Sunday, February 26, 2012

More on the Secret 1982 Aerolineas Argentinas Flights - The Four Flights to Libya

In's 21Feb12 edition, the third and final installment appeared on Aerolineas Argentinas' secret flights to get arms for the Argentine military in the 1982 war with Great Britain.

With the war between Argentina and Great Britain several weeks old, Argentina
encountered increasing difficulty getting arms as most western nations refused to sell war materiel to the South American country and many others were reluctant to get involved in the dispute. 

As an example of the problems this caused, on 04May82, two Fuerza Aerea Argentina Dassault Super Etendard fighter jets launched French-made Exocet missiles at the British Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield with one of them striking the ship leading to a fire which disabled it.  However, the French had an arms embargo in place against Argentina limiting the number of highly-advanced Exocets the FAA had at its disposal to the few it had on hand in its inventory.   


As a result, Argentina started searching for arms in non-western nations and came to an agreement with Libya's Moammar Khadafi on 14May82 for the provision of weapons, mainly missiles and landmines.   

Immediately an Argentine delegation was put in place to coordinate the supply effort led by a muslim theologian from Tucuman, Argentina, Eduardo Sarme, who spoke perfect Arabic. 


Captain Luis Cuniberti commanded the 707 that evening but did not know the aircraft's destination until, already airborne, a military intelligence officer on board told him they were going to "Tripoli" as casually and naturally as a New Yorker would say "Long Island" !

As with the earlier flights to Israel, the aircraft stopped in Recife, Brazil for refuelling and continued on its trek across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. 

All was fine until air traffic control in the Canaries called for the 707 to identify itself.  The intelligence officer instructed Captain Cuniberti to maintain radio silence and not reply but the Canaries' controller insisted.  He then informed the 707 crew that Morocco was denying permission for the aircraft to enter its airspace and that fighters would be scrambled to intercept it !   The Argentine intelligence officer insisted that they continue forward but soon thereafter two fighters showed up nearby forcing the 707 to turn back.  The intelligence officer wanted to return to Recife but they did not have enough fuel to cross the Atlantic again !  Captain Cuniberti turned back to the Canaries where they landed.     

Two crew members, presumably shaken by the appearance of the two Moroccan fighter jets, asked to be excused from the rest of the mission !  A few hours later, the captain was able to gain authorization to fly to Tripoli (the article did not say who granted the permission) and the flight continued, landing in the Libyan capital at 8:15pm on 28May.  The 707 was towed to a huge hangar full of Soviet-built cargo aircraft where it remained for the night.  

The next morning, the aicraft was full of Soviet-built SAM-6 and SAM-7 (surface-to-air missiles) without any empty space anywhere in the plane.  It took off seven tons over gross but made it to Recife and El Palomar Air Force Base near Buenos Aires that same day.


The same day the first flight arrived back from Libya, the second flight departed Buenos Aires to Tripoli.  Arriving uneventfully, there was a delay of a couple of days waiting for the arms to arrive at the airport.   When they finally arrived, the Libyans took the boxes of explosives to the 707 without even weighing them and the 707 crew carefully distributed them as best they could to maintain the aircraft's crucial weight-and-balance.  The plane arrived back in Argentina without any problems.  The flights were becoming almost routine !


The third flight was uneventful except the flight crew lied about its position several times and maintained lights off and radio silence to avoid detection. 

The fourth and final flight did have a scare though when the purser came to Captain Bernard who was in charge of the flight and said "I don't want to alarm you but I heard explosions in the back of the aircraft" !  The captain and purser dragged themselves back along the fuselage in the little space there was and heard rather loud explosions.  Finally, they could see what was happening:  The wooden boxes containing the mines were expanding as the aircraft climbed and pressurized causing the boxes to explode !  Captain Bernard commented that "I calmed down.  But not that much.  The plane was full of explosives!".  

There was not much they could do and they continued on to Recife and El Palomar.


The above flight was the last one by the Aerolineas Argentinas pilots as the war ended on June 14 with the British retaking the islands.  The pilots' bravery and the dangers they faced were recognized years later when they were given the status of War Veterans by the Argentine government.       

