By Kay Valle/Diálogo June 14, 2017 Honduran aviation first took off in 1921 with the acquisition of its first warplane. Its time as a military aviation school began in 1931 when the Ministry of Navy and Aviation was founded. “The history of the institution is illustrious, and combat aviation in the Honduran Armed Forces (FAH, per its Spanish acronym) began in 1936. Conflict during the Second World War triggered the purchase of more airplanes that would be used to fly over the Pacific and Atlantic coasts,” Honduran Air Force Colonel José Luis Sauceda Sierra, general commander of FAH, told Diálogo. Aerodromes used to be more common because there was little highway infrastructure. Thus, when Honduras joined the war against the Axis powers, FAH’s functions were diversified and reconnaissance patrols were increased along the borders. “From 1942 to 1944, the aerial patrols carried out by the Stinson F2 were increased to three times per day. On July 24, 1942, a submarine was detected, which FAH troops bombed,” Retired Honduran Air Force Captain Jurgen Hesse Joya, a historian at the Honduran Aviation Museum, told Diálogo. “This confrontation made Honduras the only Central American country to participate in combat during the Second World War,” he said. Sustained development Edgardo Mejía, a security analyst and professor at the National Police University, told Diálogo that although FAH is the smallest branch of the Armed Forces, it has had continuous and sustained development since its founding. “The training of its personnel, to include specializations like handling rotary-wing aircraft, fixed-wing, combat pilot, airplane maintenance, radars, aerial intelligence, and other activities, have improved the institution’s operational readiness,” he said. For him, FAH had several golden ages worth highlighting. The first was in 1977 – advancing from the turboprop to the jet era with the acquisition of its still-active F86 and A37B Dragonfly aircraft. Later, in 1983, the Air Defense Squadron was created, allowing for a defense shield which is used in the fight against international organized crime. “The last [stage] arises from the need to lay the foundation for what today is the Training School of Intermediate Command. And of course, their most significant achievement has been the acquisition of the F5,” Mejía said. Gender equality To join FAH, a person must be over 18 years of age, and no gender difference exists. In terms of study, that means that choosing the flight cadet, technical officer, or air safety tracks are open to anyone. “Since 1996, female students began to be accepted, and FAH became the first air academy in Central America to allow their access. Currently, there is a total of 198 students. Of these, 23 are women,” Col. Sauceda said. Young people who are admitted obtain their degree in Aeronautical Sciences in four years, and the military rank of second lieutenant with their chosen specialization. “At the end [of the program], those who choose flight cadet will become FAH pilots,” he said. These cadets can begin their careers at any of the four FAH bases. The transport squadron, helicopters and VIP, and the presidential squadron are assigned to the “Hernán Acosta Mejía” Base in Tegucigalpa. The Military Aviation School and the Officer Squadron are located at the “Enrique Soto Cano” Base in Comayagua. The “Armando Escalón Espinal” Base, founded in 1969 as the Northern Command, is located in Lima. The “Héctor Caraccioli Moncada” Base in La Ceiba, Atlántida is the headquarters of the supersonic F5E and F5F airplanes. Rescue-and-assistance work It is also important to highlight the acquisition of helicopters as an important achievement because they support civilians and institutions that send aid, especially to places affected by natural disasters. The delivery of provisions to flood-stricken areas, the rescue of missing persons, the patrols to determine the location of areas that have been damaged by illegal logging, the extraction of cultural heritage objects, and the location of clandestine landing strips are everyday tasks for FAH. Other work highlighted by Col. Sauceda includes the fight against forest fires. The most recent one occurred in Tegucigalpa in March 2017. That fire consumed over 200 hectares of pine forest. FAH deployed several helicopters to fight it. They supported the firefighters for three days until it was extinguished. Aerial rescue is another FAH task. During this interview, Col. Sauceda received an urgent request to initiate a search for two Honduran citizens and one Italian who were reported missing in the Caribbean Sea. FAH immediately started the search, found the shipwrecked individuals a few hours after they began tracking them, and proceeded with the rescue work. Wings for Health In 1962, FAH began “Wings for Health,” a program created to transport civilian and military patients with medical emergencies. The transport to hospital centers is conducted by the directors of these institutions, and it is not only for areas without access but for the entire country. “To conduct this mission, FAH uses two Cessna 208 Grand Caravan airplanes that were donated by the United States government, with a value of $4 million. The doctors and nurses belong to FAH. They are specialized in transporting patients by air, where conditions are different than on land,” Col. Sauceda said. “Decade after decade, FAH renews itself as an institution. The partnerships with air forces throughout the Americas are productive. They also offer young people a place to become more professional, to demonstrate their love for their homeland, and to serve the people,” Col Sauceda said.