Winter Warmer Trip to Lisbon, Portugal

Following the success of the previously organised group trips to RNAS Yeovilton and the Irish Air Corps, the admin team were discussing locations for future group visits and decided we would be keen to photograph some of the other European operators of the AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin helicopter. Our thoughts focused on Esquadra 751 of the Portuguese Air Force as we could not remember them ever having made a visit to the UK and, with their attractive colour scheme, how each of us would love the opportunity to photograph them.

Emails requesting a visit were sent to the squadron and the Air Force Public Relations office. They quickly got back to us saying we had been granted permission for a visit to Air Base No. 6 at Montijo and that the Merlin squadron would be more than delighted to host us as a small group.

The dates were then set for our little winter warmer trip to Lisbon, Portugal, departing from Bristol Airport on Sunday 3rd December with easyJet on flight EZY6253 (operated by Airbus A.319-111 G-EZDX) and, for the majority of the group, the return would be with Ryanair on Wedneday 6th December to Bristol via Dublin.

On arrival, the main focus of our trip was the visit to Esquadra 751 ‘Pumas’ at Montijo and photograph their Merlin helicopters, which are painted in a very attractive green and brown camouflage scheme, and to find out more about the various roles that the squadron is tasked with. These roles include Search and Rescue, Combat Search and Rescue, Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Fisheries Patrol (they’ve even flown three Popes).

Arriving at the base on Monday 4th December we were swiftly and efficiently taken through the expected security and driven over to the Esquadra 751 headquarters where we were met by Captain Rodolfo Curto, a Merlin pilot, who was to be our guide.

For various reasons on that day the flying schedule was sadly cancelled but we were still able to proceed with the guided tour of the maintenance hangar and allowed to have a look inside one of their Merlins which was set up in the Fisheries Protection role. We were then taken to the squadron briefing room and were given an excellent and detailed presentation on what the squadron (who has largest Search and Rescue Region in the Europe and whose motto is ‘Para que outros vivam’ (That others may live)) does. We were then kindly taken to lunch in the officers mess where we sampled a dish called Consoada, which consisted of dried cod and is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. We were then asked if we would like to return the following day; an offer that was instantly accepted by all members of the group.

After arriving at the squadron on Tuesday were told of the plans for the sortie that morning. It would involve the helicopter, with the squadron’s commander Major Tiago Violante in charge, departing for a few instrument approaches to Montijo’s Runway 01 while we were being taken to one of the disused runways. Here we would be positioned for some close up photography of some general handling, after which we would re-position to the threshold of Runway 01 to photograph them doing some practice autorotations. Major Violante wanted to give us as many opportunities as possible for photographs and was especially keen for us to get good shots of the autorotations. As can be seen in the accompanying photos, Major Violante, who is nearing 2,000 hours on the EH101, certainly showed us what can be done with the helicopter which was a display (awesome doesn’t do the experience justice) we will never forget.

We also had an opportunity to look at a few other parts of the airbase. Our guide that day was unsure what was in one of the hangars and we were delighted to find it contained seven CASA C-212-100 Aviocars that were in storage plus the one remaining Merlin on base that we had not seen the day before (of the 12 Merlins on strength we saw nine as three were on detachment, two at Lajes in the Azores and one at Porto Santo, Madeira).

“So others may live”

During the trip the group were also to visit the Museo do Ar museums at both Sintra Air Base and Alverca, and photograph the wide range of historic aircraft on display. Many of the types on display can’t be seen in the UK which made the visits all the more worthwhile.

Museo do Ar – Sintra

Museo do Ar – Alverca

A few visits during our trip were made to the Lisbon Airport ‘spotters’ area on the west side of the airport where elevated views give an excellent opportunity to photograph the arriving and departing aircraft. The movements are predominantly of TAP Air Portugal, both short and long haul aircraft, together with the more usual European operators.

Our return home on Wednesday was with Ryanair on board Boeing 737-8AS EI-DWG for flight FR7329 to Dublin, followed by flight FR508 to Bristol on board EI-ENF as there were no direct flights that day. As you would expect, we made full use of this stopover opportunity to photograph many more aircraft which rounded off another excellent trip where we were able to log well over four hundred aircraft and took several thousand photos between us.

The group would like to thank the Public Relations Department of the Portuguese Air Force for granting permission for the visit, Capt Rodolfo Gouveia for organising our access, Capt Rodolfo Curto for being our excellent host over two days, Major Tiago Violante for his excellent flying demonstration, Patrick Rocha for driving us & allowing additional access, and to everyone else on the squadron that we met with during our visit for making us feel so welcome.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2017 :  Gary Morris, Kev Slade and Matt Sudol.