Category Archives: Helicopters

Belgium Sea King still rules the waves

Forty years old the Westland Sea King Mk 48 flown by the Belgian Air Component of its armed forces is still very much ruling the waves when it comes down to search and rescue operations.

The already delivered four new NH90 helicopters are not managing well, meaning that the dinosaur Sea Kings are somewhat strange still the most reliable rotary wing for whoever gets lost at sea in front of the Belgian coast – where one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world passes through the English Channel and North Sea.

The Ministry of Defence in Brussels confirmed it has a tremendous amount of difficulties in providing the nation with an adequate air rescue at sea. The Grey Cayman, as the Belgians have nicknamed their new navy NH90s, has too many issues during its operations – including a radar that sometimes doesn’t work.

One of three Sea Kings that will have to soldier on in Belgian SAR service 2019 at least. (Image © Marcel Burger)
One of three Sea Kings that will have to soldier on in Belgian SAR service 2019 at least. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Neighbours help out

The Sea Kings – suffering from their age – already have to soldier on till 2019, four years later than planned. NHIndustries/Airbus needs at least one and a half years more to update and repair all four NH90s delivered for navy tasks – taking about 6 months per aircraft at a time. According to a ministry spokesperson Belgium will ask its European neighbours – the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom – to help out and back up the Sea King. It may still rule the waves, but increased maintenance and lack of spare parts will likely put the Sea King on the ground at times as well, meaning there will be no single dedicated SAR helicopter on Belgian soil available for helping out stranded sea man, unfortunate swimmers and downed pilots.

Crown jewel

Envisaging the coming new kid on the block, Belgium already retired its first Sea King (RS-01) on almost a decade ago, in the 33rd year of its service life. It left the 40 Squadron at homebase Koksijde on 17 December 2008 and has been a crown jewel of the Royal Museum of Army and War History of the nation ever since. Some black pages in its operational history: the crew had to ditch it into the North Sea in April 1981 due to engine problems and in 2005 it was suffering from severe hydraulic problems.

RS-01 was one of five Sea Kings delivered to the Belgian Air Component, sporting a for European waters rather rare ochre yellow and green camo scheme as the machines were originally built by British Westland for the Egyptian armed forces, but that delivery was cancelled in 1975. The Belgian Armed Forces started operations with the Sea King on 1 April 1976. During the years modernisations were implemented to keep the aircraft aloft. They included a protection plate for the engine intake, a FLIR camera and a new all-weather radar.

The camo scheme of the Belgian Sea King is a rare sight in European skies. (Image © Marcel Burger)
The camo scheme of the Belgian Sea King is a rare sight in European skies. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Sixth Sea King

The second Sea King (RS-03) was taken out of service in August 2013, leaving only three machines available. However, even with a sixth Sea King bought in the UK to provide the remaining machines with spare parts, Brussels has said it will be very very complicated to keep the SAR going without the support if its NATO partner nations.

Problems with the NH90 are also bad news for the effectiveness of the Belgian Navy’s frigates. The Navy NH90s were supposed to increase their fighting capabilities, a task never done by the Sea Kings, but the MoD now says the first NH90s are now likely to operate from the combat vessels in 2025 at the earliest.

For those who love the Sea King in its Belgian special colour scheme, there is at least another year or two left to enjoy them above North Sea waves and in European skies.

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Deck landings: getting your adrenaline up

Ok, so maybe today doesn’t offer the most challenging weather for deck landings in an NH90 helicopter. But when you’re in that same NH90 and you’re facing a wind and rain swept deck in high seas, it will get you adrenaline running and you’ll be thankful for every last bit of training you’ve had. And so, the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC) of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) regularly heads out to sea for deck landings aboard Dutch navy vessels. Even on a perfectly calm day such as this one.

Related reading: Dutch NH90 – ready to run. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Location: the North Sea, aboard the Royal Netherlands Navy’s 108 meter long Ocean-going Patrol Vessel (OPV) Zr. Ms. Groningen. Job at hand: landing an eleven tonnes NH90 helicopter on the 16 by 30 meter landing deck over the stern of the ship. Inbound for doing exactly that is Neptune 11, an NH90  from De Kooy Air Station near Den Helder, which is also the Royal Netherlands Navy’s home port.

Approach

As Neptune 11 approaches the ship, it becomes clear that these deck landings provide training to more than just the helicopter crew. It’s the flight deck crew who also are being put to work to gain experience in getting the helicopter down on the deck safely, which never is a routine task given ever changing winds and waves.

Suddenly, things are not so calm anymore. The flight deck becomes a flurry of noise, wind and rotor blades going around a high speed. The one braving the elements in particular is the flight deck officer, who has to withstand the gale-force downwash from the NH90’s main rotor. Using forceful hand signals and clear commands over the radio, the flight deck officer direct Neptune towards the desired landing spot.

(Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Vincent Kok)

Landing

Taking the flight deck officer’s directions and using other visual clues, the NH90 pilot seemingly without too much effort lands his helicopter aboard Zr. Ms Groningen and is immediately secured in place with chains. The NH90 is a hugely automated helo, but a landing like this mostly depends on pilot skills and smooth interaction between the helo’s crew and the folks on the flight deck.

(Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Take off

The helo is not here to stay, however. Shortly after landing and after another bit of hand signalling, the NH90 takes off while creating more hurricane-force winds for the deck crew to battle with. Throughout the rest of the day, this scene will be repeated many times as the cycle of approaching, landing and taking off continues.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Anti-submarine

The NH90 has been in Dutch service for seven years now, first in what was called a Meaningful Operational Capability since upon delivery not all helicopter were fully equipped for all task. In their Final Radar Configuration, the helicopters are also capable of anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The first ASW-qualified Dutch crew recently took part in large scale exercise Joint Warrior. in which the crew successfully managed to find and track a Norwegian submarine.

And yes, during an exercise in the waters around Scotland, you are certainly glad that you’ve working on deck landings, adds NH90 pilot Tim. “As soon as you see the deck rolling, and you see the waves and the wind, that will certainly get your adrenaline up. You’ll be glad to know that you are properly trained and perfectly capable of landing that eleven tonnes helicopter on that ship.”

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming & editing by Vincent Kok – www.imagingthelight.com

(Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Vincent Kok)

 

Additional Caracals for Thailand

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has ordered two additional H225M Caracal multirole utility helicopters as part of the continuation of its fleet strengthening programme agreement launched in 2012. Delivery of the two additional choppers is scheduled for 2019.

These nwely ordered helicopters will join an existing fleet of four identical helicopters to perform similar missions. Two H225Ms that were booked in 2014 will also be delivered by the end of this year. Upon signing this latest contract, the RTAF may also consider to further expand its fleet of H225Ms.

The RTAF’s helicopters are specially equipped with fast roping, cargo sling, search light and electro-optical systems (EOS) to perform combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions, search and rescue (SAR) flights, troop transport operations and other tasks.

New Airbus Helicopters SAR capability for Spain

In a ceremony at the Airbus Helicopters plant in Albacete, the Spanish Air Force on Monday 3 October took delivery of its first H215 helicopter with an extensive mission capability that includes Search and Rescue (SAR). The new helicopter will enter into service immediately and be used to offer a SAR capability to the Canary Island.

The aircraft carried out final test flights at the Albacete plant late September, where it was painted and fitted with specific mission systems enhancing its Search and Rescue (SAR) and Personnel Recovery/CSAR missions. The Air Force’s H215 boasts additional fuel tanks that extend its range up to 560 kilometers, an emergency buoyancy system, a high-frequency radio, a hoist, and a cockpit compatible with night vision goggles, among other equipment.

The Spanish Air Force operates several helicopters belonging to the Super Puma family, in both civil and military versions.  A member of the Super Puma family, the H215 is a twin-engine, heavy helicopter. Its cockpit is equipped with multi-function digital screens and an advanced 4-axis autopilot which provides flight envelope protection and stability, even the harshest operating conditions.

 

First Panther helicopter for Mexican Navy

The Mexican Navy on Wednesday 28 September took delivery of the first of ten AS565 MBe Panther helicopters purchased in 2014, becoming the first customer in the world to receive the new version of this multi-role, medium-class military rotorcraft. The Navy will receive three other units before the end of the year and the remaining six by 2018.

The helicopters will be operated by the Naval Aviation in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Pacific coast, where they will perform a range of missions including Search and Rescue (SAR), disaster relief transportation and evacuation, drug enforcement and coastal protection.  The contract also includes training of pilots and technicians to provide the Navy with full autonomy in managing its fleet and optimizing the availability of helicopters

New & proven
The AS565 MBe combines new and proven technologies, according to Airbus Helicopters. It is equipped with two Safran Arriel 2N engines, which enhance its performance in hot & high conditions and enable it to achieve a top speed of 278 km/h and a range of 780 kilometers. It also boasts a new main gearbox, a latest-generation tail rotor and a 4-axis autopilot that reduces crew workload and makes the most demanding missions, such as SAR, easier to perform.

“The Mexican Navy’s first Panther helicopters came into service ten years ago,” said Vice Admiral Jose Maria García Macedo. “Since then they have been our most loyal ally when it comes to saving lives, and it gives us great pleasure to expand our fleet with the more modern version of the same aircraft.”

Mexican Naval Aviation’s AS565 MBe Panthers are able to perform landings on moving ships 24 hours a day, and are thus able to operate right across Mexico’s territorial waters. Their equipment suite includes a main- and tail-rotor blade folding system, a deck-lock harpoon and an emergency flotation system.