That Famous Runway at Port Stanley – Part 1 (Pre Conflict)


Black Buck and the Runways of the 1982 Falkland Islands Conflict



This is one of those posts that started out as a quick follow up to the Atlantic Conveyor and San Carlos Harrier FOB posts I wrote a while ago and thought a nicely rounded trilogy would be finalised with information about the runway at Stanley Airport post conflict, how it was used by Harriers, Phantoms and other types before Mount Pleasant was opened.

But, as soon as you start writing about that famous runway at Stanley one simply cannot ignore the Black Buck Vulcan raids so before you know it, the research list has ballooned and no one is reading Think Defence because I haven’t posted anything in over a week.

It was just too tempting a subject to resist so apologies for the lack of posting recently.

Many articles, books and documentaries have been produced on Black Buck but very little exists that looks at the runway, instead most of the material tends to focus on the Vulcan and fail to see it from the runways perspective!

The runway at Stanley Airport is about more than just Black Buck though, after the surrender of the Argentine forces it played a vital role in the defence of the islands at a time when the threat was still elevated.

Until the airport at Mount Pleasant was completed it was the only air link to Ascension Island and beyond to the UK.

As I mentioned above, things rapidly expanded so instead of a single post, this is a trilogy within the trilogy!

Part 1 – Pre Conflict

Part 2 – Conflict

Part 3 – Post Conflict

Pre Conflict

It would probably be a fair observation that pre conflict, things moved very slowly on the Falkland Islands.

Prior to the seventies the only mode of air transport to the Falkland Islands was by seaplane

Catalina in Stanley Harbour, Falkland Islands (Image Credit - Flickr Slim Jim 2010)
Catalina in Stanley Harbour, Falkland Islands (Image Credit – Flickr Slim Jim 2010)

Although not strictly runway related the first interesting aviation incident came a short time after the World Cup quarter final defeat of Argentina but the England team. On September 28th 1966 a group of Argentine radicals hijacked an Aerolíneas DC4 and forced the pilot to fly to the Falkland Islands. The problem was, at this time, there was no runway on the Falkland Islands capable of taking such a large aircraft (for the time) and it had to land on the racetrack

Aerolíneas DC4 at Port Stanley racetrack 1966 (Flickr - Derek Pettersson)
Aerolíneas DC4 at Port Stanley racetrack 1966 (Flickr – Derek Pettersson)
Aerolíneas DC4 at Port Stanley racretrack 1966 (Image Credit - Flickr Derek Pettersson)
Aerolíneas DC4 at Port Stanley racretrack 1966 (Image Credit – Flickr Derek Pettersson)

A tense stand-off ensued until sense prevailed and the hijack ended.

A pair of Grumman Albatross amphibians were flown to the islands carrying Argentine officials, fuel and engineers to arrange return of the aircraft.

Grumman Albatross at Port Stanley
Grumman Albatross at Port Stanley

Although relations were always strained there was a time when cooperation was much greater, LADE, the Argentine military airline operated an amphibian service to the Falklands using Albatross aircraft from February 15th 1971, the first flight being a medical evacuation for a critically ill sailor. The first passenger flight was on July 3rd and on the 15th the ‘Communications Agreement’ was signed to regularise traffic on a two weekly basis.

FAA Grumman Albatros Port Stanley
FAA Grumman Albatros Port Stanley

In 1973 the UK and Argentina agreed to co fund an airstrip on the Falkland Islands and in November of that year the temporary 730m by 20m airstrip was operational.

The temporary location at Hookers Point was constructed by Grupo I de Construcciones de la Fuerza Aérea (FAA) using aluminium matting from the Harvey Aluminium Co in the USA.

Hookers Point airstrip (Image Credit - Flickr Derek Pettersson)
Hookers Point airstrip (Image Credit – Flickr Derek Pettersson)
Hookers Point airstrip (Image Credit - Flickr Derek Pettersson)
Hookers Point airstrip (Image Credit – Flickr Derek Pettersson)
LADE Fokker F-27 at Hookers Point
LADE Fokker F-27 at Hookers Point
LADE Fokker F-27 at Hookers Point 02
LADE Fokker F-27 at Hookers Point 02
Hookers Point (image credit ZM Bigua)
Hookers Point (image credit ZM Bigua)

This was not completely altruistic, the main objective was a normalisation of relationships so that the prospect of Argentine sovereignty would be less of an issue.

In 1976

March 4th, Foreign Secretary Callaghan, on the recommendation of Lord Shackleton, suggests that the runway on the Islands is extended. Reg Prentice, the Minister for Overseas Development, delays any decision by saying that further study is required.

A couple of years later, in May 1978 a storm scattered much of the aluminium matting runway at Hookers Point.

Hookers Point wind damage
Hookers Point wind damage

After this and in a climate of increasingly poor relations with the newly in power military Junta a more substantial construction was agreed and opened on Tuesday 1st May 1979 by Sir Vivian Fuchs.

This new construction by Johnson Construction at Cape Pembroke, just North of Hookers Point, included a paved runway and collection of airport buildings.

It allowed the first jet aircraft to operate, the LADE Fokker F28 Fellowship.

The construction of the runway would be of crucial importance in 1982.

The runway was 4,100 feet long and 147 feet wide.

Designed for the LADE Fokker F27/28’s it had a minimum Load Classification Number (LCN) of 16 although in places it was as high as 30. Construction was 300mm of compacted crushed stone on white sand with a minimum of 32mm of asphalt.

The terminal building had a small parking apron (270 feet x 180 feet) adjacent.