Sources: & Wikipedia

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Secret Flights by Aerolineas Argentinas Pilots & Aircraft to Get Arms from Israel & Libya during 1982 South Atlantic War

The Argentine newspaper Clarin had a fascinating report in its February 19 and 20 issues (also available online in Spanish) on secret flights by Aerolineas Argentinas pilots and aircraft to Israel, Libya and South Africa to get arms and other war materiel in support of the Argentine effort in the 1982 South Atlantic War with Great Britain.  The mission was named "Operacion Aerolineas".

Below is an English-language summary of the various articles making up the report, which consisted mainly of interviews with seven of the pilots that flew these missions, who reportedly had never spoken before about their experience on the record.


Seven flights were operated in all between April 7, 1982 (five days after Argentina took over the islands) and June 9, 1982; two to Tel Aviv, Israel, four to Tripoli, Libya, and one to South Africa but the latter returned in mid-flight across the South Atlantic due to the arms deal there falling through at the last minute.  The first flights were flown to Israel but the later ones were to Tripoli as the Argentine government closed a deal with Libya for fear that Israel would stop supplying arms due to its close relations with the UK and US governments.


Seven pilots of the airline, all civilians, were recruited to operate the flights, which they readily agreed to in support of the Argentine war effort.  The flights were top secret though.  They were not allowed to tell anyone about their mission, not even wives, children or other relatives.  The pilots were not even aware of the exact nature of the flights or where they would be flying to, only knowing that they were to help the Argentine military in the conflict.  They only learned of their destinations and that their mission was to get arms when they reported for duty and in one case the pilots were not informed where the flight was going until after takeoff  !


The aircraft used were 707's.  In the early 1980's, Aerolineas Argentinas had already taken delivery of a few 747's which were replacing the carrier's 707's on long-haul flights but several of the 707's were still being used for passenger flights or had been converted to freight use.


The flights were dangerous endeavors as they crossed the South Atlantic where there was a significant number of British warships enroute to the islands.  The 707's flew  with radio silence and lights off.  In areas where they had to report their positions they gave false information to maintain their whereabouts secret. 

The fear was that any doubts about the nature of the flights could lead to the planes being intercepted by British military aircraft and possibly even being shot down.  One of the Argentine pilots speculated that the British knew of these flights but chose not to shoot them down because they were civilian airliners and there would have been an international outcry if these aircraft went crashing into the sea, presumably with civilian passengers aboard.

Other dangers included loading the 707's with 40 tons of arms taking them over their maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) and flying relatively low on their return flights near Ascension Island in the middle of the South Atlantic (U.S. Air Force base used by the Royal Air Force as a supply and staging point for Vulcan bombers, Victor tankers and the British Task Force heading to the islands) on reconaissance missions to spot and report back to Buenos Aires on southward-sailing British warships.


The flights were operated on a routing from Buenos Aires (Ezeiza) - Recife, Brazil - Las Palmas, Canary Islands to Tel Aviv or Tripoli.  They flew with fake flight numbers and false documentation apparently pretending to be operating a normal commercial flight.  In Tripoli they loaded primarily Soviet air-to-air missiles (the Libyan regime was allied with the USSR), mortar shells, and anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines. 

They returned to El Palomar Air Force base near Buenos Aires via Las Palmas, Recife and Rio de Janeiro, all civilian airports with commercial passenger flights.  One of the Argentine pilots interviewed for the article noted that they had planes full of highly-explosive material parked next to passenger aircraft in violation of nearly all regulations and procedures normally observed in commercial aviation !


Captain Ramón Arce, three other pilots, two mechanics, a purser and three military officers boarded flight AR 1418 (fake flight number) heading to the Middle East.   The officers were the connection to the Israeli military and kept to themselves during most of the trip.  Prior to the flight, the seats were removed in record time to make room for the arms that would fill the cabin on the return trip.

Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, the crew were greeted with a dinner celebrating the first visit to Israel by an Aerolineas Argentinas aircraft.   Overnight, the 707 was stored in an underground hangar that was full of planes and it was loaded for the return journey.  Spare engines for Dagger (Israeli version of the Mirage) fighter jets plus hundreds of parkas filled the cabin.

The return flight, though over the aircraft's gross weight, was uneventful as the plane landed safely at El Palomar.   


At 11:00pm on 09Apr82, Captain Jorge Prelooker joined three other pilots, two navigators and a purser at Buenos Aires' Ezeiza Airport for flight AR 1440/41 (another fake flight number), only then being informed that the destination was Tel Aviv.

