For the second time 4Aviation went to Mexico for the FAMEX open days at the main operating base Santa Lucia, just north of Mexico City. Although the results in 2017 were exceptionally good, only a small group of enthusiasts had booked for this trip, but it nevertheless took place. And it again was very successful with over 250 military and over 300 civil aircraft noted during the tour.
On the afternoon of Saturday 20 April, four guys gathered at Schiphol, one of them having just flown in from London. KLM presented us with an elegant grand lady, Boeing 747 Combi PH-BFI. Although it was a great plane to fly in, it was showing its age. With almost thirty years on the clock, the entertainment system needed several reboots to offer something of interest on the old screens; and the seats could also have been a bit softer too. however, it was a great journey that took us over Greenland, Canada and through central USA. It was wonderful to view Barksdale AFB from above, with almost 40 B-52’s on the ramp.
The approach to Mexico City was very interesting with fine evening views of the city and then. customs and collecting the luggage went very smoothly too. Collecting the cars took a little bit of time, but luckily our local guide was there to help us out. Then it was on to the hotel which was a short drive from the airport. As it was still a reasonable hour, we ventured into town and found a great historic restaurant where we enjoyed our first local meal and accompanying brew. Then it was time for a well-deserved nights rest.
This Sunday 21 April, we had planned for some local tourist attractions. This was very much appreciated in 2017 and this time was no different. We headed north to the ancient town of Teotihuacán, which was alive and kicking between 750 and 500bc. Now only impressive ruins remain which tell part of the story of the things happening at the time especially as 125,000 people lived there. Before visiting the ruins themselves, we were treated to an excellent breakfast which started with a tasting of five different kinds of tequila! Not the wisest thing to do on an empty stomach..… But we survived and went back to town in the afternoon.
Here our local guide showed us some of the many interesting features of Mexico City and ended with a meal in a restaurant that had a view of the main square in town, Plaza de la Constitucion. The only little downside of the day was the restaurant owner trying to rip us off with a huge bill. We noticed this immediately and offered to make the invoice for our meal for him, which he silently accepted, before we went on our way to the hotel.
Monday 22 April, was the first day for aircraft. On the drive to the city’s international airport, Benito Juárez, we drove past an old DC-9 and then onto the approach of runway 05R which was used for most of the arrivals all day. We found a great spot on top of the roof of one of the businesses along Fuerza Aérea Mexicana road. From ‘our’ roof we could see the aircraft approaching much earlier and had a much better angle for pictures of the aircraft, as well as a nice overview of the airport. The other benefit was that it was much quieter than standing next to this very busy highway. A very good start to the day.
A little after 11:00 we headed for the Air Force press centre to collect our press passes for FAMEX. This went smoothly and we were also able to make a few other arrangements with them. Then it was time to take a little tour along the airport perimeter to see what it had to offer. Close to the military entrance of the base, guarded by a DC-3, we drove past the heliport of the Direccion General de Servicios Aereos “Condores” SSP CDMX. We took a chance and asked at the gate for a visit. We could not have had a more welcome reception by the guys working on these immaculate looking helicopters and they showed us all the details of almost twenty machines. After that we worked our way to the ‘La Casa de la Aviacion’, a must-visit location for every enthusiast visiting this airport. It is located on top of the perimeter fence in the north-eastern corner of the airfield and offers great views across both runways and the northern taxi-track as well as cold drinks, a simple but delicious menu and a very hospitable host to complete the experience.
Most of the traffic you see is of course civil airliners, but the occasional military aircraft can be seen too. We noted an Air Force Beech 350i, Bell 407, two B737’s, a sole C295M and an H225M as well as a Marina H225M and US Army UC-35A. With civil and military combined we had non-stop action until we wanted to leave around 18:30. However, the weather had other ideas as all hell broke loose in the sky. A big thunderstorm went directly over the airfield with lots of lightning flashes and torrential rain. When this had settled down a bit we drove to the hotel for the final small meal and drink of the day.
Tuesday 23 April, today it was time to check out of the hotel in the centre of Mexico City. The next few days were to be spent in a hotel closer to Santa Lucia air base in order to reduce the daily commute time and we left early in order to not miss a lot of the preparations for FAMEX. On Monday we talked to some officials to arrange an escort to take us around the base. From experience we knew there was much more to see than the aircraft on the static display line and were lucky enough to be assigned a young airman. After a leisurely walk around the show static, we set off for a long walk along several of the flight lines at this huge base. We first went to the Boeing 737 flightline, followed by the one with fourteen T-6C’s and several MD530s, Bell 407s and a duo of Beech 350s. Next up was the heavy metal with four C-27Js and three C-130s of which only two were currently operational. A line of eight PC-7s was next, followed by a mixed flightline of Beech 350s, C295s, Ce501s.
In the distance we could see several Bell 412s, Mi-17s and two UH-60s. These we would save for the next day so we enjoyed a well-deserved lunch break at the little cafeteria next to flightline before our long walk back to the static. As the base was also filled with lots of wrecks & relics, we took these in our journey home.
Wednesday 24 April was the official opening of FAMEX with the attendance of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who arrived by car. We did a brief tour of the static which showed some interesting additions and movements as the light in the morning was perfect; the sun around midday being too harsh. The USAF A-10 did its daily excellent demonstration with the performance being just a bit lower and closer to the public than it is in the USA. Together with the clear sky and lovely weather it was quite spectacular. After this, half a dozen local T-6Cs took to the sky for a single dedication/banana-pass with lots of smoke.
