Category Archives: AHF↑Inside

AHF↑Inside is a series of exclusive insights in the world of aviation, given to us by the men and women who have made flying their daily life.

AHF↑Inside: NATO’s AWACS Nest

It’s springtime, and judging by the busy flightline at Geilenkirchen airbase in Germany, the E-3A AWACS aircraft of NATO’s E-3A Component, it’s nesting time. But looks are deceiving, as these birds leave the nest every day. They keep an eye out over NATO territory on the East borders of Europe, take part in exercises such as the latest Red Flag in the US, or practice air-to-air refuelling in European skies. The multinational crews see their numbers reduced nevertheless. And while the aircraft are modified, their numbers also become smaller. By mid 2015, the first aircraft (tail number LX-N90449) retires into storage. However, the sign of the times is that the AWACS is needed more than ever.

While Geilenkirchen (nicknamed ‘Frisbee’) is their nest, the 17 Boeing E-3A Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft saw many places over the years. Exercises are a regular thing, but operations over Afghanistan were ‘the real deal’ up to last year. Operating from Mazar-e-Sharif for over three years, NATO crews flew over 1,240 missions and  over 12,240 flying hours over Afghanistan, providing air surveillance and supporting aircraft involved in air operations such as close air support, battlefield air interdiction, combat search and rescue, reconnaissance and tactical air transport.

Study of an E-3A from the Geilenkirchen ATC tower. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Study of an E-3A from the Geilenkirchen ATC tower… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
.. and a study of a Sentry from a KC-135R tanker. Image © Dennis Spronk)
… and a study of a Sentry from a KC-135R tanker. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Interesting
Now, the mission involves an old acquaintance towards the east of Europe, where Russia has taken an eye for the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. “Oh, we see a lot of interesting stuff,” says E-3A tactical director Major Rob van Leeuwen when asked about the missions that continue along NATO’s eastern flank daily. “We have some powerful radar equipment in that 9 meter diameter frisbee on top of the aircraft, and when we’re over Romania we cover a large part of NATO’s Eastern approaches. Getting a clear view of what is happening over Donetsk and Luhansk in the Eastern part of Ukraine is stretching it a bit however. That area is over 500 miles away, and that’s beyond our range.”

Air and sea
Still, the crews have been providing a valuable picture for NATO and, for instance, the Air Policing Mission over the Baltic states in particular. Not only airborne movements are picked up, as the AWACS’s radar equipment is also capable of picking up movements at sea. Sensitive sensors on both sides of the fuselage scan for radar and radio signals. The missions are flown over Poland and Romania, both NATO members. Van Leeuwen: “It illustrates another change that happened within the E-3A Component over the last few years; personnel from new NATO members found their way to Geilenkirchen. The shared tactical knowledge gathered here is astonishing. It’s my job to get the best out of them.”

Missions over Poland and Romania are a daily routine, with all eyes pointed east. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Missions over Poland and Romania are a daily routine, with all eyes pointed east. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Sentries usually stay airborne for hours after taking off from Geilenkirchen. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Sentries usually stay airborne for hours after taking off from Geilenkirchen. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Click to enlarge! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Click to enlarge! (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Routine
The daily flying schedule at Geilenkirchen involves a fair bit of air-to-air refuelling (AAR), with the help of US Air National Guard KC-135R tanker crews. Today on 18 March, an E-3A with call sign ‘Nato 04’ throttles up it four old skool Pratt & Whitney TF33-turbofans and heads off to northern Germany for a rendezvouz with ‘Esso 76’, a KC-135R flown by a crew from the 185th Air Refueling Wing from Sioux City, Iowa. Airborne refuelling allows the E-3A to stay up for hours at a time and less movements at Geilenkirchen for refuelling. That’s good news to the people living around the airbase, which is located right next to the German-Dutch border.

Van Leeuwen: “It’s true that the E-3A’s old engines aren’t exactly quiet. We export a lot of noise by also operating from Ørland in Norway, Trapani in Italy, Aktion in Greece and Konya in Turkey, but also by using AAR.” Replacing the E-3As engines is not on the cards, however. It not only involves new engines but also reinforcement of the wings, and is therefore deemed too expensive. All E-3As are well over 30 years old, but remain in excellent condition.

