One of the most interesting stories in the service careers of
FAP aircraft, is the one concerning the B-26 Invader.In effect the way
it entered the FAP inventory was to say the least, unorthodox, and its
service was not only short but full of difficulties and incidents.
When in the mid-sixties the FAP realized the need to replace the bomber fleet being used in Africa, represented by the faithful but tired PV-2 and in some way by the F-84G Thunderjet, immediately arrived to the conclusion that the task would not be easy, mainly due to the United Nations arms embargo then in force against Portugal.
So it soon became apparent that "special ways" would have to be used to obtain the necessary aircraft. As the choice fell on the B-26 Invader, contact was established in late 1964 or early 65 with an arms broker in order to try to obtain 20 B-26. The succession of events that finally led to the arrival in Portugal of 7 B-26 is well told in the books "The War Business" and "Foreign Invaders", (see Bibliography below), so we will only resume the story here.
Incidentally, it is a rather amusing fact that the writer (L.Tavares), although more or less aware of what was happening to the FAP in the sixties, only knew of the deal after reading (in the American Library in Lisbon), the report published in "The Saturday Evening Post" in the sixties!!
Reverting to the facts, the search for aircraft started by Luber SA in Geneva (the arms dealer) ended with an agreement with Aero Associates of Arizona to supply 20 aircraft that would be refurbished by Hamilton Aircraft. The first aircraft should be delivered by April 30, 1965 and the last one by January 1966. A lot of spare parts and accessories would also be included.
Until today is not very well known the way that was used to obtain export licenses but in May 1965 the first aircraft piloted by John Hawke ( who received 3,000 USD for each flight), was ferried from Tucson to Tancos in Portugal through Rochester, Torbay (Canada), and Santa Maria (Açores). As soon as he arrived in Tancos, the pilot was immediately transported to Lisbon Airport to take the first plane back to the USA.
John Hawke was a colorful type as he already had in his logbook of RAF pilot, a chase of an U-2 that had over flown Cyprus when he was based there... In 1968 he participated in the filming of the movie "The Battle of Britain" piloting the B-25 used as the camera ship, and finally some years later disappeared without trace when flying over the Mediterranean.
Some sources say that when he was delivering the second aircraft was forced to land in Washington, and almost arrested, but when mentioning the code name "Sparrow" was immediately released. By August 1965, When the seventh aircraft had already been delivered, the US Customs finally went into action and in September Hawke and other people involved were arrested in Florida.
At the same time a C-46 loaded with spares to be flown to Portugal
was also prevented to leave the USA.
So, in September 1965 the FAP was the proud owner of 7 complete B-26 with provisions for armament (at least the bombing and gun electrical circuits) but with few spares and without armament.
The serials 7101 to 7107 were issued to the B-26, repeating at least in part the serials attributed in 1952 to the SA-16 Albatross.
In what concerns the armament, by December 1966 the decision was taken to equip the aircraft in the following way:
Nose - 6 Browning 0,50" M2 machine guns (except aircraft 7102, that will have them under the wings because of the Plexiglas nose).
Bomb-bay - Installation of two suspension points for bombs of 50 or 200 Kgs, and equipment for releasing 15 Kgs bombs.
Wings - 2 suspension points per wing allowing the alternate or combined utilization of 2 bombs of 200 Kgs or 6 bombs of 50 Kgs. The bomb release should be possible one by one or as salvo.
The possibility should exist also of installing rocket launchers under
the wings, allowing per point 4 rockets of 2,5", 18 of 37 mm or 36
of 37 mm.
Due to the lack of spares, until 1970 was very difficult to put in service all the seven , but at least it was possible to begin the operational testing with three aircraft : 7104 (with dual controls) was first flown after revision in September 26, 1967, 7106 in July 28, 1969 and 7107 in September 9, 1970. The spacing of the dates show very well the difficulties experienced in preparing the aircraft.
Anyway, in 1970 these first aircraft were sent to Guinea-Bissau as a detachment to be tested in a tropical climate (date from this testing the badge "O Diabos" shown in some aircraft). On April 30 1971, aircraft 7107 had a small accident when landing at Sal Island in Cape Vert, fracturing the nose wheel leg and damaging the propellers.
