Tag Archives: A310

Press Play | Looking for more tankers in European skies

Where’s a gas station when you need it? That’s exactly what’s going in the minds of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10 crew as they look for the French C-135 Stratotanker that should be flying somewhere ahead of them. Seconds later, they find the French aircraft and move in closer. It’s an obvious metaphor for closing the infamous European tanker gap. The solution comes in two shapes: the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Airbus A400M.

Over the North Sea and to the crew of the KDC-10, that’s all distant music. As participants in the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, they have just finished air-to-air refuelling (AAR) twelve F-16s that take part in action packed exercise Frisian Flag 2016. Somewhere ahead and beneath them, the French KC-135 also just finished refuelling fighter jets, as did the German Airbus A310 that’s also nearby.

Goal

That’s three air-to-air refuellers in the same patch of sky, a sight not often seen as tanker aircraft are usually hard to find in Europe. The overall goal of EART is to improve flexability, efficiency and effectiveness of the combined tanker force of all zeven nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Italy) that handed command over their assets over to the European Air Transport Command (EATC). From Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands,  EATC commands  19 tanker aircraft of various types from all seven nations. That number equals 65 percent of all AAR platforms available in Europe.

Airbus A400M

Compared to the hundreds of air refuelling aircraft available to the US, the European numbers fall far short, hence the ‘tanker gap’. However, that gap may soon be a thing of the past, given the increasing number of Airbus A400M available to France and Germany, plus Spain and Belgium in the near future. By 2025, EATC should have 80 or so A400Ms at its disposal, with roughly 40 air refuelling kits available for those aircraft. The new Airbus aircraft has been involved in AAR tests.

(Image © Vincent Kok)
Two F-16s taking part in Frisian Flag 2016 join up prior to refuelling. (Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 is about to move into position behind the KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Participants of the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) on the tarmac at Eindhoven airbase. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

MRTT

Moreover, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Poland are on course to jointly buy and operate the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). During EART, it emerged that a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed during the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, with a contract for three or four aircraft to be signed that same month during the Farnborough Airshow.

The shared pool should grow to eight Airbus A330 MRTTs eventually. Belgium, Germany and Spain have already expressed interest in particpating in the program as well.

Harmonize

“EATC has been asked to harmonize A400M and A330 MRTT operations in the future”, says Colonel Jurgen van der Biezen, a RNLAF-delegate to the joint European command in Eindhoven. “What we are looking for, is an air-to-air refuelling hub that is very similar in operation to the European Heavy Airlift Wing operating from Hungary.”

Introducing the A400M and A330 MRTT as tankers increases EATC’s refuelling fleet to 69 assets, equal to 82 percent of all similar capacity in Europe. It’s a signifant increase compared to today’s situation, an increase that enables European nations to support their own – plus each other’s – operations.

It’s an idea that gets the thumbs up from all within EATC, just like the thumbs up shown by the crew of a Dutch KDC-10 tanker over the North Sea. They successfully performed some formation flying with the other two tankers in the same patch of sky. After leaving the formation, they are on their own again. But with a different feeling this time. There are others out there.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image: On the look out for tankers over the North Sea. (Image © Vincent Kok)

A RNLAF F-16 pilot gives the thumbs up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A RNLAF F-16 pilot gives the thumbs up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
More customers for the Dutch KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
More customers for the Dutch KDC-10. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 sneaks up on the KDC-10 from behind. (Image © Vincent Kok)
A Polish F-16 sneaks up on the KDC-10 from behind. (Image © Vincent Kok)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French C-135 Stratotanker beging inspected prior to its next flight. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Sanctions lifted: Iran buys 114 Airbus jets

In a move that was doing the rounds immediately after international sanctions against Iran were lifted recently, the country on Sunday 24 January confirmed it is buying 114 Airbus airliners to replace its current, dangerously tired fleet of commercial aircraft. The Airbus jets will be used buy Iran Air.

The deal will be signed on Wednesday during a visit to Paris by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian government confirmed.

Iran is looking for A320s and A340s, which is remarkably and a challenge by itself as the A340 is out of production. Teheran said the first aircraft are to be delivered in months, which could indicate the A340s are actually used aircraft. Iran states it is also looking at the A380 for long routes.

Fleet & spare parts

Right now, Iran Air used older A300, A310 and A320 aircraft, along with several Boeing 747-200s and a dozen or so Fokker 100s. Commercial aviation in Iran over the last two decades was known to be a dangerous undertaking due to lack of spare parts. Several deadly crashes have plagued the country. The order for new aircraft is therefore no surprise.

Iran is expected to need several hundred more airplanes to get its commercial fleet into shape.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: Airbus A320s are mainly what Iran is looking for. (Image © Airbus)

German Tornado jets, helicopters and tanker join the fight against ISIS

UPDATE 4 December | German Air Force Panavia Tornado tactical reconnaissance aircraft, an Airbus tanker and helicopters are almost certainly joining the fight against the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, as we announced earlier.

Update | German parliament approved the military mission on Friday 4 December, just two days after British parliament gave the green light for UK actions over Syria.

Likely to be okayed by the Reichstag – the German parliament – the Torando jets will possibly be operating from either Cyprus (RAF Akrotori), Turkey (Incirlik) or Jordan. The idea to sent them comes from the German government and is a direct reaction to the terror attacks in Paris a few weeks ago. Those attacks killed at least 130 people and were afterwards claimed by the so-called ISIS / ISIL / Daesh organisation which holds large areas of Syria and Iraq.

Westland Lynx or NH90 helicopters

Berlin’s plan also comprises a frigate of the German Navy to provide additional cover for the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, operating in the Eastern Mediterranean with French Navy Rafale jets targeting ISIS. The German combat vessel will likely have up to two Westland Lynx or NH90 helicopters on board.

Airbus A310 MRTT

Apart from the Marine helicopters and the Luftwaffe Tornadoes, the German Air Force will likely contribute with an Airbus A310 MRTT tanker/transport aircraft. How many combat jets will be sent is not announced yet, but the total number of personnel involved is preliminary set at 1,200, including 200 on board the frigate.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Luftwaffe Panavia Tornado ECR (Image © Elmer van Hest)

A German Air Force A310 MRTT tanker/transport aircraft (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A German Air Force A310 MRTT tanker/transport aircraft (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Flying the Frisian Flag

Large scale military flying exercise Frisian Flag 2015 is currently in full swing at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands and Airheadsfly.com went access all areas on Tuesday 14 April. Close to 60 fighter aircraft from six different nations take part in Frisian Flag, which coincides with the European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training 2015 (EART 2015) at Eindhoven airbase, also in Netherlands.

During Frisian Flag, military jets fly in complex scenarios twice a day. The aim is to broaden the experience of fighter pilots in developing, planning and executing offensive and defensive tactics. Involved in the current Frisian Flag are F-16s from the Dutch and Polish air forces, F-18 Hornets from both Finland and Spain, Eurofighter Typhoons from Germany, plus US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles. Lots more about those Eagles is here.

Jet noise is what Leeuwarden is about these days. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Jet noise is what Leeuwarden is about these days. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, even more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, even more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Robust
Frisian Flag was first held following joint allied operations over the Balkan in the early nineties. “We train crews in missions against robust airborne and ground threats, including Roland and German SA-6 ground-to-air defence systems, inflatable targets and smokey SAMs, which simulate missiles being launched at aircraft. It provides the best training you can get,” says Dutch F-16 pilot Remco, a pilot of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) 322 TACTES Squadron with 1,000 hours on the F-16 under his belt. Since 323 Squadron left for the US to learn to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II late last year, 322 Squadron has taken over the responsibility for organizing Frisian Flag.


(Footage © Elmer van Hest)
Leadership
Remco was mission commander on the first missions of this year’s exercise. “Frisian Flag is all about leadership and it challenges you. You have to know the capabilities of each participating asset and deploy them as best as you can. Planning of each mission takes about six hours, and we only finish after landing during a mass debrief. Those debriefs get quite heated at times about which tactics worked and which didn’t. But the proof is always there on the screens. That’s lessons learned in the end.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Spanish F-18 Hornets are newcomers to Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not so much for Polish F-16s. They are regulars. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not so much for Polish F-16s. They are regulars. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Necessity
Frisian Flag has been a familiar name among European air combat exercises for years and past editions has drew countless air crews to Leeuwarden. The airbase staff puts a lot of effort in explaining the necessity of Frisian Flag to the population of Leeuwarden. The airbase is located close to the town and noise complaints are a fact of life, with roughly 40 aircraft taking off and landing twice every day for two weeks.

Tankers
The real playground for Frisian Flag is however not Leeuwarden, but a 180nm by 322nm reserved airspace over the North Sea which extends towards Northern Germany in the East. Flying time to the area from Leeuwarden is just three minutes. However,  the use of tanker aircraft makes for more efficient missions. Frisian Flag is therefore combined with European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training 2015 (EART 2015), run by European Air Transport Command (EATC) at Eindhoven airbase. Tanker aircraft supporting the Frisian Flag participants are a Dutch KDC-10, French KC-135 Stratotanker, German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 tanker aircraft. More on EART 2015 next week here at Airheadsfly.com.

20150414_EHLW_USAF_F15S_TAXYING_DSC_0216
The Air National Guard F-15s make good use of thir stay at Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Close to terra firma and his fellow species, but not yet. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A German Typhoon finds runway 23. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Platform
Frisian Flag, along with similar exercises such as Red Flag and Maple Flag, serves as a constant platform for exchanging experience and ideas. The arrival of the F-35 at Leeuwarden in 2019 – and the new tactics involved with the new 5th generation fighter – means Frisian Flag will see changes in the future. “We are working on that,” says Remco. Current experiences over Iraq and earlier scenarios over Afghanistan and Libya are being incorporated into the exercise.

Both Frisian Flag and EART run until 24 April. The Air National Guard F-15s will stay at Leeuwarden for an extra week and will eventually head to Graf Ignatievo Airbase in Bulgaria as part of US operation Atlantic Resolve.

See here for a report on ↑ Last year’s Frisian Flag.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A Dutch Viper pilot in his office. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Dutch Viper pilot in his office. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Spanish Hornet pilot looks after his wingman… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
… while a US pilot checks his instruments. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish F-18 pilot concentrates in his cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish F-18 pilot concentrates in his cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this German pilot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this German pilot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This F-15C is the most colourful os the twelve US Eagles present. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This F-15C is the most colourful of the twelve US Eagles present. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
No less than 10 German Typhoons headed for Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burning rubber. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burning rubber. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

The real EART hour is approaching

Forget switching off some lights, the real EART hour is approaching! For the second year in a row several European nations are scrambling their military in-flight refuelling assets to show what the real deal of modern combat is about: keeping fighter jets in the air with the flying gas stations.

“As the air operations of Unified Protector over Libya in 2011 showed, we need to train together in advance for a smooth multinational operation,” the PR staff of the European Air Transport Command (EATC) writes in a statement on why the European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training (EART) is needed. “Moreover, the United States Forces are planning to deploy major parts of their air-to-air refuelling fleet out of Europe while only a few of the European Union member states operate tanker aircraft.”

Fleet
Those EU nations are France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, but not all have their aircraft assigned to the joined pool. In contrary to the US forces, the tanker assets of the EU nations are less numerous and less standardised. While the US armed forces operates a massive fleet of 414 Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (USAF), 59 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) KC-10 Extender (USAF) and 72 KC-130T/J Hercules aircraft (US Marines Corps), European nations working together in the EATC can assign 26 tankers max.

Missions
Some of those European tanker aircraft will see action in the skies over the Netherlands, Denmark, Northern Germany and the North Sea North Sea from 13 April to 24 April 2015 during EART 2015. The tanker ops will come quite handy to the participants of NATO and the military alliance’s Partnership for Peace Air Forces while their combat aircraft are conducting offensive and defensive missions at the same time from Leeuwarden Airbase in the Netherlands during the large scale exercise Frisian Flag 2015.

An Italian Air Force KC-767 during a mission over Iceland (Image © Cpt. Jiri Cermak / Czech Air Force)
An Italian Air Force KC-767 during a mission over Iceland (Image © Cpt. Jiri Cermak / Czech Air Force)
An E-3 in 'pre-contact' position. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
RELATED FEATURE:
Air-to-air refuelling on a NATO E-3

EART 2015
EART 2015 is being run from Eindhoven Airbase further south, home to the transport and tanker pool managed by the European Air Transport Command. The French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) will contribute one or more of its 14 Boeing C-135F/FR Stratotankers. The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) sends one or more of its four Airbus A310 MRTTs, while Italy (Aeronautica Militare) supplies one or more of its four Boeing KC-767A aircraft. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) will have at least one of its two McDonnell Douglas KDC-10s available. The Swedish TP 84 (KC-130) Hercules and the Royal Air Force’s Voyager (Airbus A330 MRTT) fleet are not assigned to the EATC. Spain has chosen not to participate with its two Boeing 707/KC-707s.

“The general purpose of the training is to create a realistic training environment to exchange information and practice among tanker and jet crews, as well as to enable certification processes between tanker and receiver aircraft,” the EATC’s PR staff writes.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A RNLAF KDC-10 (Image © Koninklijke Luchtmacht)

A Boeing C135R of the French Air Force after its first landing at the revamped Niamey airfield in Niger on 31 December 2014 (Image © Ministère de la Défense)
A Boeing C135R of the French Air Force after its first landing at the revamped Niamey airfield in Niger on 31 December 2014 (Image © Ministère de la Défense)