour.

In 1980, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Terceira Island. Damage to Lajes Field was minimal, but Portuguese communities throughout the island suffered extensive damage. Military personnel responded with food, shelter, equipment, and manpower.

In the summer of 1984, Lajes undertook a new mission known as "SILK PURSE." Boeing EC-135s began operating out of Lajes Field as an airborne command post for the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Europe. Along with the aircraft came the U.S. European Command battle staff and flight crews from United States Air Forces in Europe. This mission was ended in late August 1991.

Lajes supported the large airlift during the Gulf War. On the first day of the deployment over 90 aircraft transited Lajes. Strategic Air Command (SAC) created a provisional tanker wing, the 802nd Air Refueling Wing (Provisional), at Lajes to support the airlift. At the height of the operation a peak of 33 tanker aircraft and 600 troops deployed to Lajes. Soon after the Gulf War ended, Lajes command changed from Air Mobility Command, to Air Combat Command.

On August 24, 2001, Air Transat Flight 236 between Toronto, Canada, and Lisbon made an emergency landing at Lajes with no loss of life - after running out of fuel over the Atlantic and gliding about 120 km (75 miles). The Airbus A330 had 293 passengers and 13 crew members on board.

Current status

Lajes provides support to 15,000 aircraft including fighters from the US and 20 other allied nations each year. The geographic position has made this airbase strategically important to both America's and NATO's war fighting capability. In addition, a small commercial aviation terminal handles scheduled and chartered flights from North America and the European mainland as well as commercial air traffic with the other islands in the Azorean archipelago.

Today, Lajes continues to support transiting aircraft. Beginning in 1997, large scale fighter aircraft movements under the new USAF operating concept known as the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) filled the Lajes flightline. Lajes also has hosted B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer bomber aircraft on global air missions, and also supported many routine NATO exercises, such as the biennial Northern Viking exercise. Lajes Field services aircraft from various nations, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Colombia, Germany, Spain, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom. The airfield is also an alternative landing site for the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter.

In August, 2006, Portuguese news agencies reported that both governments were in discussions for a new agreement that could allow the use of Lajes for the training of a permanent F-22 Raptor squadron. Since 1943, the use of Lajes by the U.S. military has allowed Portugal to strengthen diplomatic relations with the U.S. as well as obtain military equipment for the Portuguese armed forces, including two A-7P Corsair II squadrons and the co-finance of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft under the Peace Atlantis I program.

cheduled services

*Air Transat (Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto [Toronto-Pearson vía Hamburg, DE] )
*SATA Air Acores (Flores Island, Graciosa Island, Horta, Pico Island, Ponta Delgada, Sao Jorge Island)
*SATA International (Boston [seasonal public charter] , Lisbon, Oakland [seasonal] )
*TAP Air Portugal (Lisbon)

Tenant units

United States Air Force

Lajes Field is the home of the 65th Air Base Wing, which in turn is subordinate to the United States Air Forces in Europe. The wing provides base and en route support for United States Department of Defense, NATO, and other authorized aircraft transiting the installation.

In addition to the 65th Air Base Wing, other units at Lajes Field include U.S. Army Military Traffic Management Command’s 1324th Military Port Command, U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command’s 729th Air Mobility Support Squadron, Detachment 6 of the Air Force News Agency, Detachment 250 - Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Defense Property Disposal Office, and the Defense Commissary Agency.

Lajes Field is also the home of the 65th Communication Squadron, which provides communication in the form of ground radio, ground radar,SatCom (Satellite Communications), and cryptography to the base.

Portuguese Air Force

* 711 Sqn. "Albatrozes" (Albatrosses) — search and rescue squadron
* Azores Aerial Detachment
** 502 Sqn. "Elefantes" (Elephants) Flight
** 751 Sqn. "Pumas" (Pumas) Flight

Lajes in fiction

In David Graham's paperback Down to a Sunless Sea, during the nuclear war, Lajes is hit by a neutron bomb to kill as many personnel as possible but to preserve the installation as a refueling point for a Soviet conventional attack on the United States. However, one survivor, Eddie Burns, emerges from a records room deep underground. Meanwhile, an Airbrit flight conveniently finds Lajes intact as they are running out of fuel and contemplating a crash landing on a nearby island. The Airbrit survivors find plenty of food and plenty of aviation fuel. Eddie helps Captain Scott and the British SAS commandos get the radar working again and use a teletype machine to contact other survivors, one of whom is able to indicate that the American South Pole base at McMurdo has seven years worth of provisions for a thousand people plus nuclear power, which means that all the Airbrit crew and passengers can fly out without bringing food and fuel with them. Meanwhile, the base radar picks up a Soviet Antonov military freighter approaching, and the SAS commandos take up defensive positions. The plane lands and turns out to be full of Russian villagers, as two female Soviet Air Force personnel have stolen the aircraft to rescue their families and neighbors. Like Captain Scott, they concluded that Lajes was the logical destination, and their Antonov was also almost out of fuel. Both planes refuel and left the next morning for McMurdo with radiation levels rising.

ee also

* History of the Portuguese Air Force
* United States Air Forces in Europe
* Portugal–United States relations
* Terceira Island
* Portugal in World War I
* Portugal during World War II
* Cold War
* Peace Atlantis programs
* 65th Air Base Wing
* Air Transat Flight 236


* Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History, 1984

External links

* [ Terceira Destinations]
* [ Lajes Field Official Home Page]
* [ United States Air Forces in Europe]
* [ Ramstein Air Base]
* [ RAF Mildenhall]
* [ Air Mobility Command]
* [ Air Force News Agency]
* [ 65th Air Base Wing]
* [ Global Security]
* [ Air Base No. 4 (BA4)] at the Portuguese Air Force official website

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