1931 – 1940
The year 1931 was a landmark in the history of the Hellenic Air Force. The Air Force School, one of the first Air Force Academies worldwide, was established on September 6th 1931 and commenced operations in December of the same year by applying a unified education programme for both the army and the navy air forces.
This School followed a 3-year study programme. The cadets, all of whom had entered the school with a 6-year high-school-leaving certificate, graduated with the rank of Second Lieutenant, whereas those who failed to meet the flight training requirements but had successfully completed the academic courses, followed the Financial Officer specialization. In terms of administration, the Air Force School was run by two Directorates (Flight Training Directorate, Ground Training Directorate) and was linked to two Squadrons (Cadet Squadron, Administration Squadron). Cadets followed a 150-hour flight training programme using initially AVRO aircraft, later replaced by BREGEUT and the single-seater MARS aircraft.
Training was based on the training systems of the respective English Air Force Schools. During flight training, special emphasis was placed on practicing aerobatic maneuvers. After graduation, officers received special training in tactics in the School of General Training and Specializations using POTEZ-25, MORANE-230, HORSLEY and VELOS aircraft. Moreover, certain graduates received postgraduate training in using FAIREY hydroplanes in naval cooperation missions at the Phaliron Air Force Base.
The need to train Engineering Officers led to the establishment of an Aeroengineering Department within the Hellenic Naval Academy, from which two classes graduated, each consisting of 6 cadets. The first Class of Second Lieutenants – Engineers graduated on October 12th 1934 and the second on November 2nd 1935. According to the Decree “With regard to Air Force Schools” of 16/10/1935, a new department came into operation in the Air Force School, namely the Department of Non-commissioned Οfficers (Flying Sergeants), with a 2-year educational programme. The department offered three specializations, viz. bomber pilot; bomber pilot and machine-gunner with a secondary specialization of photographer; and radio operator. In the year 1939 a third department was established, namely the Department of Engineers. On February 6th 1939, the first class of technician cadets (15 persons) joined the School.
The cadets’ academic education consisted primarily of vocational courses and secondarily of humanities courses. 1st-year cadets joined the Hellenic Navy Academy cadets in their educational sea voyage in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Aris battleship. In parallel, 2nd-year cadets joined the Hellenic Army Academy cadets in their educational camping trip, during which they were trained in infantry and topography.
Most of the heroes who sacrificed their lives during the WWII dogfights were graduates of the Air Force School. One of them was the heroic First Lieutenant Marinos Mitralexis. During a dogfight, having run out of ammunition, Mitralexis brought down an Italian bomber by ramming its tail.
1941 – 1951
The outbreak of WWII necessitated the School’s relocation to Argos, where it operated from October 1, 1940 to April 1941. After April 1941, the School relocated to the Middle East and then to South Rhodesia, where it operated as a training center from September 1941 to the summer of 1946. During their stationing in the Middle East, 40 graduates of the Air Force School completed their training and continued their glorious action in Egypt. The training of Greek cadets and flying officers during WWII was carried out at the British Units of the Middle East and South Rhodesia. Two classes of flying non-commissioned officers were also trained in South Rhodesia. During the School’s operation abroad, the Greek cadets and flying officers completed 145.000 hours of flight training.
In mid 1945, the 19th class of pilots, the first post-war class, entered the Air Force School. They trained in England from October 1946 to October 1947 in MOTH aircraft. In March 1947, the School returned to Dekelia, Greece. Its official operation commenced in October 1947 with the return of the first cadets who had received postgraduate education in England. They trained in the Air Force School on HARVARD and SPITFIRE aircraft.
The initial organization of the Air Force School was based on the standards of the British Air Force Academies of South Rhodesia and was run by the Training and Flight Directorate, which commanded the Air Training Squadron, the Ground Training Squadron and the Cadets’ Squadron. In those days the Air Force School had very limited ground and flight training means at its disposal. Ground training was carried out in the few available classrooms using a limited number of visual aids, and theoretical training was limited to vocational and military courses. On the contrary, the flight training was carried out on 10 – 15 TIGER MOTH aircraft, 15 to 20 HARVARD aircraft, and 15 to 20 SPITFIRE aircraft.
