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​​HDF Pápa Air Base

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Hungary has a special role in the Strategic Airlift Capability as its host nation. SAC C-17s are registered and flagged in Hungary. They also bear the national military aircraft insignia of the nation. It also provides the Hungarian Defence Forces (HDF) Pápa Air Base to be the SAC home base.

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Pápa Air Base and SAC

Base History: 1936 – 1992

Base History: from 1990s to the Present Day


HDF Pápa Air Base in Western Hungary is the home base of the Strategic Airlift Capability Program. Photo: Hungarian Defense Forces

Hungarian Defence Forces Pápa Air Base, situated in Western Hungary, was formed in 2001 as a legal successor of the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing. During the following years it went through a transition from a fighter operations base to a modern logistics air base and an aerodrome capable of receiving, accommodating and serving NATO forces and fulfilling the tasks of the national defense.

Pápa Air Base became the home base of Strategic Airlift Capability C-17 airlift operations in 2009. Currently the base supports the SAC among other things in the following fields:

  • Logistics (Accommodation, Fuel, Catering, Aerial Port functions and Ammo storage)
  • Air Side Support (Liquid oxygen, Aircraft lavatory service, De-icing and Airfield maintenance)
  • Air Traffic Services (Air Traffic Control, Meteorological service and Air traffic services reporting office),
  • Operations (Base entry, Guard and security)
  • Emergency Services (Fire rescue, Medical and security)
  • Flight Safety

Colonel László Gangler is the commander of HDF Pápa Air Base.


HDF Pápa Air Base provides Strategic Airlift Capability with a variety of services as a part of the program Host Nation Support. A Pápa Air Base fire truck is seen here spraying a SAC C-17 with water prior to the start of a airframe wash. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko

LEARN MORE: The Strategic Airlift Capability and Hungary


History of the Pápa Air Base

Pápa has been a garrison town for centuries but the beginnings of its long military aviation tradition date back to the year 1936 when the construction of the military aerodrome with a grass runway began.


Since its construction began in 1936, the air base in Pápa has hosted a variety of military aviation activities. The era of MiG-23 jet fighters began in the 1970s and lasted until the 1990s. Photo: PAB Archives

In 1937 the base got its first users as two bomber squadrons of the Royal Hungarian Air Force operating Junkers Ju 86s were located to Pápa.

On 1 October 1939 the first parachute squadron of the Hungarian Royal Air Force was deployed to Pápa organized by Captain Árpád Bertalan. It was converted into a parachute battalion under his command a year later.

During World War II different German and Hungarian units used the aerodrome. After the war in the period from 1945 to1969 the first Soviet Air Force Fighter Wing of the 195th Division was based in Pápa.

The legal predecessor of the current HDF Pápa Air Base and the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing was formed on 1st November 1950 in Szentkirályszabadja in the vicinity of the town of Veszprém, operating 30 Yakovlev Yak-9 fighters and having strength of 450 personnel.

It received the designation 24th Fighter Wing and was subordinated to Air Division of the Hungarian Army. In 1952 the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, the first jet-propelled aircraft type of the Hungarian Air Force, entered service with this wing.

In 1958 the unit was stationed in Sármellék, west of the Lake Balaton, and was redesignated as the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing.

In 1961 the wing moved to its final garrison in Pápa after the Soviet Air Wing based there was moved to Sármellék. In its new base it received a new type of jet fighter aircraft, the MiG-21F-13. Wing pilots were trained for the new technology and the Pápa runway was renovated twice, in 1962 and from 1984 to 1985. Thanks to these construction works it was to become suitable for the Strategic Airlift Capability C-17 operations decades later.

In 1978 the II and the III squadrons of the 24th Fighter Wing were equipped with the improved MiG-21BIS fighters and in 1979 the I Squadron received MiG-23MF fighter aircraft.

Two squadrons, named Sámán (Shaman) and Griff (Griffin), were formed to operate the new fighters and to carry out high-pace training.

In late 1970s two MiG pilots from Pápa got a chance to reach beyond the performance limits of conventional jet aircraft as Bertalan Farkas and Béla Magyari were chosen from several well-trained pilots to become the first Hungarian cosmonaut and his back up. They were trained in the Soviet Union within the Interkosmos cooperation space program.

As a member of the Sojuz-36 crew, Bertalan Farkas became the first Hungarian in space in 1980.

In 1992 the 24th Fighter Wing was renamed to the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing.


Pápa Air Base has been the home for many firsts in the Hungarian military aviation. In the 1930s it was the birthplace of Hungarian paratrooper training. Since 2009 it has hosted the first operational multinational C-17 operator in the world that carries out training with Hungarian Defence Forces modern-day paratroopers. Photo: Hungarian Defence Forces


From Fighters to Strategic Airlift

In 1999 the Hungarian government decided to withdraw the MiG-21 from service. According to the same decision the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing was to be disbanded and the air base in Pápa was to be closed.

On 24th August 2000 the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing was withdrawn from stand-by service. A major air show was held to mark this occasion.

The last flights of the MiG-21 took place in Pápa on 31st August 2000. On 30th June 2001 the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing was disbanded. Despite of this a new government decision was taken and the aerodrome in Pápa was not closed.

On 1st July 2001 the HDF Pápa Air Base was established as the legal successor of the 47th Tactical Fighter Wing. After reopening the base operated as a state-owned out-of-use airport from July 1st 2001 to September 14th 2004. Its main tasks in peacetime were to maintain readiness to receive the aircraft in emergency situations, to provide assistance for the aircrew during daylight in normal weather conditions and to support the emergency landings with visual approach without ground support.

On 26 September 2005 the aerodrome was opened to air traffic with a helicopter of the Air Search and Rescue Duty Service.

In the following years the main aim of the investments at Pápa Air Base was set to establishing the infrastructure of an aerodrome which is capable of receiving, accommodating and serving NATO forces.

To meet the requirements a capability program was accomplished as a part of the NATO Investment Program (NSIP) resulting in various improvements to the infrastructure of the base.

Alongside with NATO requirements, the base modernization program was also aimed at establishing the capability to meet the needs of the tasks assigned to the Hungarian Defence Forces. The base was required to accommodate 750 HDF personnel and technical equipment needed for the Search and Rescue (SAR) service and to establish the necessary infrastructure to support them.

Thanks to the continuous development work carried out since the Pápa Air Base was formed, the base was selected to become the home of the Strategic Airlift Capability C-17 airlift operations. The initial cadre of SAC organizations arrived to Pápa in 2008 and the flight operations of the SAC C-17s began in July 2009.

LEARN MORE: SAC Program milestones 2006 –