Robert Dahler visits the Brazilian Navy at São Pedro D' Aldeia
After a short flight from São Paulo to the City of Rio de Janeiro, and then a few hours drive, Brazil's aviation photographer Daniel Pfister and I arrived at the Naval Airbase of São Pedro D'Aldeia (BAeNSPA). It is located on the north coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro, 135 km from the city of Rio, and is surrounded by beautiful beaches and nature in the area known as 'Região dos Lagos' (Region of the Lakes).
New life for the Skyhawk
The airbase is the home to six of the nine squadrons of the 'Marinha do Brasil' (Brazilian Navy), five helicopter squadrons sharing the airfield with VF-1 'Falcões' (Hawks), the only fixed-wing unit flying the magnificent AF-1/AF-1A Falcão (Hawk) in the interception and attack role. In 1998 the Brazilian Navy bought twenty single-seat A-4KU (AF-1) and three twin-seat TA-4KU (AF-1A) Skyhawks, including 217 Sidewinder missiles, from the Kuwaiti Air Force which replaced them with the F/A-18C/D Hornet. The Brazilian Navy bought its aircraft carrier 'São Paulo' from France, which was known as the 'Foch' and was being decommissioned.
Arriving on 7 September 1998 in Porto do Forno in the region of Cabo, Rio de Janeiro, the 'new' Skyhawks underwent a thorough overhaul and the serials N1001-N1020 allocated for the AF-1 single-seat and N1021-N2023 for the twin-seat versions. Pilot Lieutenant Jose Vicente de Alvarenga made the first solo flight in a Brazilian Navy AF-1 (N1007) on 26 May 2000, becoming the first fixed-wing aviator in the Brazilian Navy since 1965.
On the runway at BAeNSPA is a simulated drawing of the Brazilian aircraft carrier 'São Paulo' and a mobile 'meatball'. VF-1 uses this strip for practice aircraft carrier approaches and 'bouncing'/touch-and-go landings and take-offs. The 'meatball' is the primary glideslope reference that the pilot uses to control his approach to land on an aircraft carrier. It contains horizontal green and vertical red lights and a yellow ball, called the source, and is operated by the Landing Signal Officer (LSO). The LSO is not only responsible for the pilot to make a safe landing on the carrier but also to evaluate the landing as well. He will give the approaching pilot calls and will tell him if he is flying to high or drifting right, or if the plane needs more power and if it will be a 'waveoff' or not. A 'waveoff' is when the LSO thinks that the landing will not be safe and will be aborted - another landing attempt will be made.
HA-1 "Lince" squadron, flying the AH-11A Super Lynx.
Activated on 17 January 1979 as the Brazilian Navy's first Helicopter squadron for anti-submarine attack, the squadron initially consisted of nine SAH-11 Lynx helicopters (serials N3020-N3028). In 1995 the Brazilian Navy replaced the SAH-11 Lynx for fourteen AH-11A 'Super Lynx' helicopters (serials N4001-N4007 and N4009-N4014 (unfortunately N4008 was lost in an accident)).
One of the reasons for the update of the earlier Lynx is that the Super Lynx is more effective and usable in the multi-role. Besides the main attack missions with missiles, torpedoes and bombs, the squadron can now also be used for secondary missions such as Search and Rescue (SAR), troop transport and photo-reconnaissance missions.
Flying the Super Lynx
First thing was a detailed emergency briefing. Then, knowing what to do in an emergency situation we went to the helicopter that was being be prepared for flight - our mount today was AH-11A Super Lynx N4003. After being strapped in the seat the pilots and ground personnel went through the take-off procedures and shortly after we were airborne and in typical combat nose-down fly-away attitude. The first part of the flight was routine over the beautiful coast in the Cabo Frio area, including some low-level passes over the sea. The next part took place in the south of 'Lagoa de Araruama' in the middle of the salt industry area where the Brazilian Navy has a practice strip. Then onto basic helicopter combat manoeuvres, including some spectacular wing-over and dive manoeuvres and some practice emergency engine failure landings on one engine. We safely touched down back at the Naval Airbase after an hour and twenty minutes of flight.
The author would like to thank the Marinha do Brasil for its hospitality and co-operation in preparing this article. You can see the Brazilian Navy is a hard-working family with a lot of compassion for its work and a spirit of teamwork exists between the squadrons, something it can be really proud of. It was a visit never to forget.