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Dirk Jan de Ridder visited all Romanian airbases to review the current inventory and organization of the Romanian Air Force.
Author: Dirk Jan de Ridder
Submitted by: DJdeRidder   Date: 2007-06-29 10:54
Comments: (1)
Romanian Air Force


Since the fall of the Warsaw Pact the Romanian Air Force has transformed into a smaller, but effective air arm. Over the last decade it has withdrawn its fleet of MiG 23 Floggers and MiG 29 Fulcrums. The remaining 104 MiG 21 Fishbeds were modernized by Elbit and Aerostar to MiG 21 LanceRs. These LanceRs are divided over three airbases: Baza 71 Câmpia Turzii, Baza 86 Borcea-Fetesti and Baza 95 Bacău.

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Câmpia Turzii was built in 1952 by the Romanian Air Force to house the Ilyushin Il-10 fighters. In 1987 the squadron changed its name to 71 Fighter Aviation Regiment after the reactivation at Câmpia Turzii. Nowadays the unit operates the upgraded LanceRs they received from 2001 and the IAR-330 Puma. The IAR-330 is a version of the French SA-330 Puma, built under licence in Romania by IAR Brasov. They are used for Search And Rescue, for the transport of army troops and during (natural) disasters like the floodings in Romania early 2006.

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Borcea-Fetesti operates both types of single-seat LanceRs: the LanceR A for ground attack and LanceR C for air defence missions. The double-seat LanceR B is normally used to train new pilots and is therefore based at Bacău. From 1997 one of Fetesti's squadrons began an intensive training in order to be able to cooperate with other NATO forces. Today Baza 86 is the sole Romanian airbase with an organization and structure similar to allied NATO air forces. From August 2007 the Romanian Air Force will deploy four LanceRs to Siauliai-Zokniai in Lithuania for air policing missions over the Baltics. This mission is performed by NATO countries as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not able to fullfil the task themselves.

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The third and last Romanian fighter airbase is Bacău, located in the northwest of Romania. A mixture of aircraft operates from this airbase. Like Câmpia Turzii the LanceR and IAR-330 are based here, but Bacău also houses the fixed-wing jet trainers of the aviation school (IAR-99 Soim and L-39). These are normally operated from Boboc, but its runway condition makes it impossible to operate jets. Already over 500 pilots have passed the operational conversion to a supersonic jet aircraft at Bacău.

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As said, Boboc is home to the aviation school of the Romanian Air Force. Both technical personnel and pilots get their elementary training at Boboc. Aircraft used by the aviation school are the An-2, Iak-52 and IAR-316B. The Antonov An-2s are used only to train paratroopers and liaison flights, they have been in service with the Romanian Air Force since 1977. The Iak-52, a Yak-52 built under licence by Aerostar, entered service in 1985. Currently 16 Iak-52s are still used to provide pilots their elementary training on a fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopter pilots get trained on the IAR-316, which is another licence-built aircraft by IAR Brasov, namely the SA-316B Alouette III. From 1971 over 200 IAR-316Bs were manufactured, both for the Romanian Air Force and export customers.

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The real workhorses of the Romanian Air Force are based at Otopeni, the international airport of Bucharest. Their assignments are to perform Open Skies missions, Search and Rescue, medical evacuation and missions under NATO, EU, UN or OSCE command. Transport aircraft used for these missions are the C-130 Hercules, the An-24 Coke, An-26 Curl and An-30 Clank. Four C-130s were delivered since 1996, which made Romania the first former Warsaw pact to operate this aircraft. They have been used during various NATO and UN missions, including to Afghanistan. The range of the Antonovs is somewhat limited compared to the C-130. The An-24 (passenger) and An-26 (cargo) fleet is therefore only used for short and medium range flights. The An-30 Clanks are equipped with several types of photographic equipment, which makes them ideal ideal aircraft to serve during Open Skies missions. Apart from the transport aircraft also three squadrons of IAR-330s are based here, of which two operate the IAR-330 SOCAT. These IAR-330s were upgraded by Elbit and contain a new avionics system and a weapon system, the last of 25 SOCATs was delivered in June 2005.

In 2005 IAR-330 SOCATs from Otopeni were stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina under the command of EUFOR to provide safety and stability in the region. This represented the first time Romanian Air Force pilots flew 'real' combat missions since World War II. Over 600 missions and 1200 flight hours were flown during the deployment. Their recent contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom and the 2007 deployment to Lithuania prove that the Romanian Air Force is an air force to reckon with in the future.

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Dirk Jan de Ridder
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