There's an Sentry in there somewhere. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
There’s an E-3 in there somewhere. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Their excellent condition shows everywhere on Geilenkirchen's Sentries. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Their excellent condition shows everywhere on Geilenkirchen’s Sentries. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Glass
Budget does allow for modernizing the cockpits of 14 NATO E-3s to part glass cockpits. Boeing recently reported a successful first flight for the first modified aircraft, with further tests scheduled. The first modified aircraft should be in service by January 2016. The glass cockpit update takes away the need for a navigator, reducing the E-3 flight crew from 4 to 3. The update doesn’t affect the mission crew – usually 15 or so operators – in the main part of the aircraft. The two aircraft that are not updated are scheduled for retirement, LX-N90449 being the first to fly to AMARG in Arizona by June this year. Hours on the clock: roughly 19,000.

The switches and dials on the current E-3 flight deck will partly make way for a glass cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The switches and dials on the current E-3 flight deck will partly make way for a glass cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The update with Boeing wo'nt affect the mission systems in the back of the aircraft. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The update with Boeing won’t affect the mission systems in the back of the aircraft. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Reductions
Reductions however do effect the E-3 Component as a whole. Today, 16 NATO nations provide personnel to the component. Canada in 2014 ended its commitment. With Royal Canadian Air Fore (RCAF) CF-188 Hornets now stationed in Germany as a response to both Russia’s behaviour and the threat the Islamic State (IS) poses, it justifies the question whether the Canadians might regret this decision. NATO now also directs more effort into a joint Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that should be in operation in Sigonella, Italy, within the next two years. All in all, it means the number of positions at Geilenkirchen will fall down from 2,000 to 1,500.

Hook ups
With current international turmoil, that’s quite a toll to take. All the better then, that crews remain motivated and grab every training opportunity they get. As evening falls over Geilenkirchen, ‘Nato 04’ and ‘Esso 76’ are still engaged in air-to-air refuelling. Aboard the AWACS, pilots take their turn in joining up with the KC-135R tanker, with a total of 15 ‘dry’ hook ups made, plus three ‘wet’ hook ups during which a total of 45,000 pounds of fuel is transferred from the tanker to the AWACS. At 20:30 hours local time, both the E-3 and the KC-135 return to Geilenkirchen, ending the day’s flying.

During the sortie, the frisbee on top remained ‘cold’. For the E-3A Component, there are plenty of training opportunities where the radar is switched to ‘hot’. Exercises such as Frisian Flag, the Tiger Meet and Arctic Challenge later this year provide valuable training hours. But the current missions watching the airspace towards the East reflect the true value of the E-3A. In 2014, a record of 400 NATO Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) launches were carried out in response of Russian aircraft snooping around. The Russians don’t hesitate to turn off their identification equipment, so they don’t show up on civilian radar screens, endangering air traffic. Van Leeuwen: “That’s indeed what is happening. But we’re the ones that always do see them.” There’s no escaping the eye in the sky that calls Geilenkirchen home.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): ‘Nato 04’ finds ‘Esso 76’ under a glorious sunset. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

The golden hour at work at 28,000 feet. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The golden hour at work at 28,000 feet. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
'Nato 04' get picked up by the pushback truck. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
‘Nato 04’ gets picked up by the pushback truck. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A bot of tinkering on the flightline. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A bit of tinkering on the flightline. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The E-3 in the background awaits its 460 flight hour check, while the one in the foreground is just ready to be put in use again. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The E-3 in the background awaits its 460 flight hour check, while the one in the foreground is just ready to be put in use again. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hiding behind the boom. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hiding behind the boom. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
E-3_radome
Ever wondered what it’s like on top of the radome? Well, like this. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A dramatic sky behind a legendary aircraft. Image © Elmer van Hest)
A dramatic sky behind a dramatic aircraft. Image © Elmer van Hest)

AHF↑Inside: Spectacular Spartan for Peru

Look up ‘Spartan’ in a dictionary, and you’ll see the word means a) ‘of or relating to the Greek city of Sparta or its people’, b) ‘rigorously self-disciplined or self-restrained’, or finally c) ‘courageous in the face of pain or danger’. That sounds about right for the Alenia Aermacchi C-27J Spartan, that saw its first delivery to Peru last week. However, the multi-mission, benchmark-setting C-27J is not from an ancient Greek city, it is from modern day Turin in Italy, where a visit to the Alenia Aermacchi production line proves that putting together a tough Spartan is actually a delicate and dedicated task.