We listened to the speech of the President which had lots of news to tell as he is ‘’cleaning the house’’ in this administration by trying to kill a lot of the corruption that exists in Mexico. He is also trying to reduce unnecessary costs and that is why he has put almost the entire Presidential aircraft and helicopter fleet up for sale. Not good news for us, but a smart thing to do to save lots of money.
At the airshow, a catalogue surfaced showing seventy-three aircraft up for sale which is an amazing number. If you look closely at the inventory of the Mexican armed forces and its huge variety of aircraft, you can easily see that it is a small disaster to try to maintain them in a proper way. With this sale, they are starting to make it a more efficient force. Also mentioned was that the current Santa Lucia airbase will become the main International Airport of Mexico City and construction would start at the end of FAMEX and that this would mean the closure of the current Benito Juárez International Airport in due time.
FAMEX will now move to Querétaro, about 175km west of Mexico City, which is one of the main aviation industry areas of Mexico. Also, and most interesting for us, is the move of all military aircraft from Santa Lucia to this new location. This will of course mean extensive reconstruction work, including a new runway and lots more infrastructure, so if this can be achieved before the next FAMEX in 2021 remains to be seen.
After the speech we spent a little more time at the static to take some different shots. A disadvantage of the presidents’ policy, for us, is the lack of VIP movements as he thinks this is a waste of money, so it ended up being a quiet end to the day.
Thursday 25 April would be the first day with a decent flying programme, but first we had some unfinished business; the final ramp and two hangars at the southern end of the base. With the help of our superb local guide we navigated there and the friendly guards contacted their superiors to get permission for access. After a little while we roamed the ramp and one of the hangers.
This contained a few museum pieces, such as a B-25 Mitchell, an IAI Arava, a couple of Puma’s and the very elusive Schweizer SA2-37B reconnaissance plane. Besides that, a couple of operational AW109s and Bell 412s were noted. Also, in here were four stored S-70 Blackhawks and seven F-5E/F’s. From the other hangar, the air force ground crew kindly pulled one of five EC725 Cougars outside especially for us and positioned it in the best possible way for photography. On the ramp were two UH-60Ms and several Mi-17s which were being prepared to join the show later that day. Again, we were all impressed by the Mexican hospitality and openness to show us their air force aircraft.
We returned to the static area and noticed some changes that needed to be photographed, then it was time to prepare for the airshow/parade. Three C295s taxied out, followed by a single C-27J, three Boeing 737’s, six PC-7s, twelve T-6Cs and a single F-5E. The CASAs would first drop a lot of parachutists in front of the limited crowd and then the airborne parade followed. The Boeings had been joined by the singe F-5, followed by thee CASAs, the C-27J with six T-6Cs, then six PC-7s with six T-6Cs. Everything flew by four times from different directions and made an impressive sight.
After that we left the airbase and visited several Wreck & Relic locations around the local area. We found a school about 30 kilometres north with a Sabreliner, Beech, two Bell 212s and a couple of Cessnas. Next there was a nice park with six airframes, a playground with a Marchetti and Cessna, a shopping centre with an immaculate looking Boeing 727 and finally a nice park with SA330 Puma and a PC-7. After that it was time to go to the hotel and pay a visit to our excellent local restaurant to have a final meal with one of our guests as he would take a very early taxi to Mexico City the next day.
Friday 26 April was to be our last day at FAMEX. Although the public day would be on Saturday, we were all very happy with the pictures we had taken during the week and beside some helicopters dropping soldiers near to the very busy crowds, nothing extra was expected, so we had all agreed to miss the Saturday event.
We all found our spots to take the pictures of the air parade that we were after, thus finidshing off a very successful week. Our guide had contacted an officer of the military police to get access to the final wreck & relic on base, a C-47 near the police school. We were escorted there by the ever friendly and cooperative Mexican military and allowed to take our pictures.
After that we moved south to look for some more wrecks & relics north of Mexico City. The traffic on this Friday afternoon was very intense and after a shark-mouthed DC-9 in use as a restaurant and a small memorial park with a Mi-8, T-33 and Stearman, we decided to call it a day. It was then back to our hotel and favourite restaurant for some excellent local food and a treat of live Mexican music.
Saturday 27 April marked the last day of our tour. We drove from our hotel in San Juan to Mexico City for a couple of Wrecks & Relics. After a park with a C-130 and CH-53 we headed for the west side of the international airport for a rather large airframe dump. Later, we dropped another member of our small group at the airport as he would fly back home early in the afternoon then we went on to the technical museum MUTEC on the other side of town, only to discover it had been in maintenance for the last three years, and the aircraft were gone. The nearby military barracks holds lots of nice aircraft, but access was not possible on this Saturday so after a short stop at the local Walmart we visited the Casa de la Aviación again and the first aircraft we saw was a Federal Police Boeing 727!!
Many more airliners passed our lenses and several military aircraft returned from the airshow. In the late afternoon we called it a day and drove to the terminal to hand in the rental cars and say goodbye to our indispensable tour guide. He helped us out in lots of situations and knew exactly what we wanted.
Whilst we waited for our old KLM Boeing 747 to take us safely home, our British travel mate went to Terminal 2 for his flight home in an AeroMexico Boeing 787. During the course of Sunday, we all safely arrived back home after a very enjoyable stay in Mexico. We saw and photographed an unbelievable variety of aircraft, had great dinners with the occasional local liquids and enjoyed the hospitality of the Mexican people. If it is up to us, we would love to return to FAMEX in 2021.