The first U.S. Air Force plane to land in Cuba for more than 16 years touched down at Havana's Jose Marti Airport yesterday, carrying Idaho Senator Frank Church to a three-day visit with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Airport employees stopped work and several dozen bystanders lined the runway to watch the Air Force jet, a VC-137, land. The plane, authorized by President Carter and agreed to by the Cubans, returned immediately to Andrews Air Force Base after discharging Church, his wife, a small staff contingent and 14 reporters.

Church, met at the airport by former Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa, told reporters that he had received a personal invitation from Castro to visit Cuba, but had no idea of the purpose of the invitation and carried no message from the Carter administration.

In conversations with Castro and other Cuban officials, Church said he hopes to discuss U.S. political prisoners in Cuban jails, the Cuban military presence in Africa and the continuing improvement of relations between the two countries.

While Church had not been one of the more active congressional proponents of the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, he chaired the 1975 Senate committee that uncovered CIA involvement in attempts to assassinate Castro and is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.