Arma Aerea de la Armada Espanola
In March 2009 Jetwash Aviation Photo's had an exclusive visit to Rota Naval Air Station in Southern Spain. Situated on the Mediterranean coast some 40 kilometres north of Cadiz, Rota houses all of the Spanish Navy's air assets.
At the time of our visit the Arma Aerea de la Armada comprised Escuadrilla 003 flying the Agusta-Bell 212, Escuadrilla 004 with the Cessna Citation, Escuadrilla 005 with the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, Escuadrilla 006 with the Hughes H.369M, Escuadrilla 009 with the McDonnell-Douglas EAV-8B Harrier and Escuadrilla 010 flying the Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk.
The Arma Aerea de la Armada was established in November 1954, with Naval Air Station Rota opening three years later in 1957. Having initially only flown helicopters the Armada received its first fixed wing aircraft in 1964 when two PA-24 Comanche and two PA-30 Twin Comanche aircraft were delivered from the Piper Aircraft Corporation in the U.S.A to facilitate initial pilot training.
The first jet aircraft to enter service was the McDonnell-Douglas AV-8S Harrier (called the Matador in Spanish service) in 1976, twelve being delivered between then and 1980 including two TAV-8S two-seaters. In 1987 the the more advanced AV-8B's commenced delivery and the last AV-8S was withdrawn in 1996 with nine going on to see service with the Royal Thai Navy.
Agusta-Bell AB.212 serial HA.18-4/01-308 on the ramp at Rota on 26th March 2009
As mentioned previously Escuadrilla 003 at Rota flies the Agusta-Bell AB.212 helicopter in the Search & Rescue (SAR) and transport roles. Delivery commenced back in 1974 as the AB.212ASW with its primary task being Anti-Submarine Warfare. The ASW equipment has since been removed and ten of the original order for fourteen remain in service, of which eight are normally in use at any given time, the others undergoing some form of maintenance.
Technically Escuadrilla 003 is a Marine Corps squadron, although all of its pilots are naval personnel. With an armament capability of 1 x 12.7mm and 2 x 7.62mm machine guns, plus 2 x 2.75 inch rocket pods it has ample capability to support the Marines in their ground offensives, this being exemplified by the recent 'Loyal Mariner 09' exercise that took place off the coast of southern Italy in conjunction with the Italian armed forces.
AB.212 HA.18-3 in the squadron hanger at Rota
Cessna 550 Citation II from Escuadrilla 004 (serial U.20-2) preparing for a morning mission on 26th March 2009
U.20-1 is one of three such aircraft operated by Escuadrilla 004, seen here on the Rota ramp outside the squadrons hanger
Escuadrilla 004 has a wide variety of missions including maritime surveillance, medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), search and rescue (SAR) and general transportation, all of which are carried out by the units three Cessna 550 Citations. The newer Citation 650, which was delivered in 2007 is generally used for VIP transportation. The first two Citation 550's were delivered in 1982, with the third entering service in 1989 and are normally configured to carry 6 passengers and two crew over a range of up to 1700 miles.
Citation 650 serial U.21-01 having just returned from a short training mission to Seville
The sole Cessna Citation 650 entered service with Escuadrilla 004 in 2007 to supplement the three Citation 550's. This aircraft has a much longer range (2300 miles), more powerful engines and a larger cabin accommodating up to eleven passengers, although it is normally configured to carry eight. This has now taken over the majority of the VIP transport duties for the Arma Aerea de la Armada.
Sikorsky SH-3G Sea King HS.9-16/01-516 being prepared for a late morning mission.
The SH-3D first entered service with 005 Escuadrilla in 1966, with the last of eighteen airframes being delivered in 1981. Its primary task then was Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), although as with many NATO countries the diminishing threat (?) from the east has resulted in aircraft having there roles altered.
Eleven are currently still in service of which eight have been upgraded to SH-3G standard and the other three have been converted to SH-3W versions (seen opposite) carrying the Thorn EMI Searchwater radar to provide an Airborne Early warning (AEW) capability within the fleet. The SH-3G's primary task now is transport duties, (supplementing the smaller AB.212) and search & rescue (SAR) duties. One of the many recent updates the Sea King has experienced is a Night Vision Goggle (NVG) capability and armoured seating for the crew.
005 Escuadrilla SH-3G Sea King prepares for a morning mission on 26th March 2009
Escuadrilla 006 Hughes 369HM (H.500) departing Rota on an engine test 26th March 2009
One of the more unusual elements at Naval Air Station Rota is Escuadrilla 006 operating the diminutive Hughes 369HM (or Hughes 500). This small helicopter provides primary flight training for the Armada, although many pilots experience their first flight with Ala.78 at Granada with the Spanish Air Force using the Eurocopter EC.120 Colibri. This then progresses to the Sikorsky S-76 at Granada or at NAS Pensacola in Florida with the U.S. Navy and their Bell TH-57's.
Esc.006 Hughes 369HM's are readied for a mission having just been moved from one of the squadrons hanger.
