65th Air Base Wing
History of Lajes Field
The Portuguese Military Service first constructed a dirt-packed landing strip on the island of Terceira in 1934. Due to the increasing German threat, Portuguese fortified the site in 1941. Based upon a 600-year-old-treaty, the British secured rights to the use of Lajes field from the Portuguese in October of 1943.
Throughout the war, the British protected transatlantic shipping by conducting operations out of Lajes Field against German U-boats. The first American units began arriving at Lajes in late 1943 with the first US Bomber, a B17, ferried through on December 9th. Army engineers constructed a 10,000-foot runway to land transiting U.S. bombers and cargo aircraft. The use of Lajes cut the flying time to Europe and North Africa from 70 hours to 40 hours. In 20 months of operations, 8,689 aircraft dispatched through Lajes including twelve hundred B17 and B24s. Medical personnel handled over 30,000 air evacuations en-route to the US.
In 1944 the U.S. was granted use of Santa Maria Island, and under the strictest security, an airfield was built. The base along with the three "A" shaped runways were completed 15 May 1945 Unfortunately, Santa Maria's tactical value was limited because the war in Europe ended a week before the field was completed. However, operations did begin in time for the new base to play an important role in cargo and troop movement as well as the evacuation of wounded soldiers. British and American interim rights to Lajes airfield were completed in May 1946 and the Portuguese designated Lajes Field as Air Base No. 4. July 1946, the Portuguese government announced that the Americans would remain in the Azores, on the island of Terceira and Lajes Field. September 1946, the 1391st Army Air Force Base Unit and the Azores Base Command was transferred from Santa Maria Island to Lajes. Nine days later a temporary agreement was reached between the U.S. and Portuguese governments giving the U.S. military rights to Lagens Field for an additional 18 months. In turn, the United States was required to maintain services and support operations at the base "in collaboration with and under the superintendence of the Portuguese authorities." The U.S. sought a long-term agreement for use of Lajes and on 6 September 1951, the first bilateral agreement was signed.
Lajes Field has supported many historic airlift missions beginning with the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Over 3,000 OPERATION VITTLES aircraft transited the Azores and over the years, Lajes has been instrumental in providing support to many operations, both U.S. and NATO. These operations include the 1958 U.S. peace efforts in Lebanon and the 1961 United Nations peace initiative in Congo. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, Portugal was the only country to grant landing rights for U.S. airlift to Israel.
During the 1990s, Lajes continued to be a mid-Atlantic refueling station as it hosted tanker aircraft during OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD/STORM and RESTORE HOPE. In the summer of 1998, C-17 aircraft staged from Lajes to shuttle equipment to and from Southwest Asia, during OPERATION DESERT THUNDER. During OPERATION ALLIED FORCE, the NATO campaign in Kosovo, Lajes maintainers serviced more than a third of the U.S. Air Force combat aircraft involved. Today, Lajes continues to play a vital role in the ongoing war on terrorism providing expert personnel and supporting aircraft transiting en route to and from OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM as part of the world's premier Expeditionary Aerospace Force.
Lajes Field also served as center stage for the historic meeting between the President of the United States, George W. Bush, the Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. This Atlantic Summit, hosted by Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, provided a last chance for a diplomatic solution in Iraq and stated clearly to the world that the coalition was prepared for military action. The Air Force and its current host unit, the 65th Air Base Wing, have not been the only occupants of Lajes Field. Lajes was also the headquarters of a joint command, USFORAZ which was disestablished in 2003. Sister services like the Navy and Army had a stake in Lajes' ability to enable air power. Port Transportation Battalion of the U.S. Army arrived on 2 February 1952 and remained (under several different designations) until October 2000. The U.S. Navy also staked a claim to the island with a Detachment at Agualva, the Naval Security Group Activity. This unit would operate from 1952 to 1994 providing a HF Direction Finding facility and communications support to the Navy and DOD elements in the area. From 1957 through 1993, the Lajes Naval Air Facility had a primary mission of ASW operations. For over 50 years, Lajes has been the Crossroads of the Atlantic bridging the gap of the wide ocean expanse. In most contingencies that required U.S. aircraft and allied forces to cross the Atlantic, Lajes had a supporting role. From the B-17s and C-47s to B-1s, C-17s and F16s. Lajes was and will continue to be the fueling station that gets the aircraft and crews where they need to "fly, fight and win."
65 Air Base Wing Missions
1940's Primary mission was moving troops and equipment to and from Europe and the Pacific. Operation Green Project (Santa Maria) moved aircraft and personnel between Europe and the States. Operation White Project (Lajes) serviced aircraft and troops moving to the Pacific. Assigned aircraft: B-17, C-47
1950's January 1, 1948; Military Air Transport Service Average of 800 scheduled flights a month, primary fueling spot for SAC, TAC MATS, and Navy Attached SAC and TAC liaison offices, assisted with transiting aircraft; offices remained at Lajes until early 1990s. Average of 9-10,000 passengers per month Rescue support for Gemini missions Assigned Aircraft: C-47, C-54
1960's Jan 1, 1966; Military Airlift Command Average 500 aircraft per month, most movement to SE Asia C-54, C-118, and C-135 Aircraft refurbishing Rescue support for Apollo missions Joint Rescue Coordination Center 1967, P3 training site (approx 100 hours flying a month) 57th Aero Space Rescue Service stationed as tenant, SH 119, SB117, and 9 HC130s. Inactivated 1972. Assigned Aircraft: C-54, C-47 and C-118
1970's Base support for Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare mission (continues unit 1990's) o Naval Security Group C130 Refurbishing for Pope AFB Assigned Aircraft: C-54, C-118 (All assigned aircraft left by 1972)
1980's Base and enroute support for all MAC and Naval aircraft (approx 250 a month) Tanker Bridge for Coronets Base support for Army (Exercise REFORGER 86 brought 10,000 troops to Lajes over two month period)
1990's 1 June 1992; Air Mobility Command 1 October 1993; Air Combat Command Tanker Bridge (steady deployment of aircraft) Average of 200 C141 and C130 per month Coronet movements Space Shuttle support/diversion site
2000's 1 October 2002; United States Air Force in Europe 2003 - Inactivation of USFORAZ Tanker Bridge Coronets Space Shuttle Support/Diversion Global Communication Support