The post-war development of the Air Force created new demands such as the need for a steady flow of higher education Engineering Officer graduates. Thus, a new decree postulated the establishment in 1949 of the Air Force Engineering Officers’ School, and on September 29th it welcomed its 1st class of 6 cadets. From then on, the School of Air Force Engineering Officers, later Hellenic Air Force Academy (“Icarus School”, in Greek), offered higher education graduates able to lead the technical personnel of the Air Force and use their qualifications to best effect at a time of constant technological growth and increase in demands.
The flight training system followed after the repatriation of the Hellenic Air Force Academy to Greece was similar to that of the Schools of South Rhodesia. According to this, students had to complete a total of 160 flight hours (40 in TIGER MOTH, 80 in HARVARD and 40 hours in SPITFIRE aircraft). In 1950 the first Cadet Squadron returned from the USA, after completing a course in advanced training. From then onwards, flight training in Greece was influenced by the American training system.
Since the establishment of the first Air Force School until 1951, 23 classes of flying officers and non-commissioned officers were trained. Within its 20 years of operation at home and abroad, the school managed, with its limited means, to train more than 500 pilots.
1952 – to date
The year 1952 marked the beginning of the new era, that of the Jet aircraft. In 1953 cadets began training in jets and the first Jet Training Squadron was established in Elefsis, Greece (112 Combat Wing), under the direction of the School’s Training Squadron. According to Ministerial Decision Α6346/11-4-53 (Ministry of Defence), the Air Force School’s administration adopted the standards of a typical American Wing and was renamed 121 Air Training Wing (121 ATW). The Training and Flight Directorate was replaced by the Air Training Group. The two-seater jet trainer T33 was used for the cadets’ initial training. Training in such aircraft was later extended, so that full training was conducted on jet aircraft.
In 1952 the Reservist Pilot’s Training Centre was established according to the British and American standards. The Centre had flight training as its main purpose. It operated until September 1958; during that period 8 classes of reservist pilots were trained. The crucial part played by military aircraft during WWII and their technological advancement brought about a series of rapid developments for the Air Force School. Existing flying and ground training means and personnel had to adapt to the constantly changing and increasing demands.
In 1958, in the context of modernization, the School was redeployed to new premises. Physics, Chemistry, Aerodynamics, Telecommunications, Propulsion Systems, Aircraft Construction and Materials Resistance laboratories were created, and fitted with high-end equipment and instruments.
The resulting international renown of Greece’s Air Force School attracted in 1962 the first foreign cadets from Libya. In the years that followed officers from many African and Middle East countries such as Jordan, Tunisia, Libya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Botswana and Chad graduated from the Air Force School.
In 1964, in accordance with Decree 4439/1964 (Article 5), the Air Force School officially became Higher Education Institution equivalent to all other State Institutions of Higher Education. Until 1966, graduation from the School followed a 3-year study programme. In 1967, after the admission of the 43rd class, the duration of studies was extended to 4 years. In accordance with Royal Decree 370/1967, the School was renamed to Hellenic Air Force Academy; the said Decree postulated the rules for the School’s administration and function. Later Presidential Decrees modified it significantly towards the improvement of cadets’ education.
In 1991 the first female cadets were admitted to the Hellenic Air Force Academy (exclusively in the Engineers specialization). In 1999 a devastating earthquake in the Mt Parnis area, where the Academy is located, caused severe damage to the Academy’s buildings and infrastructure. In 2002 the first female pilot cadets were admitted to the School.
In 2003, with the passing of Hellenic Law 3187/2003, important organizational/administrative and educational changes took place in the Hellenic Air Force Academy. It was officially established as a Higher Military Educational Institution, equivalent to all other Higher Education Institutions as postulated by the respective laws in effect at any given time (Article 1), and providing education and degrees equivalent to such Institutions.
The operation of the Hellenic Air Force Academy is postulated by Hellenic Law 3187/2003, as modified and supplemented by Hellenic Laws 3413/2005, 3577/2007, and 3883/2010. Studies last for 4 years min. and are split into academic semesters.
According to Hellenic Law 3187/2003 the Hellenic Air Force Academy is under supervision of the National Defence Minister via the. If needs be, studies may also be conducted in Air Force units outside the Hellenic Air Force Academy. In accordance with a Ministerial Decision (Ministry of Defence) and following an Air Force General Staff proposal, education may be offered either at home or abroad.