Esquadra 201 Falçoes, is one of the longest tradition Unit of Força Aerea Portuguesa. Is based at BA 5 Monte Real, placed in the middle of Portugal. The base host also the Esq. 301 Jaguares, that moved to Monte Real from Beja, when FAP received the second batch of F 16A Block 15 during 1994 under Peace Atlantis II program. The Jaguares's F 16 are upgraded to MLU standard, while the Falçoes are still flying the old version, waiting to start to get the new converted fighters from around end year.
Maj. Joao "Speedy" Gonçalves is the Esc. 201 Commander and also a close friend of mine. I meet him at Monte Real, during some terribly raining days, that halted me to get on ground shoots of the Sqn Falcons " and he will explain the future of Falçoes: our main mission is still the air defence of Portugal skies. We are still flying with the former received F 16A Block 15,. Our normal air defence configuration is composed by four AIM 9L Sidewinder plus an ECM AN/ALQ131 and two underwing tanks. We are waiting for the new upgraded aircrafts, as the first delivery is planned for around end of the year; the new MLU will offer much possibilities, and finally we will be able to use the AMRAAM as we do not use with the old version that we still have on use."
Força Aérea Portuguesa became a NATO F-16 operator from July 1994, when the firs four fighter landed at Monte Real. Portugal got under Peace Atlantis program the F 16 after US offered the F-16 as a foreign military sales provision to guarantee US presence at Lajes airfield in the Azores archipelago. The choice of the version was for the similar version flown ANG as the F 16A Block 15, were especially equipped for the air defence mission, powered by the F100-PW-220E engine and with the basic avionic equipment similar to the Fighting Falcon used by AIR NATIONAL GUARD as the Have Quick II UHF and AN/ARC-200 HF/SSB radios; AN/APX-101 IFF system; a ring laser gyro INS; the upgraded AN/APG-66(V)1 radar with a continuous-wave illumination compatible with the Sparrow missileghter are also fitted with the AN/ALR-69 RWR, AN/ALE-40 chaff/flare dispensers, night identification light, and a wide-angle conventional head-up display. The program, signed in august 1990 include the sale of seventeen Block 15 OCU F-16A and three F-16B aircraft. For the new fighter, Monte Real air base was removed, and on 4 October 1993, Esq. 201 was reactivated.
The origin of Esq 201 recalled to 1958, when at Ota air base was stationed the Esquadra 50 equipped with F 86F Sabre. In the same year the Esquadra were redesignted Escquadra 51 and moved to on 4 October 1959 to Monte Real air base. Its main mission was the Portugal air defence, but it retains as secondary mission the ground support. In august 1961, 8 Sabres of the Unit were detached to Guinea Bissau, returning at its homebase in October 1964, after more than 570 mission, mainly as CAS mission.
Along the year more aircraft types flew with the Unit, including T33, Fiat G 91R and T 38A Talon. In 1978 the Unit were redesignated as Esquadra 201 and in 1981, when the first A 7P Corsair were delivered to the unit became Esquadra 302 Falçoes. With the Corsair the main mission was the TASMO and the ground attack, with secondary mission the air defence, until the arrival of the F 16A Block15. The first F 16A landed at Monte Real on june 1994, and after few years the main Unit's mission became the air defence.
As Maj Gonçalves explained " We can says without dubt that our Squadron in the few years developed a full swing-role squadron as we normally also train for the CAS. With the actual aircraft version we limited to employ bombs Mk2 and Mk 84 and air to ground missile Maverick. Surely the upgrade version of the Falcon ( that will bring the F 16 to a standard quite similar to the Block 50 version ) will allow our pilots and our Unit to fulfill successfully at the best a wide range of mission requested by NATO using a wide and update weapons range, especially when we will introduce in service the new Litening laser pod or GPS and stand-off bombs and missiles.
The professionality and the skills of the Falçoes's pilots were demonstrate during the Operation Joint Endeavour, when form 21st january to 26th june 1999, 3 F-16's were deployed at Aviano AFB in Italy. They mainly flew air superiority mission and during few months of operation PAF contingent flew more than 1000 flying hours missions. "tipycal mission normally includes 2 F-16A armed with 4 AIM 9L sidewinder and a ECM pod. After the take-off flew straight to the orbit area, were we flew the air defence mission "on call, ready to react if MAGIC (Airborne AWACS) detect some Serbian aircraft on flight. Normally a mission lasted around 4/5 flying hours with one or two air to air refuelling."The FAP considers its F-16 fleet perfect suited for its mission requested, and they active to the role to bring Portugal always on the edge of the polical scene and military theatre and the Falçoes theme well depict the spirit of the Unit: "GUERRA OUR PAZ TANTO NOS FAZ"