On December 31, 1919 the government of Colombia released funding for the formation of the Escuela Militar de Aviacion (military aviation school), marking the birth of Colombian military aviation. The school initially operated under the control of the Colombian army, and based at Flandes, it operated eleven aircraft supplied by France: three Caudron G3s, for Caudron G4s and four Nieuport 17s. Unfortunately the school closed within two years due to financial difficulties.
In 1925 the school made a restart at Madrid, near Bogotà, with three Wild WT-3s supplied by Switzerland. Full expansion came in 1932 after a Peruvian attempt to capture Colombia's southernmost town of Leticia, and in 1934 the military operated as many as 150 aircraft. The assistance of the Colombian-German airline of SCADTA was instrumental in these years, and could be traced back to several subtypes of Junkers and Dorniers, operated by the military. Later on, American aircraft, like Curtiss Hawk II biplanes, were obtained, and the school moved on to its current base at Calì. With the assistance of SCADTA a new base was developed at Palanquero near Puerto Salgar, on the banks of the Rio Magdalena, about 60 miles northwest of Bogotà.
The Aviacion Militar received new American equipment when the USA became involved in World War Two in 1941, and the country benefited from various lend-lease deliveries of North American T-6 Texans and Boeing PT-17 Stearmans for pilot training. Soon after World War Two, the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana became an independent part of the armed forces.
After a period of relative peace, internal political struggle broke out in 1948 with La Violencia, the most destructive of Colombia's civil wars, which lasted almost ten years. Not surprisingly, the equipment obtained by the military at that time was optimised for counterinsurgency tasks, resulting in the acquisition of many B-26C Invaders. During these years, the FAC acquired its first jet aircraft in 1954 in the form of the legendary T-bird and a limited air defence force was built up with six Canadian Sabre 6s operated from Palanquero. Sixteen F-80 Shooting Stars were also delivered. Meanwhile, several types of training helicopters were taken on strength.
Around 1960 the military transport element expanded, with vast numbers of the legendary Dakota being delivered, and the military airline of SATENA being formed at El Dorado, in order to service remote locations all over the country, displaying the social function of the air force in Colombia. More modern types like the C-130 Hercules, UH-1 Huey, T-37 Tweety Bird and T-41 Mescalero were obtained during the sixties. In 1972 Colombia joined the Mirage-family with the introduction of the Mirage 5 at Palanquero, eighteen of these entered service in three different versions.
Further expansion took place in the eighties with considerable deliveries of the OA-37B Dragonfly, which earned fame over Vietnam. At the end of the decade a batch of Kfir C2 fighters was delivered from Israel and subsequently upgraded to Kfir C7 by the Comando Aéreo de Mantenimiento (CAMAN) in Madrid in the nineties. The Mirages were upgraded to the same standard by CAMAN, with the installation of canards and improved fuel systems. Both types are also equipped for air-to-air refuelling from the FAC's sole Boeing 707 tanker and transport aircraft. The nineties saw the delivery of specialised COIN-aircraft like the OV-10A Bronco and Embraer Tucano trainers, some of the latter are able to carry bombs and unguided rockets. These aircraft operate mainly over the east of the country, where the Los Llanos region has a high level of guerrilla activity. They regularly deploy to Puerto Carreño under the commando of the Grupo Aéreo del Oriente formed in 2000. To deal with continuing guerrilla activity Escuadrones Aerotácticos (tactical squadrons) were formed at the main FAC bases in the late nineties, consisting of several types of helicopters and AC-47 gunships supplied by their respective Grupos.
The 1999 'Plan Colombia' emphasizes on technology, rather than on large numbers of new aircraft being procured, although several new Black Hawk-helicopters (dubbed Arpía in Colombian service) entered FAC service in recent years. Other recently acquired types include Schweizer SA2-37A Condors and Cessna 560 Citations equipped with cameras and sensors to monitor guerrilla and narcotic related activities. Technology upgrades are scheduled for the Bronco fleet, the venerable AC-47 gunships and Huey-helicopters.
