Tag Archives: Alouette III

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)

Green light for India’s own Ka-226 production

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) of India has given the green light for the local production of the Russian-designed Kamov Ka-226T helicopter on Wednesday 13 May 2015.

Initially the deal will be for 200 of these machines, but larger numbers of 400 Ka-226Ts have been mentioned earlier, as Airheadsfly.com reported in December.

The exact details of the local production still have to be worked out, but sources in New Delhi say some of the initial agreement of 200 choppers might be bought directly from the Russian production plant; illustrating the need of India to quickly beef up its number of helicopters.

The Ka-226T is likely starting the replacement of 34 Cheetahs (Alouette II) of the Air Force and the 48 Cheetahs of the Indian Navy, built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). In the second phase the 74 remaining HAL Chetaks (Alouette III) of the Air Force and the 60 of the Indian Army might see decommissioning with the introduction of the Kamovs. The Ka-225Ts are to serve next to the somewhat troubled HAL Dhruv, India’s indigenous helicopter development. Other Ka-226T will be fielded on the civilian market.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: The Kamov Ka-226T is produced both for military and civilian purposes (Image © Russian Helicopters)

To the rescue in Nepal

UPDATED 28 APRIL 2015 | The strong earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, with 7.8 on the Richter scale the country’s strongest in 80 years, has had nations scramble their resources to come to the rescue of the Himalayan state. Several countries have put part of their air forces on alert to dispatch aid and rescue / recovery teams to the areas hit.

As expected other Asian nations have responded fairly fast. According to sources in New Delhi the Indian Air Force have directed a pair of its ten Boeing C-17A Globemaster IIIs strategic airlifters to the rescue / recovery / repatriation effort, as well as a Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, an Ilyushin IL-76 and a pair of Mil Mi-17 helicopters. The Republic of Singapore Air Force is sending three of its ten Hercules aircraft; the Pakistan Air Force sent four of its 18 C-130s and the Royal Thai Air Force committed Hercs as well. Qatar dispatched two civilian Qatar Airways Cargo Airbus A330 to Kathmandu. China sent its rescue team on an Air China Airbus A330.

Archive photo of a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 taking off from Male at the Maldives in May 2007 (Image (CC) DD, Male, Maldives)
Archive photo of a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 taking off from Male at the Maldives in May 2007 (Image (CC) DD, Male, Maldives)

Sweden initially committed a team of 72 men and women plus 12 dogs to help Nepalese authorities in the search for survivors and recovery efforts, but later decided to send 30 people and no dogs on board a civilian freighter. The team has enough supplies and essentials to be self-sufficient for two weeks and left Örebro Airport in the centre of the country at around 21:20 local time on Monday 27 April. Earlier it was thought that the bigger team would go on one of the EU/NATO’s three C-17A Globmasters based at Papa Airbase in Hungary. Sweden is one of the main users of this small pool of European airlift.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force KDC-10 (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A Royal Netherlands Air Force KDC-10. More is here. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

The Netherlands sent a Urban Search and Rescue team of 62 men/women and 8 dogs to the area, using a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10. The team will depart the Netherlands on Sunday evening. Five tonnes of aid accompanies the team on board the RNLAF aircraft. The UK is sending a C-17 Globemaster and C-130 Hercules, while the US  has ordered a C-17 with 70 disaster assistance personnel and 45 square tonnes of cargo to the region.

Nepal Army Air Wing
The resources of Nepal itself are spread thin. The Nepal Army Air Wing only has a few air assets available. The fixed wing fleet consists of two Antonov AN-28 light transport aircraft, a Britten Norman BN-2 Islander utility aircraft and a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 transport aircraft.

It was daring move by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), designing and building its own utility helicopter; the Dhruv ('Polaris'). This Indian army Dhruv is seen doing a display for potential buyers. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Made in and delivered by India: the Nepal Army Air Wing operates four Dhruvs similar to this Indian Army example (Image © Elmer van Hest)

A quartet of Indian-made HAL Dhruv, four Alouette IIIs and five Mil Mi-17 “Hip” make up the mainstay of the rotary wing. It is complemented by a Eurocopter (Airbus Helicotpers) AS350 Écureuil and two Aérospatiale SA315 Alouette IIs/Lamas. A bigger Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Puma is configured for VIP flights. The Nepal Army has only one main base of operations, part of Kathmandu Airport, but there are at least 36 airfields spread across the country that can be used for air operations.

