Chile is a country of extreme geographical features, stretching 4300 kilometres from the arctic south to the desert-like north. From the vast coastal line to the mighty Andes mountain-range; its distinctive fingerprint on the map is known to most Europeans as is Easter Island and the fine Chilean wines.
Before Spanish colonisation various Indian tribes were to be found in all regions of the country. Inca influence was limited and some tribes even maintained their secluded life style in colonial times. The Spanish arrived in 1541 and founded Santiago and although met with some resistance they gradually spread their influence southward but resistance remained for many years. While exploiting the country the Spaniards granted ownership of land to their most loyal advocates creating numerous estates. This ownership of land was also a political factor well into the 20th century. Chile gained independence from Spain after a successful campaign by José de San Martín in 1818 appointing Bernardo O'Higgins, his second in command, as first leader of the Chilean republic. He started several societal reforms but met resistance from the landowners eventually leading to his resignation.
Some years of turmoil followed with growing economic importance of the mineral-rich north. However, this economic success was short-lived and although taxes to fund reforms were implemented in the 1920s a military coup followed by the depression of the early 30's marred this development. The influence of American industries grew, but Chilean landowners still were a force to be reckoned with in Chilean politics. With various elections and political parties in existence the country saw mostly left of centre presidents trying to preserve the balance between reformists and conservatives. A definitive push towards reform was made by the Allende administration from 1970 onward. This did not have the desired result and combined with deteriorating economic circumstances led to a coup d'état of the military. It is said that the US aided in the downfall of this leftwing government (dubbed as 'communist' by the Americans). With Pinochet as dictator at the helm there were numerous atrocities. Therefore, the country suffered criticism from abroad but there was also enough backing within the conservatives to ratify his 1980 constitution and keep him in office until 1989. The nineties saw the first steps to a new future and Pinochet was eventually arrested in 1998, the Chileans moving to try him in Chile despite some foreign countries' claims for a trial outside Chile. The Chileans feel they have now dealt with this matter from the past and the country remains one of the most modern in Latin America and is eager to build its future from that.
Source Lonely Planet
The first step towards the current FACh was taken by Teniente Coronel Pedro Pablo Dartnell when he founded the Servició de Aviación Militar de Chile on 20 December 1910 being trained as a pilot in France. Although a school was included, the first officer's were sent to France for their training as well. One of them, Capitán Manuel Ávalos Prado, took command over the Chilean military aviation school that was officially instated 11 February 1913 and remained in command until 1915. The Escuela de Aviación Militar was named in honour of him in 1944 and still carries that name today.
In those early years many aviation milestones were achieved, conquering the height of the Andes was one of the main targets as well as long distance flights. Typical aircraft of that era were Avro 504, Bleriot XI, Bristol M1C, DH.9, and SE.5A. In the following decade the Línea Aeropostal de Chile was created on 5 March 1929 as branch of the military aviation. This postal airline later developed into the airline Línea Aérea Nacional that is still the leading airline in Chile today. Shortly afterwards, on 21 March 1930, the existing aviation elements of the army and navy were amalgamated into a dedicated department: the Subsecretaria de Aviación effectively creating the current independent Air Force. It was initially named Fuerza Aérea Nacional. The international airport of Chile carries the name of LAN's founding father and first commander of the air force, Arturo Merino Benítez.
The first outlines of the organisation of the current air force were visible in 1945 with the inception of Grupo de Transporte No.1 (later renumbered Grupo 10) with two C-45s and a single AT-6 at Los Cerillos. Two years later the first Fuerza Aérea flight to Antarctica was performed. The fifties meant entry into the jet age for the FACh and Grupo 7 was the first unit to receive them in 1954. Chile got its aircraft from both the United States and Europe. The American supply consisted of F-80, T-33, T-34, T-37, A-37 and F-5E for example, whereas the British supplied Hawker Hunters (marking the first delivery of jets by air to South-America in 1974) and the French delivered various helicopters and Mirage 50 aircraft.
Chile also maintains its own aviation industry, ENAER. The design of the T-35 Pillan trainer based on the PA-28 Dakota is the best known example, seeing some export success as well. Furthermore, the assembly of the A-36 / T-36 Halcon (C101) was achieved as well. Performing maintenance on most types in the current inventory and upgrades on F-5E aircraft for example, the industry is of significant importance to the air force. An important milestone is the acquisition of ten F-16C/D aircraft and two batches of MLU-modified F-16AM/BM from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Recently, the air force acquired air-to-air refuelling capability with the arrival of the KC-135E. This has further enhanced the capabilities of this already rather modern and compact air force.
Photo: Erwin van Dijkman
The first Naval aviators were trained at the Escuela de Aviación Militar in 1916. By then the naval aviation service did not exist yet but this was soon to change. In 1919 they received their first aircraft from Britain. This was in fact a compensation payment for the embargoed warships that were being built in British dockyards during the First World War. This early fleet consisted of floatplanes, a common practise with fledgling Latino naval air arms. Small numbers of float equipped Short 184, Sopwith Baby, and Avro 504 were delivered during that first year of its existence followed by a single Felixstowe F2A flying boat in 1920.
Ship borne operations were executed with floatplanes being based on naval cruisers. The first base was improvised near Valparaiso in 1921 and in 1923 the naval aviation activities were officially recognised and a branch within the Armada was formed by decree. In 1925 the force was doubled in strength with the arrival of the first acquisitions (Dornier Wall flying boats, Fairey IIIF and more Avro 504N) and the naval air arm took up residence at Quintero air base. This first leash of life of naval aviation was rather short-lived, on paper at least, because the force was amalgamated with the army air force into a new dedicated aerial force: the Fuerza Aérea Nacional in 1930. From this point onward the force was only allowed to operate helicopters and aircraft in transport and liaision supporting roles and as such was named Servicio de Aviación Naval.
