Early in the sixties, both public and private civil aeronautics had achieved great development in the province of Mendoza and for this reason the authorities began studying the construction of a new airfield. Its main objective was to alleviate the increasing flow of flights of the neighbouring air terminal in El Plumerillo, which in those years, demonstrated a tendency to congestion.
Thus, after several surveys was finally elected a desert area, located northeast of Cerro de la Gloria, and a few hundred metres from the road to El Challao. There, the ground presents a rocky constitution, excellent strength and high impact resistance. Also, despite being a few miles from the capital, the site was free of vegetation and does not exist any trace of population in the surrounding area.
In late 1964 work began moving soil, and compacting it as well started the first excavations. In less than a year began the construction of the airstrip and the main buildings, all at a ferocious pace. The inauguration took place on November 26, 1967. By this time the station was conformed by the central office building, a control tower, two hangars and service of aviation fuel.
The track initially had a length of 1,000 meters, which an additional length of 200 meters for North and South headers. As planned the track width was of 30 metres, with two side protective strips 10 metres each. This track was one of the highest in the Republic, 807 meters above sea level. In July 1972 would be enlarged, extending both headers to reach a total of 1,800 metres long.
The first balloons
In October 1968, a committee of French studies visited the airport to conduct a survey and trace maps and planes, planning to carrying out a bi-national project called EOLO that involved launching from three bases in Argentina, small superpressure balloons which would be interrogated by a satellite during its flight. Once checked the appropriate soil conditions, in April of the following year, the Command-in-Chief of the Argentinian Air Force formally requested to the provincial State a grant the loan of a portion of land located in the north side of the airport, to establish the aforementioned station. As requested, the province gave the land required as free loan extended for five years. After that time, the remaining facilities would be taken by the local government.
The launch base was a prefabricated structure, built on a low transportable armor under design of the French company SONECTRO. Also, outside of the structure were installed four wind deflectors for ease of balloon launches. Given the characteristics of the materials, the station was built very rapidly so that by early 1970 was almost complete.
It was formally inaugurated on March 15, 1970, with the presence of authorities of the Provincial Directorate of Aeronautics and both space agencies. The launch operations began with a frequency of four balloons per day in July 1971 and continued for the rest of that year, and part of next.
In total, between the three stations the EOLO program launched about 500 balloons, many of whom reached flying times of up to one year, allowing for the first time the acquisition of important information from the wind regimes in the low stratosphere in the southern hemisphere.
After the project's end, CNES withdrew from the stations built, which were under full administration of Air Regions Command of the Argentinian Air Force. However, due to its purely scientific nature, EOLO Mendoza was soon transferred to the orbit of the CNIE. Nevertheless, the installation remained inactive several years.
In 1979, the airport facilities were used again for the "Galaxia 79" campaign (the name "Galaxia" followed by the year of its implementation, was the generic name given to the stratospheric balloon launch campaigns in Argentina). During the operation were successfully launched 5 large stratospheric balloons, 3 of them in April and the remaining 2 in October.
In 1980 the CNIE constituted the Centro de Investigación y Desarrollos Espaciales Mendoza (Centre for Research and Space Development Mendoza or CIDEM), which became operational from September 1. This sub-agency emerged from the linking of the agency with various faculties and technical staff of the National University of Cuyo, which signed agreements of general cooperation. Among the outstanding achievements of this center was the articulation of a programme to fight hail (vital for the wine production in the area) the creation of an ground station to operate satellites and the transformation of the airfield in a modern aerospace facility named as Aerospace Base Mendoza.
Among the first steps taken to implement the project, was the final revival of the old EOLO station, and the construction of a runway of 100 x 300 metres for the launch of stratospheric balloons. By January 1981, the complex was already back in service and in September resumed launches under the "Galaxy 81" campaign in which participated the Provincial Department of Aeronautics.
The site would ever be used again for scientific ballooning launches for "Galaxia 82" the next year. However, the experience did not go beyond there. Since then, the EOLO station reamined inactive again. It was deteriorating and underutilized with minimal staffing responsible for his care. Also, the Aerospace Base Mendoza soon follow the same course.
Paradoxically, like in the beginning, the latest operations whith stratospheric balloons have the same protagonist, the french space agency CNES. Two campaigns (Pre-PORTS and PORTS) performed respectively in 1989 and 1990, to study the atmospheric gravity waves in the Andean mountains marked the definitive end of the use of the provincial airport as a base for scientific balloon activities.
A sad end
Concurrently, the volume of airplanes flights to and from the airport fell in the early nineties, leading the authorities to consider their closure despite many initiatives from civil society to save it.
Thus, the deterioration of facilities, the growing population of the sector -a populous neighborhood- and the myriad of different uses the station had, led to its shutdown as air station in January 2002.
Currently, the airfield has been assigned exclusively to the Police of Mendoza, which uses it as a heliport, and for tactical training centre under the name of "Condor base."
Also, what was once the station EOLO, is being used by the Mendoza's Federation of Associations of Volunteer Firefighters, as a Training School, but as can be seen in the images, the state of the building is pretty dire, shared destiny with its pair of the Fagnano Lake, which barely still stands.
The major part of this brief history was taken from a lengthly article published in the Argentinian LV Magazine by Gustavo Maron. Also we are in debt with Jose "Pepeu" Lucero which kindly took the pictures of the actual state of the station. More information is also available at: Nos Premières années dans l'espace
Table of balloons launched from Mendoza airpark
|Date||Hour||Flight Duration||Experiment||Payload landing place or cause of the failure|
|4/11/1979||00:35 local||+ 9 h||ALIR-I (Infrared Telescope)||San Francisco del Monte de Oro, San Luis, Arg|
|4/17/1979||N||+ 10 h||NEUTRON DETECTOR||Comechingones hills, Cordoba, Arg|
|4/30/1979||N||+ 10 h||ALIR-I (Infrared Telescope)||Near Nogoyá, Entre Rios, Argentina|
|10/7/1979|| ||+ 9 h||ALIR-I (Infrared Telescope)||In Tilisarao, San Luis, Arg|
|10/16/1979||20:29 local||+ 11 h||ALIR-I (Infrared Telescope)||In La Unión, San Luis, Arg|
|10/14/1982|| ||---||GENESIS I||--- No Data ---|
|5/24/1983||20:00 local||---||ALIR II||--- No Data ---|
|7/19/1983|| ||---||GENESIS II||--- No Data ---|
|10/5/1983|| ||9 H||PAYLOAD UNKNOWN||--- No Data ---|
|11/20/1990||12:10 utc||3 h 55 m||PORTS (Propagation des Ondes de Relief Tropospherique Stratospherique)||--- No Data ---|
|11/23/1990||10:32 utc||5 h 19 m||PORTS (Propagation des Ondes de Relief Tropospherique Stratospherique)||--- No Data ---|
|11/27/1990||10:43 utc||5 h 25 m||PORTS (Propagation des Ondes de Relief Tropospherique Stratospherique)||--- No Data ---|
|12/2/1990||10:15 utc||5 h 24 m||PORTS (Propagation des Ondes de Relief Tropospherique Stratospherique)||--- No Data ---|