First I would like to introduce myself. My name is Miguel, born in Spain, and living close to Madrid. Although a flight helmet collector, as a day job I am a senior first officer, or copilot for Iberia Airlines flying the A340. This gives me the possibility to travel fairly easy and during my travels, i met many other collectors around the world.
The idea of this article is to introduce you to the Comando de Aviacion del Ejercito de Colombia, which I had the chance to visit in Juli 2008, at 2 different locations. This is the first of two articles, including pictures, in wich i try to explain how i experienced the Colombian army aviation operations. Not only flight gear related, but also how this people work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in very difficult circumstances.
The story started with a flight from Madrid to Bogotá, months ago, that ended up on our alternate airport, Cali, due to fog. Next morning, while refueling, 2 planes, one Metroliner from the Colombian AF and a Beechcraft 200, similar to the RC-12 Hurons from the US Army, parked at our side. I saw the mechanic of the RC-12 approaching, and asked for the possibility to take a picture of the plane. He told me it was not allowed to take pictures of the Plataformas (platforms) as they call them, but in the following conversation invited me to visit his unit. That unit is based at El Dorado airport, in Bogota. So some months later, I was able to pay them a visit.
The Comando de Aviacion del Ejercito, or Army Aviation Command, is divided into 2 areas, basically; one is the 1er Batallon, base at El Dorado, Bogota, which has all the planes used by the Army. The second unit, call Comando Operativo 25 and divided into 5 Batallones, taking charge of all helicopter operations by the Colombian Army. It is based at Tolemaida military complex, some 90km SW of Bogotá.
Something about this Army and the area of operations. Colombia is a very vast country with a huge diversity of environments. As a little remark, Bogotá city is situated at almost 9000 feet altitude, Tolamida military complex, 90km away is 1000 feet high. This means 8000 feet difference withing 50 miles. From dense Jungle to desert, very high altitudes to sea level.
There have been fighting between the Colombian Government and the FARC group, as well as Drug dealers for over 45 years. Fighting these enemies, means big business, and that is what the Colombian Army do, they operate the biggest helicopter fleet in America after the USA. They have 170 helicopters, from UH-1H,N, and UH-60 to MI-17.
When I got to the entrance of the 1 Batallon base, first thing that hit me was, how easy was to get in, provided you have a proper invitation, ID, and a guide. I have been at military bases here in Europe, where they have been playing war games for years, and was extremely difficult to get in, here I am at a base, in a country technically at war, and all gates were open. Not only that, they were extremely friendly, and seem very happy to see somebody from far away interested in their equipment and everyday life. They were really friendly towards me.
The duties of this unit are, transport support for the army, Medical evacuations, Command and Control of the battlefield, and SIGINT and other electronic duties, as well as capture of real time video thought FLIR. For transport duties, they use the Casa C-212, as well as Cessna Caravans. The conditions for operations are very rude. Even at international airports like their home base El Dorado. The planes have to take off at almost 10000 feet, which allows in the C-212 for not even 1 ton of cargo. Weight and balance has to be done to perfection, because an engine out on take off, is marginal. Remember many planes in this category will have 10000 feet as normal service ceiling. Once out in the field, non prepared runways in the middle of the jungle are common duty. Patches from bullets are cleary visible, giving a good impression on the difficult operations this people have to face everyday.
For Command and Control, C&C , they use a number of planes, Aerocommanders and Piper Senecas, and for VIP transport, the Aerocommander is specially appreciated for its speed. A Beechcraft C-90 is used for MedEvac, and finally the most important asset being the C-12 Hurons for all kind of image taking, and electronic vigilance most like the ones in use with the US Army. Flight gear related, they don't have much other than the CWU-27 and some survival equipment. Some time ago, they used Sph4b with NVG, but since they are now using FLIR, this is out of use. They still have a little museum, where I was able to take a pic of a mannequin with the old pilot gear. No ALSE room is therefore necessary.
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