Three Dagger engines were loaded onboard to be repaired in Israel and the 707 departed to the Canary Islands at 12:40am on 10Apr82.   After a refuelling stop in the Canaries, the plane proceeded to fly along the Mediterranean just south of Spain, past Sardinia, southern Italy, and Crete, and entered Cypriot airspace, which was a British protectorate at the time.  Asked to identify themselves, the crew said "Aerolineas Argentinas" as they had no alternative and proceeded to Israel.  The routing was chosen to avoid African airspace as many African countries would not allow overflights when the destination was Israel.

When the 707 landed in Tel Aviv, the crew were told to shut down the engines and put off all the lights, and they were towed in the darkness a very long distance and the flight crew retired to a hotel for the night. 

The following morning they returned to the airport to find the aircraft loaded with several turbine engines, plus anti-tank and anti-personnel mines with the leftover remaining space filled with five tons of parkas, presumably for the Argentine soldiers to brave the cold of the islands.

They departed to the Canaries but were asked to try to avoid the stop in Brazil.  Continuing on over the Cape Verde Islands they spotted three British warships which they later reported when arriving back in Buenos Aires.

With the aircraft being once again over gross, they were not successful in reaching Buenos Aires and had to stop for refuelling in Rio de Janeiro.  The crew declared that they were operating a cargo flight and no further questions were asked.  Imagine if the Brazilian authorities had known that the 707 had mines on board at a major international airport !   

The plane arrived back at El Palomar at 11:20pm on 12Apr82, almost 71 hours after departing Ezeiza.


The Argentine national government went on to recognize and decorate the pilots involved in the operation as War Veterans for successful completion of their missions.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

PHOTO GALLERY: Learjets at AEP - Part 2 of 4

Learjet 31A, LV-BSO, c/n  31-222, taxis out on 24Sep10.

Learjet 60, LV-BFR, c/n 60-059, taxis in on 01Oct10.

Grupo Sancor Seguros (insurance company) Learjet 60,
LV-CAY, c/n 60-234 on 01Oct10.

Macair Jet Learjet 25D, LV-OEL, c/n 25-307 on 10Oct10.

Crucero del Norte medical aircraft (?) Learjet 25D,
LV-WLG, c/n 25-345 on 10Oct10.

Photos: Phil Perry

Thursday, February 16, 2012

GOL 737-800 clips LAN Argentina A320 at Aeroparque (AEP)

On February 13 at 10:20am at Buenos Aires - Aeroparque, the left winglet of a GOL Linhas Aereas 737-800 inbound from Sao Paulo (GRU) collided with the tailcone and Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) of LAN Argentina A320, registration LV-BGI, as the Brazilian aircraft was taxiing in to the Gate #2 hardstand and the LAN aircraft was pushing back from its hardstand for departure.   

The LAN A320 was about to depart operating flight LA4022 to Puerto Iguazu in northern Argentina where the famous falls are located when the incident happened.   Its APU and tailcone were visibly dented leading to the aircraft being moved to a hangar for inspection to determine the extent of the damage and needed repairs. 

Interestingly, though the damage was substantial, passengers on the LAN aircraft did not feel the impact and were not even aware of the collision until told about it.   The stranded passengers were accommodated on an afternoon flight to Iguazu. 

The GOL 737-800 was also removed from service.   Passengers from both aircraft were deplaned without incident and nobody was injured.

The Civil Aviation Accident Division of the Argentine National Civil Aviation Administration (ANAC are its initials in Spanish) will investigate the incident.

While preliminary speculation was that the GOL pilot "miscalculated", the editor of this blog would put the responsibility on the shoulders of the individuals and wing walkers marshalling the two aircraft, that is if such personnel were in place, which they are supposed to be.

The incident has brought attention to the overcrowded conditions of AEP's ramp area, especially since regional flights to neighboring countries were authorized in March 2010 leading to a 30% increase in the number of commercial movements at Aeroparque. 

This link has two photos of the incident:


Saturday, February 11, 2012

PHOTO GALLERY: Today was a Spectacular Day for Photography at AEP !

An unusual sighting, a TAM A320 in Star Alliance colors, plus some hot action shots were the highlights today at Buenos Aires - Aeroparque - AEP ! 