To be specific, the birth place of all 65 Spartans built to date, is a large assembly hall in the northwest corner of Turin Caselle airport. “And to be even more specific”, says Francesco Dogliatti, C-27J product coordinator, “major components such as the fuselage, cockpit and rear fuselage are built in Capodichino near Naples, after which they are brought by truck or by boat to Turin, where all comes together. Here, we build the best and most cost effective solution for tactical airlift and other missions.”

The C-27J production line at Turin Caselle airport. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The C-27J production line at Turin Caselle airport. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Order sheet
It’s talk that sounded like music in the ears of Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Rumania, Chad, Morocco, the US, Mexico, Australia and Peru. Slovakia is the latest in the list of customers, confirming an order for two aircraft in October last year. In total, the order sheet for the C-27J Spartans shows 80 entries so far. Among those are aircraft that were purchased by the US Air Force, but eventually see use by the US Coast Guard and United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The flags in the background represent all customers so far. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Quality is key in every stage of the build process. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Flexible
Alenia Aermacchi is confident it will sell more Spartans, with interest drawn from other Latin American countries than Peru. Dogliatti: “The strength of this aircraft is its flexibility. In standard configuration, it can transport up to 60 troops or up to 11,100 kg of payload. In a medevac role, it takes up to 36 stretchers and six attendants.” It offers the capability to fly into places that are unfit for ‘that other’  transport aircraft named after Greek mythology, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. While the Hercules carries more load, the Spartan is certainly more flexible and not Spartan at all in its performance. The Spartan is a known airshow crowd pleaser, with barrel rolls unthinkable for any other aircraft this size. For the large part, its two Rolls Royce AE 2100D2 engines are key, as there’s plenty of power in those.

Kits
A range of roll-on/roll-off mission kits adds to the Spartan’s flexibility, with even a forest fire fighting kit available. Most impressive kit is the one that turns the C-27J into the combat MC-27J Praetorian, complete with a L-3 Wescam MX-15Di Electro-Optical and Infrared Turret mounted under the nose to support gunship, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and search and rescue (SAR) missions. The ATK GAU-23 30mm gun sticking out of the fuselage will convince anyone not to mess with the Praetorian. Tests in the US proved successful in 2014, and Alenia Aermacchi has high hopes as well for selling the MC-27J.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
A company demonstrator outfitted as a MC-27J Praetorian. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The second company demonstrator was in maintenance during Airheadsfly.com’s visit.(Image © Dennis Spronk)

New things
More developments are on the way,  details about which remain a company secret right now. “We’re trying out some new things on our two C-27J demonstrators”, says Dogliatti, who oversees the Spartan program. During Airheadsfly.com’s visit to Turin in February, production was in full swing with C-27Js in various stages of the build process. Alenia Aermacchi is currently producing aircraft for Peru and Australia. The ‘Down Under’ aircraft are first flown to the US, where further modifications and flight training for Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) crews are done.

Engine run of the first RAAF C-27J Spartan A34-001 (Image © Alenia Aermacchi)
Engine run of the first RAAF C-27J Spartan A34-001 (Image © Alenia Aermacchi)

Quality
Alenia Aermacchi focuses on giving these crews a top notch product in every sense. “We strive for daily perfection. One specialist is dedicated every day to quality control, randomly choosing one aircraft on the production line and monitoring just about everything, from the installation of a complete vertical tail to the fitting of the tiniest screw. It’s a very delicate task.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Once the aircraft leaves the production hall, it heads to the south side of Turin Caselle, where extensive testing takes places in the hands of Alenia Aermacchi test pilots and customer personnel. Every single switch and functionality is tested in the Spartan’s NVG-adaptable cockpit, which was purposely designed to show commonality with the C-130 flight deck, to ease conversion training. After these tests, it’s time to fly the Spartan.