After the Second World War the navy sent ten officers to the United States to become naval aviation pilots incorporating the knowledge that was assembled during the war. These were exciting times; the pilots flew fighter and torpedo-bombers and performed carrier operations as well. Eventually, the naval aviation was re-instated as a separate air arm in 1953, still only in support roles. To that end Bell 47 and Beech C-45 were be obtained and were delivered in 1954.
All this changed in 1978 when, in the midst of tensions with Argentina for the control of the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn islands, the Chilean Navy took delivery of aircraft and helicopters armed with guns and rockets and equipped for ASW, in the shape of Pilatus PC-7 armed turbo-prop training aircraft, twin engined P-111 (Embraer's C-110) armed patrol/exploration aircraft and SA319B Alouette armed helicopters. With those aircraft, the naval air branch took over the tactical maritime patrol/exploration and anti-submarine misions that were until then performed by the Air Force, becoming a tactical organization and being renamed Comando de Aviación Naval.
The current naval air arm is organised in two Air Arms (Fuerza Aeronaval No.1 at Viña del Mar and FA No.2 at Punta Arenas) and a dedicated ship borne unit; the Escuadrón Embarcadero. The force is equipped with patrol aircraft (P-3ACH Orion, EMB111AN and the new C295), liaison and transports (O-2A, C212 and EMB110), trainers (PC-7), and helicopters (Bell 206, Bell 412, Bo105, AS532, and HH-65 Dauphins). It also keeps various detachments along the long Chilean coastal line. The Bandeirantes are being replaced by the Persuader maritime patrol variant of the C295.
Source Aviación Naval (official)
Photo: Jaap Dijkstra
The army was quick in recognising the potential of aerial assets. After three years of studying the military aviation school was created at El Bosque on 7 February 1913. The first commander was army captain Manuel Avalos Prado who was installed on the 11th of the same month. As can be read in the history segment of the Air Force, the early operations lasted until 1930 when the various aerial units were organised into one force effectively disbanding both navy and army air forces.
The need for aerial assets was felt and the army introduced a flying club in 1959 to have some sort of independence from the air force. This need to have an independent army air force became stronger and a committee was appointed in 1965 to study the necessity and feasibility of a dedicated army air force. This study eventually led to a reactivation of the aviation branch (Comando de Aviación del Ejército) of the army by decree on 1 October 1970. This rebirth meant a lot of new doctrines had to be devised to incorporate the specialism into the regular army operations. The first aircraft to be obtained were helicopters, SA330C Puma and SA315B Lama arriving from 1972 onwards. Based at Tobalaba in Santiago the first step towards a rejuvenated army air force was taken.
To structure the aerial operations and matching them with regular army command lines, a brigade was formed in 1980 to control all aerial operations and units. This battalion evolved in the current Regimiento de Aviación de Ejército N° 1 "La Independencia" that still controls all units. These units are based throughout the country and each regional division maintains a platoon level unit (Pelotón de Exploración, Observación y Reconocimiento Aéreo) although they are all subordinate to the Rancagua based central aviation brigade (Brigada de Aviación de Ejército) formed January 1995 controlling all aerial units. The aerial assets consist of helicopters (AS350/355, AS532, MD369FF), transports (C212, Ce208, CN235), and various small aircraft for training, liaison and VIP duties.
Source Comando de Aviación del Ejército (official)
Photo: Erwin van Dijkman
Police aviation started 16 June 1948 with the inception of the Club Aéreo de Carabineros. At its first anniversary a year later an airshow was held and their first aircraft, a Ce145, arrived a couple of months later on 14 August 1949. The service has been using various Cessna models for training and patrol flights the first of which took place in 1953 with Ce170s. The air operations were basically co-ordinated by the aeroclub until the Brigada Aeropolicial was formed on 17 February 1960 to control air operations.
After many years of Cessna operations the first helicopters arrived in 1969 when a Hughes 300 was acquired by the aeroclub followed by two FH1100 for the Brigade later in the same year. The tasks of the police brigade were ever increasing with patrol, search and rescue, traffic observation, forest observation, medical transport, disaster relief and so on. The air assets were numerous and modern. These factors contributed to the decision to form the Prefectura Aeropolicial a separate specialist branch within the carabineros on 24 April 1972.
The fixed wing aircraft and helicopters are organised into separate sections within the prefectura although in effect they are operated by sections spread over seven police zones throughout the country. The service nowadays operates a compact helicopter force (A109E, Bell 206, BK117, Bo105, and EC135) along a variation of fixed wing aircraft (Ce182, Ce206, Ce208, Ce210, Ce550, PA-31, and PA-31T). Most can be found at Santiago-Tobalaba where the Aeroclub is based also and maintenance is performed as well.
Source Aeropolicial (official)
Photo: Jaap Dijkstra
The civil police is also part of the security forces of course. They have been flying aircraft since 1963 after acquisition of a Cessna 182 in October 1962. The service, resorting under the Department of the Interior, kept using small quantities of light aircraft throughout the sixties until the early seventies when it was deemed unnecessary to have aircraft.
After many using a Beech Queen Air and later a former army aero club Cessna 182, the formal second life of civil police aviation started in the late seventies at home base Los Cerillos. Various types of Cessna twins and singles were operated until the first Ecureuil helicopters arrived in June 2002. After Los Cerillos closed the service relocated to Tobalaba awaiting a more permanent location still.