TAM A320, PR-MBO, in Star Alliance colors after landing on Runway 13.

Austral EMB-190, LV-CMB approaches Runway 31 on a beautiful sunny summer day in Buenos Aires !

Aerolineas Argentinas first 737-800, LV-CTC, approaching AEP.  The aircraft was delivered to AR in late December last year.

Also a recent delivery, Aerolineas 737-700 LV-CSI clears Runway 31's approach lights.

The 11th CRJ-900 delivered to PLUNA, CX-CRL, about to land at AEP.

Austral EMB-190, LV-CID, climbs out after taking off from Runway 13.

The first aircraft in the Aerolineas Argentinas fleet to appear in the company's new colors, 737-700, LV-CPH, rotates off Runway 31.  

Photos:  Phil Perry  
Supporting Info:  Linea ALA blog

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

PHOTO GALLERY: Learjets at AEP - Part 1 of 4

Macair Jet (charter company) Learjet 35A LV-BPO taxis after landing on 01Aug10.

Learjet 35A LV-BXU taxis out for departure on 05Sep10.

Pacific Ocean Learjet 35A LV-BPL at AEP on 17Sep10.

YPF (oil company) Learjet 60 LV-BTA lands on Runway 13 with its thrust reversers deployed on 20Sep10.

Learjet 35A LV-BNR also landing on 13 on 20Sep10.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

FLEET UPDATE: Aerolineas Argentinas Completes Replacing 747's with A340's

Aerolineas Argentinas flew its last 747 flight on 01Feb12 as the airline recently took delivery of three A340's that, along with the A340's already in the airline's fleet, will finish taking over AR's intercontinental routes. 

Boeing 747-475, LV-ALJ, msn 25422/912 flew its last scheduled service from EZE to Madrid (MAD) on 22Oct11 and has been parked outside one of the company's hangars at EZE without the Aerolineas "Condor" logo and LV registration and more recently with its titles removed too. The aircraft is expected to be delivered to AeroSur of Bolivia soon.

747-475, LV-BBU, msn 24883/823 is also currently parked outside one of Aerolineas' hangars at EZE without titles or logo.  It flew its last scheduled flight on 13Jan12 to Madrid (MAD) and is awaiting disposal.

747-475, LV-AXF, msn 24895/837 operated the very last Aerolineas scheduled 747 flight on 01Feb12, also to MAD.  Unless Aerolineas again acquires 747's in the future, this flight will be the last of the type with the airline closing out 35 years of 747 service since January 1977. 

Aerolíneas took delivery of Airbus A340-313X, LV-CSD, msn 123 on 19Dec11.   This A340 is an early example having first been delivered to Singapore Airlines in 1996 and continuing with Cathay Pacific before joining Aerolineas.   It was scheduled to operate its first scheduled flight on 23Jan12 to Rome.

The next of the new A340 arrivals was Airbus A340-313X, LV-CSX, msn 373, on 22Dec11 when the aircraft arrived at EZE from Portugal.  It previously flew for Air France which first received the aircraft from ILFC leasing on 04Dec00.

The most recent A340 acquired by Aerolineas is also an A340-313X.  It is LV-CSE, msn 126, which arrived at EZE on 09Jan12 from Xiamen, China (XMN).  This is also an ex Singapore and Cathay Pacific aircraft.

The three new A340 additions to the Aerolineas Argentinas fleet were all delivered in the company's new livery.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

PHOTO GALLERY: Government / Military Aircraft at AEP - Part 3

Presidential Aircraft Republica Argentina 757-200, T-01, msn 25487/470 with thrust reversers deployed after landing on AEP's Runway 13 on 22Jan11, a sunny Saturday morning. 

Republica Argentina F.28-4000, T-02, msn 11203, taxis out on 10Jul10.

Fuerza Aerea Argentina F.28-1000C, TC-54, msn 11018, flying for Lineas Aereas del Estado (LADE), the state airline operated by the Argentine Air Force serving unprofitable  routes to smaller cities, on 24Oct10. 

Brazilian Air Force CASA C-105A Amazonas (C-295), 2807, msn S-040, takes off from AEP's Runway 31 on 03Oct10.  

Fuerza Aerea Argentina Learjet 35A, T-22, msn 35A-136, on 20Sep10.