With Friday being Good Friday and thus a holiday, Thursday 29 March was the last “operational” day, and we wanted to make sure we got the most out of it. Unfortunately the rumoured schedules of aircraft arriving for the FIDAE proved to be very sketchy and not very trustworthy, so we just had to chance it. Of course we always give our group the choice of what they want to do for the day, in this case go to Pudahuel for the day or not, but everybody went along with the main group in the hope of seeing and photographing some operational stuff in and around Santiago. We left our hotel early again, because we intended to start at the most far away location of the day: the army base at Rancagua. Once arrived and driving round the airfield we were pleasantly surprised by the number and diversity of visible aircraft and helicopters, the number crunchers were having a good day already. Because breakfast was skipped (again) we decided to first get some food somewhere and return to the airfield afterwards to see if anything would be willing to fly. We quickly found a shopping mall where there was supposed to be a Subway sandwich bar… but there wasn’t. But a large supermarket was, and so we stocked up with food and drinks for the day, and headed back to the airfield. Near the aero-club there is a nice spot in the shade, very close to the runway. Not quite sure if we were actually allowed to stay here or not, but we didn’t see a soul. What we did see were a CN235 and a Cougar right in front of our camera lenses. With these results in the pocket we headed back to Santiago.
Next stop El Bosque, home of the air force Escuela de Aviación. Initially we had hoped to have a tour here, but that did not happen “because there was no flying this week”. Later we learned that on Wednesday a Pilan trainer aircraft had crashed on base, with unfortunately two fatalities. In hindsight it is safe to state that had the tour been allowed, it would have been cancelled anyway because of the crash. Anyway… due to the crash there was certainly no flying today. We drove around the airfield, checking out the spots to see all the preserved aircraft on base, and from where to read off the based aircraft. Too much heat haze prevented us from doing so, therefore we planned to go back early in the evening. The best spot turned out to be in a “not-too-wealthy” suburban area where half the population came out to see what on earth we were doing by peering over the high wall. One local guy and his friends, clearly already way above the maximum allowed alcohol permillage in the early afternoon, started chatting with us. Neither side had no clue whatsoever what the other was talking about, but we sure had a good laugh! We promised him beer if he could arrange us access to the dirt field / car park nearer to the wall when we would return. He grinned so we assumed he must have understood the word “beer” (yes, it’s “cerveza” in Spanish, we know).
Off to Tobalaba, Santiago’s general aviation airfield and also home to the substantial fleet of aircraft and helicopters of the Carabinieros, the military police. Access to the airfield itself was easy, the civilian guard himself suggested that we were going to the “helicopteros” before we even could try to explain what we were up to! So a “si!” sufficed and we were in. Unfortunately the Carabineros were somewhat less welcoming, we tried to talk ourselves on the platform but in the end (apparently) the commander said “no!”. That was a bit of a disappointment, but by asking we at least could read off most numbers. It just goes to show that you can never be sure about tours, the previous times 4Aviation showed up here it was not a problem at all.
Vitacura was much easier, fortunately. At this tiny light aviation and glider airfield the air force has based their own gliders and tow aircraft. Here a local guy on the aeroclub tennis court urged us to come onto the airfield and have a look around. To be sure we were really welcome we first looked for (and found) the airfield manager, who was busy doing an interview with a potential new employee, or so it seemed. A pretty looking girl, so he didn’t give us much attention when we interrupted the interview and send us on our way with a “yes of course!”. I bet the girl got the job. When we got to the gliders there was a pleasant surprise: besides three military-registered gliders there were also two air force Cessna O-1 parked under the sheds. No warbirds, no historic flight, no operational military O-1s. Those must be rare indeed nowadays, nice catch!
Only one thing to do for today: back to El Bosque to satisfy the number crunchers. Normally the traffic is pretty okay in Santiago, but now it was congested. It took us a good twenty minutes to get past one traffic light. It even became questionable if we would make El Bosque before sunset, but in the end we made it in time. To make good on our promise we quickly bought a six pack of cheap beer and drove to our selected spot at the wall. Our newly made friend was still there, as intoxicated as before, and with a complete disassembled moped in bits and pieces in front of him. When we handed over the six pack we became friends for life. And of course we could go nearer to the wall, despite the wary looks of the other locals. Maybe they thought not very well of us giving the local drunk more beer? Anyway, it was a good spot indeed, in no time we could read off most on the inhabitants on the airfield. After more traffic jams and the sun going down at a fast pace we managed to get to the other side of the airfield and try out a pedestrian bridge crossing the railway tracks. This gave a good overview of the airfield too, but did not yield any more numbers.