Fighter Aviation Reunion 2006 Feature Report
Monday 17th April - Saturday 22nd April
If you really like fighters, but, above all, if you want to see how a professional air force celebrates in style its achievements of the past and keeps itself prepared for the future, then the Fighter Aviation Reunion (Reunião da Aviação de Caça, or RAC), and especially the Fighter's Day (Dia da Caça) commemorations in Santa Cruz Air Base, will constitute the highlight of your aviation season. I can say, without fear to be unfair to other exercises, reunions or airshows, that this is the one event no serious enthusiast can afford to miss in Brazil. A week-long reunion that brings all fighter squadrons of the Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira - FAB) to Rio de Janeiro, the RAC culminates, most years, on a massive display of FAB capabilities on April 22, the most important date for fighter aviation in Brazil. Since it's UKAR goal to bring the best of aviation not only in the UK but worldwide to our readership, we made every effort to cover this year's RAC and Fighter's Day commemorations, especially since 2006 is the year the FAB and all Brazilians are celebrating 100 years of aviation.
tried to keep up with a busy week of events on probably the most impressive reunion of fighters he has seen anywhere. All photos by the author.
April 22 is such an important day for fighter aviation in Brazil due to the achievements of a select and proud group of pilots of the 1º GAvCa. It was on this date, in 1945, that the P-47s of the aforementioned group, heavily involved in the Italian campaign, registered its highest numbers of sorties in a single day. Never again in World War II the Brazilian Air Force was able to surpass that feat of arms. In order to celebrate it, every single year, the FAB's Fighter Aviation Reunion is staged on the week of April 22 in Rio de Janeiro, where the 1º GAvCa is currently based. Pilots from all over Brazil spend the week discussing doctrine and technical/operational aspects of their trade, and refining their operational techniques.
This year, the reunion, which took place from April 17-22, saw lots more activity indoors than on the flightline, since most of the time was spent on lectures presented by selected specialists (the bad weather on the first two days having had a role in upsetting the schedule of events). Usually one of the most anticipated events of the whole week is the arrival of the fighter squadrons from all over Brazil, but this year the rain made any attempt of photographing it completely impossible (I didn't even bother to go to the base, to tell you the truth - it meant extra free time from my job later in the week). Only on Wednesday the skies started to clear, and it was none too soon, because this year the Fighter's Day commemorations were split in two: the military parade, with the formation fly-bys and operational demo, was scheduled to happen on Thursday, April 20, and the P-47 veterans' reunion and Danilo's opera (which tells the tale of Danilo Moura, a pilot with the 1º GAvCa who was shot down behind enemy lines and made his way back) on Saturday, April 22, Fighter's Day.
The aerial part of the commemorations on Thursday featured no less than eight F-5E/F (four being the recently modernized F-5EM) Tigers, eight A-1/RA-1s (AMXs), four A-29B Super Tucanos, a AT-26A Impala (also known as the MB-326K, a single seat version of the popular trainer with two 30mm cannons on the nose, formerly operated by South Africa), and four AT-26 Xavantes (the stock MB-326GB). Thundering down the runway to start the aerial activities of the day were three F-5Es and one F-5F, and three A-1s and one RA-1 (easily noticeable due to the recon pod on the centerline pylon). They immediately joined formation and flew a number of passes above the base, with the Tigers always leading the A-1s. Although they flew tight four-ship diamond formations most of the time, the last pass saw both formations fly echelon right before departing formation in a very nicely executed break in order to land.
Soon thereafter, a call came to immediately vacate the flight line and board a van, which was to take all photographers to the weapons stand, a spot much closer to where the participating aircraft would drop their ordnance to show the air-to-ground capabilities of all FAB current fighters. Taking part in the operational demo were the aforementioned four F-5EMs, which took off while the van was on its way, together with the balance of fighters previously mentioned. The four A-29s were the first to drop their bombs, followed by the four A-1s and the four F-5EMs. Next on line was the Impala, and she ripped the target with her 30mm cannons, which make a lot of noise, and appear to expel bullets the size of Big Coke bottles! Last but not least, the other AT-26s dropped their bombs, and I must say most of the time the aircraft involved dropped their weapons right on target, although the only form of active guidance the bombs had was the good aim of the pilot.
Saturday, April 22, was a special day to everyone who attended the commemorations because it was the first time our first cosmonaut, Ten. Cel. (Lt. Col.) Marcos Pontes, a FAB fighter pilot, visited Santa Cruz Air Base after his flight to the International Space Station. He arrived in an A-1 (AMX) flown by the commander of the squadron he belongs to, the 3º/10º GAv, Esquadrão Centauro (Centaur Squadron). A very informative lecture about his voyage followed his arrival, and he was a guest of honor at the Danilo's Opera. However, his arrival was not the only event of the day, being preceded by the annual reunion of the surviving FAB P-47 WW2 veterans. And, following a tradition, its conclusion was set to match a couple of very low and very fast fly-bys by two F-5Es from the same group those pilots belonged to in WW2 (1º GavCa), which would have violated every rule in the book if performed on an ordinary day…
After all the ceremonies were over, it was time to shoot the participating aircraft on the ground. And there were quite a few! The following squadrons were represented: the 1º/1º and 2º/1º GAvCa (F-5E), the 1º/16º GAv (A-1), the 1º GDA (Mirage IIIEBR/AT-26, now transitioning to the Mirage 2000C), the 1º/14º GAv (F-5EM/F-5F), the 1º/10º GAv (RA-1), the 3º/10º GAv (A-1A/A-1B), the 1º/3º GAv (A-29), the 2º/5º GAv (A-29), the 3º/3º GAv (AT-27, transitioning to the A-29), and the 1º/4º GAv (AT-26). All in all, it was a memorable event, one that wouldn't disappoint anybody who thrives on aviation like me.