006 Escuadrilla Hughes 500 prepares for a check-mission after completing an engine change
The Hughes were first delivered way back in 1972 and the six still remaining in service provide a reliable and easily maintained training platform. However, spares are now becoming an issue as the Armada struggle to access new spare parts, resulting in other airframes being canibalised to maintain sufficient flight hours.
As with some of the other helicopters in the fleet the Hughes first saw service as an ASW platform, capable of carrying a Metal Anomoly Detector (MAD) and MK-44/46 torpedoes before moving on to its primary flight training mission of today. With the ASW equipment having long been removed, Escuadrilla 006 continues to fly a helicopter rarely seen in military service in the 21st Century, particularly in European skies and long may it continue. With no replacement airframe in sight it may yet continue for many years and achieve forty years of service with the Armada.
HS.23-06 undergoing maintenance in Escuadrilla 010's hanger at Rota on 26th March 2009
The final helicopter unit at Rota is Escuadrilla 010 operating twelve Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawks. Delivered from 1988 onwards all twelve remain in service today as the Armada's primary ASW platform. The aircraft carry the same Light Airborne Multipurpose System (LAMPS) used by the United States Navy to provide an effective Anti-Submarine Warfare capability which utilises a Data Link Receiver between the helo' and the ship to provide 'real time' data from the sensors.
Normally operating from the Armada's 'Santa Maria' and 'Alvara de Bazan' class frigates the SH-60's are fitted with the APS-124 radar, up to twenty-five 'active' or 'passive' sonor-bouys and three MK-46 torpedoes. A Magnetic Anomoly Detector (MAD) is carried on the rear starboard of the airframe for submarine detection with a Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) providing night vision capability. A laser designator for the AGM-114 Hellfire missile (short-range semi-guided laser with 8kg warhead) is provided, together with the AGM-119 Penguin (infra red search & acquisition missile with a 50kg warhead). To complete its mission suite, self protection is provided by a 12.7mm machine gun, IFF, optical & IR missile detection, plus chaff and flare dispensors.
The Armada's primary strike aircraft is the McDonnell-Douglas EAV-8B+ Harrier II as seen above
The McDonnell-Douglas EAV-8B+ Harrier II provides a state of the art front-line aircraft for todays Spanish Navy and has been in use by the Armada since its introduction in 1996. The Spanish aircraft manufacturer EADS/CASA had a major part to play in introducing the Harrier II to the Armada, having assembled the first eight aircraft between 1996 and 1997. There is a long history of Harrier operations within the Spanish Navy going as far back as 1976 when it operated the original AV-8S Harrier (known as the Matador in Spanish service). These were supplemented in 1987 when the EAV-8B version was introduced, going on to subsequently replace the AV-8S completely when they were retired in 1996. When on operational duty the Harrier's operate from the Armada's sole aircraft carrier, the 'Principe de Asturias' (R11), which was commissioned in 1989.
VA.1A-19/01-907 is one of the original EAV-8B's delivered to the Spanish Navy.
Only two of the original EAV-8B Harrier's remain in service as of March 2009, these being VA.1A-19/01-907 and VA.1A-22/01-911. These two aircraft differ from the EAV-8B+ in having the older Rolls Royce F402-RR-406 engine, which provides around ten percent less thrust, plus of course it lacks most noticeably the radar of the EAV-8B+ and its associated weapons systems. A number of the earlier EAV-8B's were re-manufactured to EAV-8B+ standard by EADS/CASA at Seville and plans are that at least one more will be upgraded in the future (but possibly to a Night Attack Version). All the Harrier's serve with Escuadrilla 009.
VA.1B-37/01-925 sits on the Rota ramp awaiting its second morning mission
The EAV-8B+ incorporates the Hughes APG-65 radar providing day and night operations using Night Vision Goggles (the EAV-8B lacks a radar), and is powered by a Rolls-Royce 408 Pegasus II engine, providing more power and reliabilty than its predecessors. A multi-mission capabilty is provided enabling Combat Air Patrol (CAP) in defence of the fleet whilst assigned to the carrier 'Principe de Asturias', close air support, reconnaissance and helicopter escort duties. As of March 2009 Escuadrilla 009 comprised twelve EAV-8B+, two EAV-8B and one TAV-8B two-seater.
The AV-8B+ also has the capability to carry an external Northrop-Grumman AN/AAQ-28 LANTIRN pod as seen above (left) with its protective cover removed and showing the camera/sensor lenses. Also visible at the bottom of the left hand photograph is the data-link sensor used by ground forces which links to a laptop (out of picture) so as to provide a 'real time' view of what the pilot can see (visible on the cockpit screen on the left of the right-hand photograph).
EAV-8B+ Harrier VA.1B-30/01-920 inside the 009 Escuadrilla hanger at Rota
VAE.1A-33 is the sole TAV-8B in service with the Arma Aerea de la Armada
EAV-8B+ Harrier II returns to the ramp at Rota after a solo mission
Another tough day at the office. Clear blue skies and a fast jet, it's hard being a fighter-jock!!
Thanks go to the following for assisting us with and during our visit to Rota NAS
Fransisco Artieda (MOD Madrid)
J.F De Los Rios
and a particular thanks to the Base Commander Capitan de Corbeta Angel Fernandez Lahera