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Torrejon Air Base

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Title: Torrejon Air Base  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Duane G. Carey, Bob Dornan, THS, Tactical Air Command, Carl Brashear, 1966 Palomares B-52 crash, Salvador E. Felices, Aviano, Torrejón de Ardoz, Military Airlift Command
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Torrejon Air Base

Airfield information
WMO: 8227
Elevation AMSL 2,026 ft / 618 m
Direction Length Surface
m ft
05/23 4,818 15,807 Asphalt
Statistics (2009)
Passengers 24,823
Operations 11.891
Cargo 154
Sources: Spanish AIP at EUROCONTROL[1]
Torrejón AB
Torrejón AB
Location of Torrejón Air Base, Spain

Torrejón Air Base (IATA: TOJICAO: LETO) (Base Aérea de Torrejón de Ardoz) is a major Spanish Air Force base and a secondary civilian airport for Madrid Madrid-Torrejón Airport.


The air base houses the following units:

  • CESAEROB (Centre for Satellite Observation - Helios)
  • ECAO 1 (Air operations squadron – Madrid)
  • GRUCEMAC (National Air Space Command and Control centre)
  • GRUCAO (Air Operations Group)
  • JSMC (Air Command Chief)
  • 12 Unit (Fighter Squadron)
  • Group 43 UME (Military Emergencies Unit - SAR & Forest Fires Unit)
  • Group 45 (Royal,Government & VIP Transport)
  • Group 47 (Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare, Transport, Inflight Refuelling)
  • CLAEX (Arms Logistics and experimentation centre)


During the Cold War the facility was headquarters of the Sixteenth Air Force (16 AF) of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), as well as home to the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing (401 TFW).

Aircraft based at Torrejón were rotated to other USAFE air bases at Aviano AB, Italy, and at Incirlik AB, Turkey. Torrejón was, in addition, a staging, reinforcement, and logistical airlift base. The USAF withdrew its forces on 21 May 1992.

Torrejón Air Base was originally the home of the Spanish National Institute of Aeronautics, however following the U.S.-Spanish Defense Agreement of 26 September 1953, construction began at Torrejón on a new 13,400-ft concrete runway to replace the existing 4,266-ft grass airstrip and on a massive concrete apron and other necessary maintenance and shelter facilities to accommodate the largest United States Air Force bomber aircraft in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) inventory, with the base intended to support SAC Reflex missions.

Torrejón was one of three major USAF Cold War air bases in Spain, the others being Zaragoza Air Base near Zaragoza and Morón Air Base near Seville.

Strategic Air Command

USAF support activities began under the 7600th Air Base Group located in Madrid in July 1956, to support construction and base organizational functions. Torrejón Air Base opened officially on 1 June 1957 with SAC activating the 3970th Strategic Wing on 1 July 1957.

Torrejón Air Base was a major SAC command base, hosting Sixteenth Air Force as well as SAC's 65th Air Division (Defense) where it cooperated with Spanish Air Force units in the Air Defense Direction Centers (ADDCs). The 65th Air Division directed base construction, and the establishment of off-base housing and radar sites. The division's fighter squadrons flew air defense interceptions over Spanish airspace. The division also controlled the operations of numerous attached tactical fighter squadrons that were deployed to Spain for temporary duty. Assigned or attached units of the division participated in numerous exercises with the Spanish Air Defense Command, and in some instances, with the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

In 1961, General David Wade was dispatched to Torrejón, where he took command of SAC's 16th Air Expeditionary Task Force. He received his promotion to lieutenant general on August 1, 1963 and left Torrejón to assume command of SAC's Second Air Force with headquarters then at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana.[2]

In addition to the command and control mission, Torrejón Air Base base hosted SAC reflex operations. Reflex operations consisted of rotating Boeing B-47 Stratojet wings overseas for extended duty as part of a dispersal program. Another reason for establishing Reflex bases was the relatively short range of the B-47, unlike the intercontinental range of the Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress which could remain based permanently in the United States. Also, in this way SAC could spread out its potential as a Soviet target by placing its aircraft, weapons, and personnel on many more bases, with each bombardment wing having two additional installations to which it could disperse.

Reflex bases located from Greenland to North Africa projected American nuclear might to within striking distance of the Soviet Union heartland.

497th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

On 5 July 1958 the Air Defense Command's 497th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron arrived at Torrejón from Geiger AFB, Washington with North American F-86D Sabres and an Air Defense Mission.

On 26 April 1960, the 497th FIS transisitioned to the F-102 Delta Dagger and operated under SAC control until its transfer to the USAFE 86th Air Division (Defense) at Ramstein Air Base West Germany on 1 July 1960. This transfer was made in order that all USAF fighter assets in Europe could be concentrated in one command. It operated F-102s until 3 June 1964, when the squadron was reassigned to the 8th TFW at George AFB, California as a F-4C Tactical Fighter Squadron. Its F-102 aircraft were transferred to other USAFE 86th AD FIS squadrons.

United States Air Forces in Europe

With the phaseout of the B-47 from SAC in the mid-1960s, the need for SAC European bases diminished. The Sixteenth Air Force was turned over to the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) on 15 April 1966 and the mission of Torrejón changed to tactical aircraft operations.

Prior to 1966, Torrejón AB hosted TDY squadrons of tactical aircraft rotating from CONUS TAC bases which would perform 30-day rotations to Aviano Air Base Italy and Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. With the USAFE takeover of the base, Tactical Air Command transferred the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing from England Air Force Base Louisiana to USAFE on a permanent basis to Torrejón on 27 April to perform host functions at the base and to support the rotational TDY duty to Italy and Turkey for NATO alerts.