When accepting their first of four Spartans on 27 February 2015 in Turin, Peruvian officials said that the aircraft ‘exceeded expectations’. To the Alenia Aermacchi workers, it’s no surprise. The Peruvians then took their brand new aircraft for a long flight over Italy, in preparation for the even longer delivery flight to its new home. The Fuerza Aerea del Perù is welcoming the spectacular Spartan.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A Fuerza Aerea del Perù Spartan. (Image © Alenia Aermacchi)

Image released on 28 November of the construction of the first two C-27J for the Peruvian Air Force, manufactured by Alenia Aermacchi (Image © Oficina de Prensa del Ministerio de Defensa)
Under construction: one of four C-27J Spartans for the Peruvian Air Force. (Image © Oficina de Prensa del Ministerio de Defensa)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Work being done over and under the wing….(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
… and work being done on the nose gear. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
In fact, work is being done all over this brand new Spartan. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Press Play: AHF↑Inside Belgium’s Best

‘Power is not a problem’. The words, spoken in a briefing room at Beauvechain airbase, are met with a grin by the crew of a Belgian Air Component NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH). In an hour or so, they’ll be practicing confined area landings. In a hover between 100ft tall trees, it’s comforting to know that the NH90 is Belgium’s most powerful helo so far. But while the sun shines gloriously on a perfect November day, there’s also some worries.

AHF↑Inside is a series of exclusive insights in the world of aviation,
given to us by the men and women who have made flying their daily life.

Worldwide, the 218-strong NHIndustries NH90 fleet has amassed close to 70,000 flying hours since deliveries began nine or so years ago. Of those, well over 620 have been clocked up by the four Belgian NH90 TTHs, with the oldest – delivered in 2012 – responsible for 314 hours. At Beauvechain, student NH90 pilot Richard Jorissen is about to add another two hours to that, in the company of a cabin operator and instructor pilot Ralph Claussen – who’s not Belgian, but German. During the flight, the crew will land at designated spots in the woods and hilly areas near Namur. It requires a team effort, and also a sharp look out for runaway cows, as told during the briefing.

In total, there are now six qualified Belgian Air Component pilots on the NH90, with Jorissen and five more colleagues on their way. “I have six hours on the NH90 now and expect to be operational in two months”, says Jorissen. “It’s a big transition from the Agusta A-109 I flew before, especially with the addition of a cabin operator as a third crew member. Also, the automated systems on the NH90 take some time to get to know completely.”


Assistance
Helping out are Ralph Claussen and another German instructor pilot. “With the help of the European Defense Agency, European nations flying the NH90 are assisting each other in training. In Germany we have been flying the NH90 for much longer, and I myself have 400 hours on type now. The Belgians are doing really, really well.” The two German instructors will likely head back to their homebase of Bückeburg in Germany by January.

At Beauvechain, the helicopters are operated by 18 Smaldeel (squadron), where they are hoping the reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in March, with Full Operational Capability (FOC) projected for 2016. The NH90s role will be to deliver a company sized force  into the field, a capability the Belgian forces lacked thus far. With armed A-109s serving as escorts, the Belgian Air Component offers a believable package that is also suited for international missions.

20141124_BEAUVECHAIN_NH90TTH_RN05_PREFLIGHT_6
Preparing for a two hour flight at Beauvechain.(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Most of the times, two NH90s are available for flying duties.(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Taxi for take off. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Taxi for take off. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Cuts
However, not all is well. Earlier in November, news of significant military budget cuts reached all ears in Belgium. Tension is being felt at Beauchehain, too. “The NH90 seems to be safe, but there are worries in the A-109 community, despite that helicopter being vital to our concept”, says Pieter Vereycken, who starts NH90-conversion before the end of the year. “A lot is happening now in the world, but nothing is for sure with these budget cuts . We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

One thing that is certain, is that the grey coloured Belgian NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopters (NFH) based at Koksijde will be maintained at Beauvechain, and that cuts will likely effect Koksijde. The based 40 Smaldeel has already been placed under the authority of 1 Wing at Beauvechain. Two NFH versions already operate from Koksijde, with another two to follow in 2015. Belgium then will operate four green TTH and four grey NFH versions, and say good bye to its trusty, well known search-and-rescue Sea Kings.