Port Stanley Airport then became the home for the Beavers and Islanders of the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS)

Port Stanley Airport - Pre 1982
Port Stanley Airport – Pre 1982

The first landing was by a civilian registered Cessna 172 and a short time later the first LADE aircraft landed at Port Stanley Airport.

LADE first F27 landing at Stanley in 1976
LADE first F27 landing at Stanley in 1976

As can be seen in the image above, the Sunday best uniforms were out and in a US Marine Corps Staff Paper called Offensive Air Operations of the Falklands War, Major Walter F. DeHoust recalls;

The Argentine officials proceeding on the first flight of the air service turned out to be Argentine senior military officers in full uniform.  Hearing of this, the Falkland Islands’ governor, Toby Lewis, was ordered to hoist the Union Jack and appear at the ceremony himself in full dress gubernatorial regalia.  The islanders themselves feared that ceremonially clad Argentines represented a covert invasion, perhaps even supported by the British Foreign Office.  The islands’ secretary, John Laing felt a demonstration was likely and called out the Marine guard, a permanent detachment of military stationed on the Falklands to maintain order.

In what will become significant later, the new runway was extended somewhat using aluminium matting and the occasional C130, Learjet and FMA IA50 Guarani flight made.

On the 17th May 1978 the first Fokker F-28 Fellowship landing at Port Stanley.

LADE F-28 at Port Stanley 1981 (Col Edwin Quiroz) 01
LADE F-28 at Port Stanley 1981 (Image Credit – Col Edwin Quiroz)

There were several reports that Argentine military pilots flew both as passengers and pilots on the regular LADE flights but of course, these were ignored.

Port Stanley Runway 1972
Port Stanley Runway 1972

Up until the occupation, LADE carried 465,763 passengers and 21,597 pounds of cargo between the Falkland Islands and the mainland, amassing 3,553 hours.

On March 11th 1982 an Argentine Air Force (FAA) C130H made an ‘emergency landing’ at Port Stanley Airport but were out within the hour, this was perhaps seen as suspicious but like so many warning signs, ignored.

Argentine FAA C130 at Port Stanley 'Emergency Landing' March 6th 1981
Argentine FAA C130 at Port Stanley ‘Emergency Landing’ March 6th 1981

Another landing by an FAA Learjet on the 19th also raised eyebrows but again, ignored.

Argentine Learjet Stanley March 19th 1982
Argentine Learjet Stanley March 19th 1982

Nothing to see here, move along!



Next instalment tomorrow



Part 1 – Pre Conflict

Part 2 – Conflict

Part 3 – Post Conflict



RAF Historical Society, Journal No 30

Air War in the Falklands, 1982

US Department of the Navy, Falkland Islands Lessons Learned

Falklands Aftermath: Picking up the Pieces, Edward Fursdon

Air Scene UK

Vulcan to the Sky

Argentina’s Tactical Aircraft Employment in the Falkland Islands War, Gabriel Green USAF

The Falklands War Understanding the Power of Context in Shaping Argentine Strategic Decisions

Radar Malvinas (a great site with tonnes of information)

Zona Militar (an Argentine military forum that is serious about historic analysis, not at all jingoistic and a fantastic resource, including many posts where veterans from both sides discuss the conflict. Where I have quoted from this site it is done so from a difficult position, I don’t speak Spanish, but would recommend readers go there and have a look, there are many excellent contributors and I would like to say thank you to a number of selected forum members whose comments helped me a great deal in researching some of the specific points in this series). I really cannot thank them enough.

PPRUNE, ARRSE, Fighter Control and Military Photos discussion forums, as with Zona Militar, an invaluable reference for anyone interested in the subject.

Images; many of the images in these posts seem to float around the internet on forums and image sharing sites so it is difficult to properly attribute. I am normally quite picky about image grabbing from sources where ownership is uncertain but because I think this is a pretty important subject I have lowered the normal threshold. Please accept my thanks in advance to the photographers and if you are the original owner please let me know if you want it removed or properly attributed.


About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
disgusted grange over sands
February 26, 2013 10:21 pm

I think your Walrus is a Catalina

February 26, 2013 10:29 pm

definitely a Catalina.

The Argies weren’t exactly subtle in their reconnaissance efforts, then?

John Hartley
February 26, 2013 10:56 pm

From the perspective of the runway? Why not ask the bombs? Must have been a shock to them.

Aussie Johnno
February 27, 2013 4:58 am

So, if the runway hadn’t been constructed would the Argentine risked an invasion?

February 27, 2013 7:52 am

Great article TD, amazes me (I know it shouldn’t) how many warning signs were ignored.

February 27, 2013 7:59 am

Thanks for a great starter for 10. The mexeflote chapter must be to follow ….

Like so many others I had no idea how much anglo-argentine cooperation (?) in the 1970s and the overt/covert recces in 1981

February 27, 2013 8:15 am

“So, if the runway hadn’t been constructed would the Argentine risked an invasion?”
Probably, they could have built one in the time available.

February 27, 2013 6:46 pm

Blimey, photos a plenty!

March 6, 2013 11:00 pm

A Supermarine Walrus was based in the Falklands in case the Japanese turned up unannounced from January 1942 until 1 March 1942 when it was written off in a landing accident.

Single Spey
May 31, 2013 7:20 pm

The photo labelled ‘Port Stanley Airport pre1982 date unknown’ is actually post invasion but pre-UK bombing. There are Pucaras alongside the far end of the runway, and a Tracker and what looks like a C130 and F27 on the apron in front of the tower.