Civil, Military Planes Hold Station Above Panama Canal
Multinational civil and military aircraft have joined forces in
the skies to keep a watchful eye above Fuerzas Alidas (FA) PANAMAX
2007 while US Navy and other nations' warships patrol the seas
around the Panama Canal.
Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama have based maritime
surveillance planes at Tocumen International Airport outside Panama
City to work hand-in-hand with the ships at sea during the exercise
from August 29-September 7.
The planes patrol both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts during
PANAMAX near the neutral waterway vital to global commerce and
regional peace and prosperity, according to officials.
The US Air Force, in cooperation with the Panamanian National
Air Service, has set up a communications nerve center at the
airstrip that is linked to a Combined Air and Space Operations
Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, said Maj. Mark
Webb, a PANAMAX liaison officer at Tocumen.
"There's a strong cooperative spirit," Webb said. "They all
understand what they are here for."
PANAMAX tests interoperability with aircraft and ships in
real-world like situations, participants said. The Tocumen air
center stays in close contact with USS Wasp (LHD 1), lead ship of
Argentina's and Chile's navies each have sent aloft one P-3
maritime patrol aircraft to take a big picture view of what is
going on, over and below the horizon, pilots said.
"It's important because we can learn and improve," said Cmdr.
Fabian Magnacca, commander of the PANAMAX naval air contingent from
Argentina. "We can cooperate and learn from other countries."
The Panamanian National Air Service puts into practice knowledge
gained in the skies and inside the communications center, said 2nd
Lt. Maribel Chavez, a PANAMAX strategic planner.
"This exercise is very important for our service because we
learn to work together," she said.
Panamanian 2nd Lt. Hans Zimmermann,
a T-35 pilot, expects the unexpected during scenarios in the
"Every year, it's a challenge," said Zimmermann, who is flying
the single-engine plane for the second consecutive year at PANAMAX.
"Every year, you have a different situation."
He also keeps a sharp eye in the cockpit for an unwanted visitor
in the air.
"Here in Panama we have a lot of birds, especially low flying
birds, which makes it dangerous," he said.
To keep an eye on what is happening, a nine-member Colombian
Navy crew flies in a twin-engine CASA CN-235 to snap photos, shoot
video and obtain other surveillance to share with the naval armada,
said Lt. Cmdr. Giovanni Laguado, the plane's pilot.
"We enjoy the combination of resources with all countries," the
naval aviator said.
Panamanian National Air Service Master Sgt. Erasmo Bernal said
each year the multinational exercise gives the Central American
nation an edge in its defense.
"Year by year, we are learning how to improve and how to protect
the Atlantic and the Pacific side of the county and the Panama
Canal," he said. "We involve international countries in the
exercise because we'd like to improve our training."
FA PANAMAX 2007 is a US Southern Command joint and multinational
exercise involving 19 nations that have deployed 30 vessels, a
dozen aircraft and more than 7,000 personnel. The annual exercise
started with three nations -- Chile, Panama and the United States
– in 2003.
(Aero-News salutes Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class
Barrie Barber, US Fleet Forces Command Navy Reserve Public