Glitches
It means extra work for the maintenance folk at Beauvechain, were an old hangar was refurbished for the NH90’s arrival. “With the TTH-version, we manage to have two available for flying most of the time. Any problems are mostly electronics or software related. Quite often, we can resolve it by just powering down the whole system and waiting for it to be reset. These difficulties will likely disappear in the future. Mechanically, they are very sturdy helicopters. A little too sturdy, sometimes. A lot of parts and screws are covered in paint, presumably to prevent rust. Because of the paint, it takes a lot of time to replace parts and repaint them.”

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Change the angle! A different perspective of the NH90 cockpit. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Checking out technical details. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The heavy paint job on the NH90 in this shot. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Intensive
These minor issues are not enough to prevent the Belgian Air Component being a happy NH90 user.  “We are perhaps the most intensive user of the NH90, the Belgian ministry of Defense said earlier in November, during the delivery of the final NH90 TTH at Beauvechain. Vereycken: “It’s well known that other operators are experiencing some difficulties, for example the problem with rust on Dutch helicopters. These issues are probably the result of the multi-national effort that is NH90, and of course the Belgian press inquired about our helicopters. But the truth is, we are simply quite happy with our NH90s.”

On the flightline, student pilot Jorissen and German instructor Claussen nod in unison. “We’re quite comfortable in this helicopter”, they say prior to taking off for their confined area landing training. A few moments later, a powerful green beast lifts off. Those cows better make way.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest (text & motion picture) / Photography by editor Dennis Spronk

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
They’re getting to know the cockpit … (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
… and this is what they see.(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
A briefing for confined area landings easily takes 1.5 hours.(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Start up time! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Festivities surround the Belgian Air Component’s fourth NH90 TTH. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

AHF↑Inside: Maximizing the Gazelle

It’s a sunny Monday morning. The office of Aerotec Group at Valence-Chabeuil airport in southern France awakes after a two week summer holiday. However, in the maintenance hangar dedicated technicians have been working continuously to overhaul four Gazelle helicopters for a small southern European air force. Aerotec Group is dedicated to maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO) and upgrade of Gazelles. Another core activity, and also the origin of this company, is all about Night Vision Goggle (NVG), compatible LED lightings and the optronics of the NVGs itself. Enough reason for Airheadsfly.com to shine a light on this company.

AHF↑Inside is a series of exclusive insights in the world of aviation,
given to us by the men and women who have made flying their daily life.
This time, editor Dennis Spronk hits the road all the way to southern France, and was
warmly welcomed by the Gazelle experts of Aerotec Group
at Valence-Chabeuil airport.


It all began when Paul Rossini, a former flight test engineer at GAMSTAT (the French Army helicopter test unit), with a lot of NVG experience, decided to start Aerotec Group (ATG). After developing NVG compatible cockpit lighting, they developed highly advanced NVG’s themselves. ATG has its own specialized optronics laboratory, and they now make NVG compatible lightings for different types of aircraft, helicopters, armoured vehicles and ships. Many have NATO reference codes, showing the high standard of quality of the ATG products. The latest additions are NVG compatible landing beacons, which already made its operational debut in Afghanistan in the hands of the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT). ATG also developed a night vision capability kit for the French special forces. This mobile kit enables the French Special Forces to change a standard French Air force Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraf  into a NVG capable aircraft for special operations. It only takes two hours for two technicians. After the mission they transfer the C-130 back for normal use.

Armée de Terre? This helicopter wants to be in the air! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Armée de Terre? This helicopter wants to be in the air! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Aerotec Group logo on one of the company's demonstrators (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Aerotec Group logo on one of the company’s demonstrators (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Gazelle overhaul and upgrading
In ATG’s maintenance hangar at the other side of Valence-Chabeuil airport, overhaul and upgrading is done on mostly Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters. Starting with overhauling Alouette 3 helos, in 2007-2008 an agreement was signed with Eurocopter, now known as Airbus Helicopters (Aérospatiale became part of Eurocopter first). Through this agreement, ATG became the only recognized French company for overhaul of this type of helicopter. Combined with their integrated engineering and design department, this gave ATG the opportunity to offer countries a broad range of options to overhaul and upgrade their Gazelle fleet. This also includes complete airframe overhaul, engine inspections and repairs, but also integration of the most advanced equipment such as FLIR camera, glass cockpit and modern weapon systems. Even training of pilot instructors or technicians is done, at ATG or on site.