Combat Air Commands (Comando Aéreo de Combate or CACOM):
Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 1 (CACOM 1) "CT. Germán Olano Moreno"
in Palanquero / Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca
Grupo de combate Nº 11
Escuadrón de Combate 111 Dardos (Kfir C7, Kfir TC7)
Escuadrón de Combate 112 Mirage (Mirage 5COAM, Mirage 5CODM)
Escuadrón de Combate Táctico 113 Fantasma (AB212 Rapáz, AC-47T Fantasma, AH-60L Arpía III)
Escuadrón de Combate 116 Tango (T-37B, T-37C)
Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 2 (CACOM 2) "CT. Luis Fernando Gómez Niño"
in Apiay / Villavicencio, Meta
Grupo de Combate Nº 21
Escuadrón de Combate 211 Grifos (A-29B Supertucano)
Escuadrón de Combate 212 Tucanos (AT-27 Tucano)
Escuadrón de Combate Táctico 213 (AH-60L Arpía III, C212-300, C208-675, SA2-37B Vampiro, SR-560)
Grupo de Combate Nº 22 located in Yopal, Casanare.
Escuadrón de Combate 221 Bronco (North American OV-10 Bronco)
Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 3 (CACOM 3) "MG. Alberto Pauwels Rodríguez"
in Malambo / Barranquilla, Atlántico
Grupo de Combate 31
Escuadrón de Combate 311 Dragones (A-37 Dragonfly).
Escuadrón de Combate 312 Drakos (A-29B Supertucano).
Escuadrón de Combate Táctico 313 (AC-47T Fantasma, Bell 212 Rapáz, C-95A, SA2-37B Vampiro, SR-26B Tracker, UH-1 Huey II).
Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 4 (CACOM 4) "TC. Luis Francisco Pinto Parra"
in Melgar, Tolima
Grupo de Combate 41
Escuadrón de Combate 411 Rapaz (Bell 212).
Escuadrón de Asalto Aéreo 412 (Bell UH-1H/P).
Eccuadron de Ataque 413 Escorpion (MD 500/530).
Escuela de Helicópteros de las Fuerzas Armadas.
Escuadrón de Vuelo (Bell UH-1H, Bell 206, Bell OH-58 Kiowa).
Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 5 (CACOM 5) "GR. Arturo Lema Posada"
in Rionegro, Antioquia
Grupo de Combate 51
Escuadrón de Combate 511 (AH-60L Arpía III)
Escuadrón de Operaciones Especiales 512 (Ce208-675, UH-60A Halcon, UH-60L Halcon)
Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 6 (CACOM 6) "CT. Ernesto Esguerra Cubides"
in Tres Esquinas, Caquetá
Grupo de Combate 61
Escuadrón de Combate 611 (AT-27 Tucano, A-29B Supertucano)
Escuadrón de Combate Táctico 613 (AC-47T Fantasma, Bell 212 Rapaz, C212-300, SA2-37B Vampiro, UH-1H-II, Scan Eagle UAV)
Transportation and Maintenance:
Comando Aéreo de Transporte Militar (CATAM) "BG. Camilo Daza Álvarez"
in Bogotá D.C.
Grupo de Transporte Aéreo 81
Escuadrón de Transporte 811 (C-130B, C-130H, C-130H-1, C295M, CN235M-100)
Escuadron de Evacuación Medica.
Grupo de Vuelos Especiales 82
Escuadrón de Transporte Especial 821 (B707-323C, B737-74V, Beech 300 ELINT, Beech 350, Bell 412HP, C-95A, Ce208B, Ce550, F28-3000(C), PA-42-720, PA-42T, RC690D, RC695)
Comando Aéreo de Mantenimiento (CAMAN) "MY. Justino Mariño Cuesto"
in Madrid, Cundinamarca
Grupo de Transporte Aéreo 91
Escuadrón de Transporte 911 (Beech C90, C212-300)
Grupo Aéreo del Caribe (GACAR) "TC. Benjamín Méndez Rey"
on San Andres Island, San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina
Escuadrón de Combate 101
Escuadrilla de Combate Táctico 1013 (Beech C90)
Grupo Aéreo del Oriente (GAORI) "CR. Luis Arturo Rodríguez Meneses"
in Marandúa, Vichada
Grupo de Combate 111
Escuadrilla de Combate Táctico 1113 (AC-47T Fantasma, AB212 Rapaz, UH-1H-II, Scan Eagle UAV)
Escuela Militar de Aviación (EMAVI) "Marco Fidel Suárez"
in Santiago de Cali, Valle del Cauca
Grupo de Educación Aeronáutica
Grupo de Combate 71
Escuadrón de Combate Táctico 713
Escuela de Suboficiales FAC (ESUFA) "CT. Andrés Maria Díaz Díaz"
in Madrid, Cundinamarca
Instituto Militar Aeronáutico (IMA) "CT. José Edmundo Sandoval"
in Bogotá D.C.