Meanwhile the Air Force was always trying by all means available, to get spare parts and armament. Many contacts and visits (including at least one to Brazil that was also operating B-26 by that time) were made. One of the first contacts for this effect had taken place in 1967, which resulted in a visit to Chateaudun depot in France in September 1967 during which 13 ex- Armée de l'Air Invaders were offered for sale, including some interesting examples like Z-007, and 7 aircraft radar equipped. All had between 3000 and 8000 total hours. The offer was rejected probably due to the state of the aircraft
Some expontaneous offers were also received, one of the most interesting
being the one that proposed in January 1971, to sell to FAP 6 ex
Guatemalan Air Force B-26 (listed below) by 950,000 USD each FOB
This offer was again not accepted, but finally a lot of spares was obtained
from France which allowed the complete refurbishment of the aircraft that
started in the beginning of 1971 at OGMA.
The aircraft were completely stripped down, the wing-spars reinforced (like the USAF had done some years earlier) and armament installed. Also during this work the rear windows were covered.
By November 1971 the aircraft had all been refurbished except
7104 that was scrapped due to heavy corrosion found when the stripping
started, and 7102 that was due to be completed in January 1972. All had
solid noses except 7102. The table below shows the first flight date in
Portugal since delivery from USA, and total time since delivery:
|Serial FAP||Total time (hours)||Ready / first flight||Remarks|
|7104||205:17||26/9/67||Scrapped in 1971|
|7105||--||September 1971||Not flown yet|
|7103||--||November 1971||Not flown yet|
|7102||--||To be finished in January 1972|
Finally in 1973 the remaining 6 aircraft were sent to Angola to replace the F-84G of Esquadra 93 (perhaps the first time propeller combat aircraft replaced jets in an operational squadron).
They were used from until 1975, mainly for armed reconnaissance, and it seems that the pilots liked the aircraft with its long range and good performance. Perhaps the only odd detail was the way of entering the aircraft : over the wing, entering in the cockpit from above, feet first.
All the six were left in Angola in 1975. The magazine FlyPast of July 1996 published a photo of one of them, seen together with other three 50 km to the south of Luanda. Our friend Leif Hellstrom (one of the authors of the book "Foreign Invaders"), lent to us some photos in which could be seen the remains of 7102, 7103, 7106 and 7105.
If one was taken to Cuba after 1975, as some sources say, could only
have been 7101 or 7107.
Colour schemes and markings:
A - Top of fuselage glossy white, with thin dark blue cheatline, separating
it from lower half which is painted silver.
Silver wings. Red Cross of Christ on white disc surrounded by dark blue border on both sides of rear fuselage, and over port and under starboard wing (without border). Serial number on both sides of white rudder, nose wheel doors, under port and over starboard wings. National flag on both sides of rudder
On some aircraft there was a " Diabos" ( Devils) badge on both sides of nose, together with red letter "D" on both sides of rudder. The "Diabo" was red, over a six point light-blue star, with the name in black.Black bomb, shoes and trident.
Scheme B - Adopted in Angola for protection against possible infrared guided missiles: aircraft painted anti reflection green all over. Insignia reduced to 20 cm diameter in all four positions, and flag on the rudder also reduced in size to 30 x 15 cm instead of 75 x 50 cm. There was however during some time one example painted green but with big flag (see photo).
For both schemes see photos with this article.
For other photos see Photo
|Type as built||Serial FAP||C/n||S/n USAF||D/d||Retired||Remarks|
|B-26B-55/65-DL||7102||44-34328||1965||1975||Equipped with plexiglass nose|
|B-26B-66-DL||7104||44-34726A||1965||1973||Scrapped by decision of March 1973. Some parts preserved for Museu do Ar|
There are not many books published on the B-26 but we should like to refer two, which we consider of special interest to the Portuguese B-26.
1 - Foreign Invaders - The Douglas Invader in foreign military and US clandestine service - by Dan Hagedorn and Leif Hellstrom- Midland Publishing 1994
A very good book on the Invader, with a lot of details that should have
been difficult to get, and some every interesting photos. A good chapter
on the Portuguese Invaders.
2 - The War Business - by George Thayer - Paladin Books
Dealing with arms dealers and business, and with details on the Portuguese