A former Armée de Terre SA341F, waiting for it's next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A former Armée de Terre SA341F, waiting for it’s next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It's all about tools, to rebuild this Gazelle (Image © Dennis Spronk)
It’s all about tools, to rebuild this Gazelle (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Upgrade
The French contracted ATG to upgrade former ALAT Gazelles to the specifications of foreign military forces. These upgrades will get the maximum out of the helicopter. First customer was the Tunisian air force, who agreed with to purchase five Gazelles. These were completely overhauled and modernized, including test flights before delivery. ATG also provided NVG flight training to the Tunisian air force pilots. Other foreign customers include the air forces of Iraq (six Gazelles), and Niger (three Gazelles). Overhaul of four Gazelle helicopters for a small southern European country, will finish early 2015. During the Airheadsfly.com visit to ATG, some 6 other Gazelle airframes (all former ALAT) were seen in the overhaul facility.

Overview of the AEROTEC Group hangar, on the left the Gazelle for a small Southern European country, on the right the former ALAT Gazelles (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Overview of the Aerotec Group hangar, on the left the Gazelle for a small Southern European country, on the right the former ALAT Gazelles (Image © Dennis Spronk)
One of the former Armée de Terre Gazelles, waiting for it's next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)
One of the former Armée de Terre Gazelles, waiting for its next life (Image © Dennis Spronk)

The overhaul procedure
The Gazelle helicopter will be operational within the ALAT until 2030 at the latest. “It’s an easy helicopter, because it’s an old type”, says Joffray Sophys, Chief of Avionics at the ATG workshop. He continues working with a smile on his face. Joffray has been an avionics engineer with the ALAT for 16 years after which he spent two years at Eurocopter, before moving to ATG six years ago.

“Complete overhaul of a Gazelle normally should take about three to four months”, says Joffray, “but because some spare parts have delays in delivery time, we take eight months”. That’s the reason why ATG decided to stock some spare parts themselves. Joffray explains there are  eight stages when talking about a complete overhaul at ATG:

  • Step 1: Stripping the whole aircraft, and checking every part of it. This takes three to four weeks
  • Step 2: A report has to be made about the status of the aircraft. This will take one week. The report is used to see if the required work fits into the agreement, or whether additional work must be done.
  • Step 3: Fitting the avionics planning into the mechanical planning. This requires good negotiations between the mechanic, who is the project leader, and the avionics specialist.
  • Step 4: Start working
  • Step 5: After work has been completed, every (avionics) parts is checked, piece by piece
  • Step 6: Ground testing with the engine running
  • Step 7: Basic test flight (15 minutes) with only a test pilot on board, for flight safety
  • Step 8: Regular test flights, which also including a mechanic (one to check the rotor blades, one flight to check mechanical parts, one for radio navigation and one auto compass flight)

So, the Aerotec Group has its work clearly cut out. The result – time and time again – is a maximized Gazelle, a Gazelle that will be flying for many more years to come, in up to date configuration and NVG equipped. Or, as they say at Aerotec Group: “C’est magnifique, n’est ce pas?”

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk

Even a good old Gazelle has a lot of wiring, which has to be inspected and checked out (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Even a good old Gazelle has a lot of wiring, which has to be inspected and checked out (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A reliable Astazou IIIC engine, also checked and ready to get back to work (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A reliable Astazou IIIC engine, also checked and ready to get back to work (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Tailbooms in line. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Tailbooms in line. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Chief of Avionics at work (Image © Dennis Spronk)
At work: the chief of avionics of Aerotec Group inspects the bare bones of a Gazelle helicopter. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

AHF↑Inside: Market Garden Parajump 2014

Airheadsfly.com editor Dennis Spronk joined the preparations of the 2014 Market Garden Parajump at Eindhoven Airbase, the Netherlands, on Saturday 20 September 2014.

A historic Douglas C-47 Skytrain (Dakota) and modern-day C-130 Hercules aircraft were taking hundreds of modern day airborne assault troops up for a jump over Ginkel Heath (Ginkelse Heide) near the city of Arnhem, commmemorating the 1944 attempt to capture the strategic bridge over the river Rhine and to liberate the Netherlands from Nazi-Germany.

