South American Aviation
Aerolineas Argentinas in the Malvinas' War
By Santiago Rivas / Juan Carlos Cicalesi (LAAHS Argentina)
May 3, 2007, 23:00
Translated by Tulio Soto (LAAHS USA)
Following the recovery of the Malvinas Islands by the Argentinean Armed Forces on 2 April 1982, an aerial bridge operation began in which aircraft of Aerolineas Argentinas took part, and which lasted until shortly before the beginning of hostilities.
After the Argentinean landing had taken place on the Malvinas Islands on 2 April 1982, the Technical Group from the Aerolineas Argentinas company, at the time the National Flag Carrier, began to plan on a possible participation in supporting the landings, even though the Argentinean Air Force had not made a request in that regard.
While it was a very remote possibility, in any case the personnel from Operations Management, Technical Sub-management and the Department of Engineering and Operating Standards, met with the goal of being prepared for any requirement from the Air Force, to provide transportation for troops and supplies to the islands.
Argentinean troops in front of one of the Aerolineas Argentinas Boeing 737 in Puerto Argentino. (Photo: Authors' Archives)From the get-go, it was determined that in case of a request, the aircraft to be employed should be the Boeing 737-200. This was an airplane known very well by all the personnel, highly appreciated by crews and which was very well suited for operations in almost any place weather conditions. Its normal capacity is 120 seats, and the idea was to transport 10 tons of cargo, or the equivalent weight in soldiers and their equipment, and for this reason the Fokker F-28 were dismissed from the very beginning, because their capacities were much lower (65 passengers) and because they did not have thrust reversers in their engines, that would help to brake and stop the airplanes on short runways; we must keep in mind that the runway at Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley) was 1,250 meters long by 45 meters wide.
The strong winds and short runway length caused an FAA’s F-28 to run off the runway, and causing great damages to the nose section, but despite the damages the airplane managed to return to the mainland. Another idea considered at first, was to remove all the passenger seats, carpeting and linings, in order to reduce the basic weight and increase performance that, at the time was unknown, since no data was available on this regard.
With the aerial bridge being undertaken by aircraft from the different forces, including security, it was necessary to request the participation of some commercial aircraft in order to speed up the troop transportation.
.:: A Request from the Air Force
At Río Gallegos... (Photo: Authors' Archives)For the reasons mentioned, the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) requested participation from the airline for the aerial bridge, and in consequence two Boeing 737-200 Advanced airplanes were detached for service: LV-JTD and LV-LEB; these came from the first batches acquired by AA beginning in 1970. The B-737 line-chief designated aircraft commanders to fly in pairs, amongst the line’s crews, in order to complete the flights to the islands. It was determined that they could operate indistinctly from Río Gallegos, Santa Cruz province and also from Comodoro Rivadavia, Chubut province. Commander “Jerry” Reinoso was called to plan the flights to Puerto Argentino; Reinoso graduated as a pilot from the Escuela de Aviación Naval, as a pilot for the Prefectura Naval Argentina (Coast Guard) and, Eduardo Blau, who also graduated from the same school, but as a naval pilot.
Since there were no airport charts available, everything had to be guessed at first; the navigation office only had a stack of approach charts from LADE (Lineas Aereas del Estado) where the Malvinas airport could be found, as well as a small diagram of the runway, taxiway and a****. For this reason, the appropriate charts were requested from the Instituto Geografico Militar. While the runway dimensions were obtained, the same was not true for the taxiway or the a****. It was not known neither if there were any obstacles nor, something that was really important, if there was a braking zone or a strip that could support the landing weight of a two-wheeled main landing gear, such as that on the Boeing 737. All documentation from Boeing was reviewed, looking for information on operating from short runways. Some information was found regarding commercial operations that took place for a short period of time at the Faeroe Islands in the North Sea region, although the aircraft operating there had engines that produced an additional 4,000 pounds of thrust.
Navigation personnel devoted themselves to compare the meteorological conditions on both locations and the Faeroe Islands runway length which measured 1,200 meters long and was a little wider. In the end this all turned out to be a short-field operation that was a true challenge both in terms of calculations as well as for operational quality, and of course hoping that nothing would break in the process.
