In 2013 I spend a few days in Portugal and took this opportunity to visit the three locations of the Museu do Ar, the museum of the Portuguese Air Force.
The museum is housed in three different locations, the main location is at Sintra Air Base (BA1) near Lisbon. The secondary location is at Alverca, which apart from the museum also houses a number of air force support divisions and the OGMA aircraft factory, Alverca is equally
located in the Lisbon area. The third, and smallest location, is located at Ovar in the North of Portugal. This location is an airbase that is only used for exercises, so we can consider this location a sort of base museum.
The Museu do Ar was created at Alverca in 1971. Due to the growing collection and space restrictions a second, and much larger, location was created at Sintra, which opened in 2009.
The pictures in this article come from the three locations, but between the three locations there are overlaps in what can be seen. Several aircraft types are visible in all locations. As with most aviation museums the collection is build in chronological order showing the evolution the aircraft design and military warfare. The early period is illustrated by a number of replicas from the Santos-Dumont 14bis and the Santos-Dumont XX Demoiselle, build by the Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont. The start of the Portuguese Air Force is covered by reproductions of a Blériot XI, Caudron G.III and Farman MF.4.
The first step in each piloting career is off course flying training. Portugal has used various types over the years, that virtually all are present in the museum. Starting with the Avro 631 Cadet, De Havilland DH82A Tiger Moth, Piper Super Cub, Auster D5, De Havilland Chipmunk and the
North American Harvard. It has to be noted that the De Havilland Chipmunk is still in operational use to this day at Sintra, so it was a bit strange to be standing in front of the museum example and hearing one take-off at the same time. The North American Harvard in Sintra (the all grey example) was armed with various weapon pods, depicting an aircraft that was used in the colonial wars in Angola, which was a Portuguese colony at the time.
After the basic and advanced training the students evolve to flying with the first jets. Portugal has been using US-made aircraft for many years, as with the Lockheed T33A T-Bird, Cessna T37C 'Tweety', Northrop T38A Talon. Currently this role has been taken over by the Dassault-Breguet Alpha Jet, that were taken over from Germany. The Alpha Jet has a dual function, as it also used in the light attack role. In recent years several have been taken out of service, so it can be found in multiple examples in the museum. The light attack role has always been considered very important in Portugal especially with their history in Angola in mind, so in the past also a number of Reims-Cessna FTB337G Milirole have been
In the fighter and fighter-bomber role Portugal has also been using equipment from various sources, many of which were bought second hand. However after the Second World War it also used a number of surplus-Royal Air Force Spitfires, one of which is still preserved at Sintra. In later years these were followed by the North American F86F Sabre, Fiat-Dornier G91R (ex-Luftwaffe). The G91 can be viewed in various colorschemes, the dark green example illustrates an aircraft which saw operational service in Angola, the lighter camouflage scheme was in use in later years and the example at Ovar is still wearing the colorscheme worn for the 1991 NATO Tiger Meet at RAF Fairford. At this moment there is a gap in the collection between the Spitfire and the Sabre, which will soon be filled when the restoration of the a Republic F84G Thunderjet will be finished. Several of the Portuguese Thunderjets first saw service in the Belgian Air Force.
Portugal has always been a country with a large interest in the seas and the oceans, which is not surprising as it has quite a large coastline. The first aircraft in this series is a replica of a Fairey IIID 'Santa Cruz', which in 1922 made the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, connecting Lisbon with Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The second aircraft is a Grumman G44 Widgeon that was acquired by the Portuguese Navy after the Second World War and which was amongst others used for coastal patrol. Heavier equipment came in the shape of the Lockheed P2V-5F Neptune and the Lockheed P3P Orion, which is still in used at this moment, the example in Sintra (and a second one in Alverca) were taken out of service due to budget cuts.
Over the years the Portuguese Air Force also had several transport aircraft in use, such as the De Havilland DH89B Dominie, Beechcraft AT11 Kansan, Douglas C47A Dakota, Max Holste MH1521M Broussard, CASA C212-100 Aviocar and the Dassault Falcon 20DC.
Last but least is a nice collection of helicopters that can be found in this museum. One of the first types was the Sikorsky UH19D, but these were soon followed by a virtually complete family of French types starting with the Sud Aviation Alouette II, Sud Aviation Alouette III and in later years the Aérospatiale SA330S1 Puma, which was replaced by the Agusta-Westland EH101 Merlin a few years ago.
The Museu do Ar is certainly worth a visit, as said Sintra is the main location followed by Alverca and Ovar. When you want to go, plan your visit carefully as Alverca is only open one day in the week (at this moment on Monday) and Sintra is open the remaining days in the week (except
Monday). Ovar is a bit of gamble at the moment. According to the website it is open the whole week, but when I arrived at the gate it was closed because the 'Hot Blade 2013' exercise was going on, luckily I had a written confirmation from the Head Office in Lisbon that it would be open, so they let me in after all. Staff at the gate and museum was really friendly and very helpful, and once I was in virtually everything was possible.
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen