Tag Archives: Aérospatiale

All Super Pumas grounded in Norway, limits in UK

Despite recommendations of manufacturer Airbus Helicopters not to keep the fleet on the ground, the authorities in Norway have prohibited any flights with EC225LP and AS332L2 Super Puma helicopters just before the weekend.

The move comes after initial findings of the investigation of the crash of a CHC Helikopter Service Super Puma on 29 April. The chopper – flying for Statoil’s offshore activities – was on route from Gullfaks B in the North Sea to Bergen Airport in Flesland, Norway. Just when it reached land the main rotor separated from the chopper, with all 13 on board killed when the rest of the aircraft plummeted to a small peninsula.

Also the United Kingdom has limited the flight ops with the Super Puma. Passenger traffic is not allowed, but search and rescue activities are with both the EC225LP and the AS332LP.

When it comes to offshore activities in the North Sea, the Sikorsky S-92 is now the only main workhorse left in action. But since the oil crisis makes for less activities, Norwegian authorities think the business will be fine.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com senior contributor Marcel Burger
An Eurocopter EC 225 Super Puma Mark II on a North Sea platform close to Bergen, Norway, on September 27, 2008. (Image Nicolas Gouhier/Abacapress.com © Eurocopter)

10,000 hours for modernized UK Pumas

The Royal Air Force’s fleet of modernized Puma helicopters reached the 10,000 flight hour mark recently. Under the direction of the Puma Life Extension Programme, a landmark in fleet renewal programs, the helicopters were upgraded to new-generation standards and are now operating in the UK and on overseas deployments.

In 2008, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) was faced with a perfect storm: a financial crisis rocked the world just when budget constraints and the high operational tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan were placing a heavy toll on the U.K.’s military rotary wing fleet. At the same time, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) aging AS330 Puma helicopters were set to go out of service. With few alternatives to replace them, retiring the Puma fleet put the nation’s rotary wing capability into a vulnerable position.

Puma upgrade

Airbus Helicopters approached the British with a proposal for a Puma upgrade that would cost significantly less than investing in a new fleet and which could be delivered in less time: the Puma Life Extension Programme (LEP). This proposal involved carrying out a major retrofit of the RAF’s Puma AS330 BA helicopters that would equip the aircraft with modern 21st Century capabilities. “The British MoD was one of the first defence organisations to consider the significant upgrade of older aircraft rather than buying new,” says Ian Morris, Head of Defence for Airbus Helicopters U.K. “In terms of providing a cost effective solution, their decision, which had many detractors, could be described as visionary.”

Airbus Helicopters Romania

Out of a total of 24 helicopters, an initial four were sent to Airbus Helicopters’ headquarters in Marignane, France to aid in the design, early upgrade and flight-testing of a prototype. The remaining 20 Pumas were sent to Airbus Helicopters Romania and upgraded according to the French design specifications. “A crucial aspect of this program was that Romania had both built and maintained more AS330s than anyone else in the world,” says Simon Heath, program manager for the Puma LEP. “

The helicopters then returned to Airbus Helicopters U.K. for final completion and installation of U.K. specific avionics. The first deliveries were made to the RAF in 2012; all 24 are now in the Air Force’s hands.

Fight the aircraft

The advantages over the older model are myriad. “When we stripped all the wiring out and put in modern avionics, we saved about 250 kilograms. We replaced that with additional fuel carrying capacity,” says Heath. A fifth fuel tank was coupled with a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption, thanks to two new Makila 1A1 engines, leading to a considerably increased operating range and nearly double the payload. The more powerful engines mean the Puma has an increased maximum all-up mass, offering more disposable mass, which can be delivered in the most demanding of environmental conditions for use in either fuel or troops. Safety is also significantly enhanced with advanced avionics, and the latest 4 axis digital autopilot, which allows for ‘carefree handling’ to free up the pilot’s capacity to ‘fight the aircraft’ more effectively. The on-board systems are effective in allowing operations to continue safely in limited visibility conditions such as ‘brown outs’ during desert landings.

Operation Toral

In a relatively short time frame, the Puma 2s began operations, thanks in large part to the partnership between the MoD, the RAF and Airbus Helicopters. Working in close cooperation to cover all operational requirements, the manufacturer was instrumental in helping the Ministry achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the Puma 2 fleet in February 2015. Together with Airbus Helicopters Romania and Vector Aerospace, a team working at RAF Benson completed modifications and maintenance. Three weeks later, ahead of schedule and to cost, the Puma 2s were deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral, NATO’s training and support mission.

It quickly became the backbone of the UK’s Afghan operations; to date, shortly after achieving Full Operating Capability in January 2016, the RAF now has flown over 10,000 flight hours in the upgraded Pumas. “The abiding comment you get about the Puma 2 from the crews is that it’s ‘awesome’,” says Heath.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A RAF Puma HC1 at Royal International Air Tattoo 2009 (Image (PD) Adrian Pingstone)

A royal goodbye for ancient Alouettes

A farewell fitting to royalty, that was what happened at Gilze Rijen airbase in the Netherlands on Tuesday 15 December, as the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) said goodbye to its final four Alouette helicopters. Never the most exciting piece of aviation kit, they in fact proved very reliable in over 51 years of RNLAF service. Good enough also for the Dutch royal family.

A flight of two Alouettes, known for their pristine blue paint scheme and characteristic engine sound, saluted those present at Gilze Rijen airbase, home to most of the RNLAF helicopter fleet. Four Alouettes remained in service here for years, serving as flying taxis for the Dutch royal family or as a liaison capability for Dutch forces.

These four were the last of 77 French-designed Alouette IIIs that served in the low lands, supporting ground forces in an airborne observation role and performing search and rescue duties. “My first and eldest love”, says former Alouette- and now KLM-pilot Willem Boiten. “Perfectly suited for its observation role because of all the glass surrounding the cabin, which could seat seven.”

Alouette 3 A-301, one of the 2 doing the farewell fly by, is being towed out of the hangar (Image © Dennis Spronk)
An Alouette is towed out of the hangar (Image © Dennis Spronk)
While this Alouette 3 hovers towards the runway of Gilze-Rijen air base, for one of its final operational missions, a AH-64D Apache occupies the runway for some training (Image © Dennis Spronk)
While this Alouette hovers towards the runway of Gilze-Rijen air base, for one of its final operational missions, a AH-64D Apache occupies the runway for some training (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Volkswagen Beetle

It was, of course, as simple as a design should be. Like a Volkswagen Beetle. “Not much avionics in there, attitude and speed indicator, altimeter and a compass and that was about it. Flying was a basic, hands on job and navigation I did using the map on my lap. Max speed was 113 knots, which isn’t a lot but it is quite a lot when flying at 20 ft over terrain, hugging the ground. You were really flying in that thing, shaking all around the place. If the shaking got too bad, maintenance would adjust the rotor blades. The small diameter of those meant we could land just about anywhere. Some of my best flights were Search and Rescue (SAR) flights, either in a storm over some ship in the North Sea or airlifting wounded to a hospital.”

2 of the last 4 operational Alouettes 3 helicopters caught in one picture, a sight which will soon be past (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Two of the last four operational Alouette III helicopters caught in one picture, a sight which will soon be past (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Traditionally, after a final operational sortie, the last 2 Alouette 3s are being welcomed by two fire trucks spraying water over them (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Traditionally, after a final operational sortie, the last Alouette IIIs are  welcomed by two fire trucks spraying water over them (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Close up of the crew, after completing their final operational sortie (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Close up of the crew, after completing their final sortie (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Cambodia

Above all, the Alouette scored big on reliability. “It never failed me, even when I was sent to Cambodia on a peace keeping mission. The Alouette was chosen over the Westland Lynx operated by the Dutch navy. I remember those flights in Cambodia very well.” Other foreign missions sent Dutch Alouettes on their way to Tunisia in the early seventies and Turkey and Iraq in the early nineties.


Want more Alouettes?

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
See our Austrian Alouette feature


Greenhouse

A nickname the Alouette never really earned, or maybe it was ‘greenhouse’. Willem: “It could get very hot in that cockpit, but then we ‘d open or remove the large sliding doors on the sides. In winter weather, gloves and a warm jacket were required, as the heating just wasn’t enough. And in rain, my right shoulder would get wet as the door never really wanted to close.

What came to a close though, was 51 years and roughly 375,000 flying hours of continued service – in the Netherlands, that it. The four surviving choppers are to be sold. The Alouette remains in military and civil service in countries around the globe and will probably do so for years to come.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest, video shot and edited by Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image (top): A royal but dangerous Alouette. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

These guys were world famous – and notorious – among airshow crowds. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone’. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
These guys were world famous – and notorious – among airshow crowds. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone’. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Alouette 3 helicopters which flew, were refuelled, just in case .... (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Refueling one last time. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
The simpel analogue, but effective instruments panel of the Alouette 3 helicopter can be seen on this picture(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The simpel analogue, but effective instruments panel of the Alouette helicopter. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Seen here in 1992 is this SAR Alouette III. Back then, it was THEIR retirement that was imminent. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Seen here in 1992 is this SAR Alouette III. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Alouette 3 is a 7-seater, 3 in the front and 4 in the back. All seats provide a scenic view! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Like new after 51 years. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This angle shows the basic design of the Alouette 3 helicopter (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This angle shows the basic design of the Alouette III helicopter (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And then it's almost over for this Alouette 3, as it is being towed back to its hangar, after flying its final operational mission (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And then it’s almost over for this Alouette, as it is being towed back to its hangar after flying its final operational mission (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Saved from the axe: Cougar helicopter in the Netherlands

Under economic pressure the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) was saying goodbye to the Cougar helicopter, but the vital function of the tactical transport helicopter saved from the axe was shown clearly this week during an airlanding exercise near Arnhem, the Netherlands.

The military training grounds of Deelen and the Ede Heath saw a lot of action in a normally quiet Autumn. A total of six RNLAF choppers were flying back and forth with military equipment, from pallets to vehicles. The double rotor choppers – aka Boeing CH-47 Chinooks – are not easy to miss, but the quieter and real stars of the show were the AS532U2 Cougars.

Providing an airhead with necessary military equipment in the last week of November 2015. Taken on the training grounds near Arnhem (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
Providing an airhead with necessary military equipment in the last week of November 2015. Taken on the training grounds near Arnhem (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

SFOR in Bosnia

Seventeen of these machines won over the legendary Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk when the Royal Netherlands Army was looking for a proper rotary airlift in the 1990s. Designed by Aérospatiale, built by its successor Eurocopter and currently named Airbus Helicopters, the French built machines arrived in 1996 and 1997. Their service record has not been without trouble. The machines were notorious for leaking fuel and the lack of de-icing equipment did hamper operations a bit while 5 machines operated with the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia in 2001, the RNLAF Cougars’ first operational deployment.

Neither fond of heat the Cougars also had some issues while flying from Tallil Airbase in Iraq in 2004. Operation in 2006 to 2010 as part of the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces Task Force Uruzgan in Afghanistan were limited by Cougars not only having to combat heat but also high altitude operations, flying from inside the Uruzgan province and Kandahar.

The RNLAF Cougar in its original camouflage livery (Image © Marcel Burger)
The RNLAF Cougar in its original camouflage livery (Image © Marcel Burger)

Bambibucket

But the choppers were still able to perform important tasks in support of the Royal Netherlands Army, as Search-and-Rescue or medevac asset, as shipborne troop transport helicopter for the amphibian forces of the Marine Corps of the Royal Netherlands Navy embarked on landing transport docks, and as fire fighter with the so-called bambibucket both at home and abroad.

Demonstrating the use of the bambi-bucket during a wildfire near the city of Assen in the Netherlands in 2011 (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
Demonstrating the use of the bambi-bucket during a wildfire near the city of Assen in the Netherlands in 2011 (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

Flying up to 500 miles (800 km) – further with additional fuel tanks – the Cougar operates normally with a crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, loadmaster and door gunner on a 7.62 mm machine gun. The cargo hold has room for 10 fully equipped troops or 14 without equipment. In the medevac role a doctor/anesthetist and a nurse are on board to take car of up to six patients, three sitting up and three lying down.

Gilze Rijen Airbase

All Cougars fly with 300 Squadron, operating from Gilze Rijen Airbase. The unit’s personnel were shocked to learn in 2011 that their job was about to disappear when the Ministry of Defence in the Hague announced another round of downsizing. But even with the awaited beefing up of the Boeing CH-47F Chinook fleet to 20 machines, having the NH90 choppers on strength at 18 the military and defence policital leadership say they have noticed a lack of rotary wing capacity if there would no longer be any Cougars.

The two "looks" of the Dutch Cougars, flying in together over Gilze Rijen Airbase in 2014 (Image © Marcel Burger)
The two “looks” of the Dutch Cougars, flying in together over Gilze Rijen Airbase in 2014 (Image © Marcel Burger)

Cougar service life

So the French design from 1965 will stay part of the fleet until at least 2023, Defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert recently wrote to the parliament in the Hague. Currently down to 12 operational machines a even smaller number of Cougars will keep on flying till the end of their new decided service life until the leadership is confident the Foxtrot Chinooks and NH90s can do the job together.

Cougar training with commandos on Curaçao, one of the Dutch territories in the Caribbean (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
Cougar training with commandos on Curaçao, one of the Dutch territories in the Caribbean (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
The core of air mobility of the Royal Netherlands Air Force: a Cougar working in tandem with a Chinook to fly in military equipment to the 11th Air Mobile Brigade Some Cougars were painted in the new grey livery, seen here at the Cougars home base of Gilze Rijen in 2014 (Image © Marcel Burger)
The core of air mobility of the Royal Netherlands Air Force: a Cougar working in tandem with a Chinook to fly in military equipment to the 11th Air Mobile Brigade, with the Boeing AH-64 Apaches (foreground) providing fire power cover (Image © Marcel Burger)

11th Airborne Brigade

As illustrated again at the Ede Heath and Deelen training grounds this week, the Cougars and Chinooks often operate closely together with the 11th Airborne Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army. That capacity – although not fully used since 2013 as the red berets have been deployed more conventionally – is something the Netherlands would like to keep. Possibly in light of the increased Russian activity on the borders with NATO, where the strengthened Russian Aviation Regiments are training on blitzkrieg-like offensive maneouvres by quickly moving sizable ground units through the air by Mil Mi-8/Mi-17s escored by Mi-24/35 Hind attack helicopters.

Some Cougars were painted in the new grey livery, seen here at the Cougars home base of Gilze Rijen in 2014 (Image © Marcel Burger)
Some Cougars were painted in the new grey livery, seen here at the Cougars home base of Gilze Rijen in 2014 (Image © Marcel Burger)

Backed by renewed trust the men and women of 300 Squadron of the RNLAF showed this week that although plagued through its service life, they are up to the challenge of airlifting combat reinforcements to airheads in the field, in the way the AS532U2 Cougar was originally purchased for.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: A Royal Netherlands Air Force Cougar in the new grey livery (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

Spanish Super Puma ditch turns into kidnap story

In a strange turn of events the ditch of a Spanish Air Force Aérospatiale (now Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Super Puma of the Moroccan coast has turned into a kidnap story, as Madrid fears the three crew members have been picked up and held hostage by pirates.

On Thursday the helicopter of 802 Squadron sent out a distress signal about 280 nautical miles south from its Gando base on the Canary Islands and 40 nautical miles southwest of Dakhla. It was on its way back from Dakar in Senegal. After making a fuel stop in Nouadhibou in Mauritania the chopper continued its flight home, when the crew apparently needed to ditch the aircraft into the sea.

A rescue helicopter spotted a perfectly okay life raft, but at that time were not able to determine if any crew members were inside. The latest theory is that a fishing boat manned by pirates have picked the Spanish military men up, while some other sources still think it is very much possible that the crew members did die inside their chopper when it hit the water.

Meanwhile Spanish and Moroccan forces keep on searching for the helicopter’s wreckage and crew’s whereabouts. Pirates are known to operate off the West African coast. The Spanish Air Force keeps at least one EF-18 fighter jet on stand-by.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: A Spanish Super Puma on board a Spanish navy ship during exercises in July, 2013 (Image © Ejército del Aire)