LV-JTD in Puerto Argentino, unloading soldiers. This airplane is nowadays providing executive transport services for the company. (Photo: Authors' Archives)As a precautionary measure and in order to be sure of the overall operation, a reconnaissance flight was conducted, including a landing in Puerto Argentino where the length of the runway and taxiway were inspected on foot, with the goal of having the maximum information available in the shortest period of time. The lighting was inspected, and this consisted of kerosene lamps; talks were held with the soldier in charge of keeping them burning, because the strong winds turned them off constantly; there was a need to be able to see the red lights on the sides and at the runway’s head, as well as measuring the a****. Once al the data was obtained, calculations for take-off weight and landing, with al the variables were estimated, and loading fuel only in Rio Gallegos and Comodoro Rivadavia, the hypothesis could be maintained, that is, to transport 10 tons going in or coming out of the Malvinas. That is, in case of an emergency, to be able to leave with the same cargo that had been taken out. The duration of the flight, leaving from either of the bases already mentioned, was just one hour, with additional fuel added in case of having to wait for landing. The return flight alternative was, besides the bases already mentioned, Rio Grande. In many cases an a**** stay of no more than 30 minutes was considered. They tried to imagine what the runway’s edge illumination stated, although it was impossible to read it from the available chart, which was LADE’s. It was unknown if it would be possible to start the engines either electrically or pneumatically, and for this reason it was decided to leave engine Nº1 (left) running, to allow the opening of the cargo compartments and to allow the unloading.
Call signs used in the operations theater were Petrel 8 and Petrel 9.
.:: Other operations
LV-JTD unloading at the Puerto Argentino runway. (Photo: Authors' Archives)Due to the course that the war was taking, many international flights were cancelled, and this meant that there were more aircraft available. This situation favored the re-programming of intercontinental logistical flights to acquire spare parts in different countries, in order to be able to sustain a war with the third-rated power in the world. These flights took place fundamentally with cargo Boeing 707s. Alternate routes had to be prepared, as well as possible loads, flight times, over flight problems with military cargo so that advance flight permits had to be requested, and of course with countries that did not allow these flights, alternate routes had to be sought, which in turn meant longer duration flights. Some were done, some were not, but both had to be planned just the same. It must be remembered that at the time, there was no computational capabilities the same as we have nowadays, and this was particularly true with the Boeing 707s. One of the flight techniques implemented, was to use the commercial flight routes of different airlines, in order to confuse the follow-up that countries allied to the United Kingdom were conducting, principally the United States. Many feeder flights took place using Boeing 737s, which served to feed the aerial bridge to the war zone.
A detail worth pointing out, is that despite these being civilian aircraft, they never were part of the Escuadron Fenix, which was exclusively composed by civilian aircraft tasked with diversionary flights, reconnaissance, combat squadron pathfinder flights, and transportation. Besides AA, it should be mentioned that the company Austral Lineas Aereas also participated in the aerial bridge, with BAC-111 aircraft.
In order to research the flights, we used the tally of take-offs and landings from the operations office in Rio, as well as pages from the log-books from some of the pilots involved, which were 14 in total.
The Rio Gallegos operations base records show that between 11 April and 14 April, the following took place:
Planned flights: 43
Completed flights: 41
Two returns, one due to wind outside the accepted parameters, and another due to an airplane accident on the head of the runway (The FAA’s F-28).
Number of soldiers transported: 4100.
For the Comodoro Rivadavia operations base, between 20 and 24 April:
Planned flights: 29
Completed flights: 29
Number of soldiers transported: over 1,400 plus 160 tons of cargo.
Rio Gallegos operations base, between 25 and 27 April:
Planned flights: 20
Completed flights: 19
One flight cancelled due to a red alert.
Number of soldiers transported: over 1,000 plus 10 tons of cargo.
In conclusion, 89 flights completed out of 92 planned (a 98% success rate); number of personnel transported: over 6,500; cargo: 270 tons. Flight hours: approximately 200.
A typical flight between Rio Gallegos and Puerto Argentino had the following characteristics:
Take-off weight: 49 tons.
Round trip fuel, plus reserves: 10 tons.
Landing weight: 45.7 tons.
The most difficult part on the whole operation, was the approach, landing and braking of almost 46 tons, touching down at about 135 kts, in the short runway at Puerto Argentino, with a micro-climate that did nothing to help operations. The runway was usually wet, and the persistent and bothersome cross wind added to drizzle and the lack of adequate infrastructure made this achievement an unqualified success; not even a flat tire was encountered during the largest aerial bridge in the country, using commercial aircraft.
Nowadays, LV-JTD continues flying for Aerolineas, having been modified and re-configured as an executive transport aircraft. Regarding LV-LEB it is now parked at the former Taller Aeronaval Central, awaiting transfer to the National Aeronautical Museum in Morón.
Commander Eduardo Blau’s invaluable help and advice are hereby acknowledged.