The 401st TFW's initial operational squadrons at Torrejón were:

401st TFW squadrons flew the North American F-100D/FSuper Sabre.

Due to the demands of the Vietnam War, the 401st had deployed two of its three permanently assigned fighter squadrons (612th, 614th) to South Vietnamese bases (Phan Rang AB, Phu Cat AB). To provide the 401st a full operational capability at Torrejón, aircraft and personnel were transferred on a permanent basis to the 401st TFW from Homestead AFB, Florida (307th TFS) and Myrtle Beach AFB South Carolina (353d TFS).

As well as the USAFE tactical aircraft, SAC retained a presence at Torrejón with the 98th Strategic Wing flying Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers from the base. The 98th SW replaced the 3970th Strategic Wing on 25 June 1966. The 98th SW was inactivated at Lincoln Air Force Base Nebraska that same day with the closure of Lincoln AFB.

The 98th SW had no permanently assigned aircraft assigned, however CONUS-based SAC wings deployed aircraft to provide air refueling sup-port to meet the operational, alert, and exercise commitments of SAC, TAC, USAFE, and NATO in an area including the eastern Atlantic, most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Even though neither were assigned to the base, when a B-52 and a KC-135 crashed off the coast of Spain in the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash, Torrejón became the focal point for the search for the missing nuclear weapons.

Military Airlift Command (MAC) operated the 625th Military Airlift Support Squadron at Torrejón to function as a major terminal for MAC transatlantic flights.

In 1970 the 401st TFW upgraded to the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II. In September 1973, an equipment change to the F-4C model took place, then in 1978 to the F-4D.

As a result of the withdrawal of USAF forces in South Vietnam, in 1972 the 307th and 353d fighter squadrons were returned to their home bases, and the 612th and 614th TFSs were assigned to Torrejón. Also in 1972, squadron tail codes were eliminated and "TJ" became the tail code for all 401st TFW aircraft.

On 31 December 1976 the 98th Strategic Wing was inactivated with its air refueling mission being taken over by the 306th Strategic Wing, based at Ramstein Air Base West Germany.

In 1983 the 401st upgraded to the General Dynamics Block 15 F-16A/B Fighting Falcon. Operational squadrons were:

The F-16s were upgraded to the Block 30 F-16C/D in July 1988.

USAF withdrawal

As the time approached in 1987 for the renegotiation of the existing base agreement, which had entered into force in 1983 for a five-year period, pressures mounted for a reduction of the United States military presence in Spain. Communist political groups and elements of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) had campaigned against the bases. Moreover, the base agreement had become a symbol of United States cooperation with the former Francisco Franco regime. It was important to many Spaniards to eliminate vestiges of this history by converting Spain's long-standing bilateral relations with the United States into a multilateral undertaking through NATO.

The outcome of the 1986 referendum on membership in NATO committed the Spanish government to negotiate the reduction of the United States military presence in Spain. Spain insisted that the F-16 aircraft be removed from Torrejón as a condition for renewal of the base agreement, and the Spanish government threatened to expel all United States forces in Spain if this demand were not accepted. The United States felt that the Spanish military contribution was minimal and the Spanish government was permitting domestic factors to dictate a weakening of NATO defenses. Even though Italy subsequently agreed to station the F-16 wing at Aviano Air Base, the cost of transfer would be high, and the unit would be in a more exposed position to Warsaw Pact forces.

In January 1988, Spain and the United States announced jointly that agreement had been reached in principle on a new base agreement with an initial term of eight years, essentially meeting the conditions demanded by Spain. The F-16s were to be removed from Torrejón within three years, by mid-1991. It was expected that this step would reduce the number of United States personnel in Spain by nearly one-half.

Implementation of this agreement was delayed by the 1990/91 crisis in Kuwait, when the 401st TFW was one of the first American fighter wings to respond, with the 612th TFS deploying to its wartime base at Incirlik Turkey and the 614th TFS becoming the first US Military unit to deploy to the Persian Gulf State of Qatar. Both squadrons flew a large number of operational missions during Operations Desert Shield and Storm.

After the 1991 cease-fire in Iraq, plans proceeded to close Torrejón Air Base. On 28 June, the 613th TFS was inactivated and its aircraft sent to Air National Guard squadrons in the United States. The 612th TFS inactivated on 1 October and the 614th TFS on 1 January 1992.

In accordance with the 1988 agreement, the USAF portion of the base was turned-over to the Spanish government on 21 May 1992, with the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing being transferred to Aviano Air Base Italy without personnel or equipment.

Civilian use

In the mid-1990s Torrejón Air Base was opened to civilian traffic (mostly charter and executive traffic) and was given the name Madrid-Torrejón Airport. Prior to the completion of Barajas terminal 4 it was used on several occasions to reduce congestion at the overloaded old terminals. In 2010, it handled 28,888 passengers and 12,417 flight operations and is operated by AENA.[3]

See also


  • Donald, David (2004) Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War. AIRtime ISBN 1-880588-68-4
  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  • Menard, David W. (1998) Before Centuries: USAFE Fighters, 1948-1959. Howell Press Inc. ISBN 1-57427-079-6
  • Menard, David W. (1993) USAF Plus Fifteen: A Photo History, 1947-1962. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-88740-483-9
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.

External links

  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to present
  • The Lucky Devils in the Gulf War
  • Unoffical Torrejon Air Base Website
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