Ramstein C-130s taxiing at Eindhoven Airbase (Footage © Dennis Spronk)
VIDEO: Ramstein C-130Js taxiing at Eindhoven Airbase (Footage © Dennis Spronk)

The weather was a bit foggy to start with, but conditions improved during the day. Dennis started early in the day feeding us with some quick smartphone camera work (see “the B-roll” at the bottom of this page) he loved to share with you.

Due to the still foggy weather not all aircraft went airborne: a Royal Air Force C-130, a Belgian Air Component C-130 and two German Air Force Transalls let their engines run for a long time without leaving the ground. Later the RAF and BAC Hercs did take-off.

But the US Air Force & Air National Guard plus the Royal Netherlands Air Force did go into the blue yonder for the mass drop over Ginkel Heath in the municipality of Ede – following a first jump by 25 paras from the Skytrain (Dakota) – with 60,000 spectators on the ground at the field. Make sure to read Airheadsfly.com commemorates Market Garden as well.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editors Dennis Spronk and Marcel Burger

Early morning fog is slowly lifting from Eindhoven Airbase, with the platform full of Hercules airlifters (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Early morning fog is slowly lifting from Eindhoven Airbase, with the platform full of Hercules airlifters
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
A C-130H all the way from Kentucky (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A C-130H all the way from Kentucky (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Air and ground crew having fun (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Air and ground crew having fun (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A pair of American C-130Hs and crew (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A pair of American C-130Hs and crew (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Veteran Mario Petruno, 93 years old. Will join the aircrew during the commemorations of Operation Market Garden on 20 September 2014 as co-pilot! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Veteran Mario Petruno, 93 years old. Will join the aircrew during the commemorations of Operation Market Garden on 20 September 2014 as co-pilot! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Veteran Mario Petruno, 93 years old. Will join the aircrew during the commemorations of Operation Market Garden on 20 September 2014 as co-pilot! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Veteran Mario Petruno, 93 years old. Will join the aircrew during the commemorations of Operation Market Garden on 20 September 2014 as co-pilot! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Ready to go? (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Ready to go? (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Airborne troops boarding these C-130J-30s from the 37th Airlift Squadron from Ramstein Airbase (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Airborne troops boarding these C-130J-30s from the 37th Airlift Squadron from Ramstein Airbase
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
First load of paras getting airborne on board this historic Douglas C-47A Skytrain, which is mainly known under its civilian name DC-3 Dakota (Image © Dennis Spronk)
First load of paras getting airborne on board this historic Douglas C-47A Skytrain, which is mainly known under its civilian name DC-3 Dakota (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Normally based at Savannah IAP, this Georgia Air Guard C-130H Hercules of the 158th Airlift Squadron is making its way to the runway (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Normally based at Savannah IAP, this Georgia Air Guard C-130H Hercules of the 158th Airlift Squadron is making its way to the runway (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Kentucky Air Guard on the move (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Kentucky Air Guard on the move (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hercules Elephant walk at Eindhoven (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hercules Elephant walk at Eindhoven (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And airborne (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And airborne (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Smartphone Reel (the B-roll)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

Veteran Mario Petruno, 93 years old. Will join the aircrew during the commemorations of Operation Market Garden on 20 September 2014 as co-pilot! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Veteran Mario Petruno, 93 years old. Will join the aircrew during the commemorations of Operation Market Garden on 20 September 2014 as co-pilot! (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Waiting for the fog to clear over the drop zone, some of the troops deployed to Eindhoven kill time with a relax throw-and-catch-rugby game. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Waiting for the fog to clear over the drop zone, some of the troops deployed to Eindhoven kill time with a relax throw-and-catch-rugby game. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

1323 hrs. Airborne troops board the waiting Hercules aircraft (Image © Dennis Spronk)
1323 hrs. Airborne troops board the waiting Hercules aircraft (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H G-273 taxiing to the runway (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H G-273 taxiing to the runway (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hercules airlifters rolling to the runway at Eindhoven Airbase. Despite still somewhat foggy weather the mission seems to be a go! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
US Air Force RS-coded Hercules airlifters rolling to the runway at Eindhoven Airbase. Despite still somewhat foggy weather the mission seems to be a go! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)