It is not known if and how many aircraft in Nepal have been damaged by the earthquake. Private rotary wing is available as well, but we have no numbers at this time.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): The third Boeing C-17 Globemaster III for the Indian Air Force leaving the factory plant at Long Beach for India at August 20th, 2013 (Image © Boeing)

The Chinese rescue response team to the 25 April 2015 Earthquake in Nepal arrived on board an Air China Airbus A330, similar to this one (Image (CC) Kentaro Ieomoto)
The Chinese rescue response team to the 25 April 2015 Earthquake in Nepal arrived on board an Air China Airbus A330, similar to this one (Image (CC) Kentaro Ieomoto)

The End of Tweeting

They are called ‘Tweety’, and they were called upon for search and rescue missions for over twenty years. But starting January, it is mission accomplished for the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF) three Agusta-Bell AB412 helicopters at Leeuwarden airbase. Their yellow appearance was a familiar and assuring sight to many. A civil contractor takes over the search and rescue task and the three Tweeties are sold to Peru.

In total, Air Force search and rescue helicopters have been operating from Leeuwarden for 55 years, rescueing downed fighter pilots from the cold North Sea, transporting patients from the Dutch barrier islands to hospitals on the main land.

A total of 5,355 emergency or life saving flights were performed by 303 Squadron, the unit that operated the Tweeties every day and every night of every week, month and year. The Tweeties flew about 200 mission yearly. Every now and then, even a sick seal found in the Wadden Sea was picked up for treatment in an animal shelter.

 All those rotor blades ... like a kitchen with too many knives. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
All those rotor blades … like a kitchen with too many knives. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The first Italian built AB412 arrived in Leeuwarden in 1994. Since then, all three helicopters spent the majority of their careers flying over the sea.  (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
The first Italian built AB412 arrived in Leeuwarden in 1994. Since then, all three helicopters spent the majority of their careers flying over the sea. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

Key
The yellow Agusta-Bell AB412s entered service with the RNLAF in 1994, its predecessor being the Aérospatiale Alouette III. But according to the Dutch Ministry of Defense, search and rescue is no longer a key operation for the RNLAF.  Starting January, Air Force AS532 Cougar helicopters will temporarily fly SAR duties from Leeuwarden. A civil party is expected to take over the operations  entirely by mid-2015. “A pity”, says an Air Force AB412 pilot, “it was always a great and rewarding job.”

Salty business
Currently a KLM Boeing 777 pilot, Willem Boiten flew both the Alouette III and the Tweety. Transition from a ‘normal’ helicopter pilot to a SAR pilot required a lot of hovering and hoist practicing.

“Hovering is always difficult when everything around you is moving, which is the case at sea. My final exam included hovering over a buoy. After I succeeded, my colleagues gave me a water proof marker and hoisted me down to the buoy ‘to write my name on it’ – or so they said. You can guess what happened next: they dragged me along the water, for all passengers on a passing ferry to see. The beer I had afterwards still tasted salty, and my colleagues dared asking whether I still had the marker!”

Early in their career, the AB412s  and their crew earned recognition for their vigilance during floods that threatened the southern part of the Netherlands in February 1995.  Boiten: “We just flew around as troubleshooters, looking to help out anywhere”

Seen here in 1992 is this SAR Alouette III. Back then, it was<em> THEIR </em> retirement that was imminent. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
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. Back then, it was<em> THEIR </em> retirement that was imminent. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Seen here in 1992 is this SAR Alouette III. Back then, it was THEIR retirement that was imminent. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

NH90
Over the last few years, a lot has changed in the Dutch SAR capacity. Dutch Navy Lynx helos operated alongside the Tweeties for many years, but the Lynx was retired and replaced by NHIndustries NH90 Nato Frigate Helicopters (NFH). The new Navy helos were expected to be fully operational from Naval Airfield De Kooy in 2015, but things may have changed since this year’s break in NH90 deliveries over dozens of technical issues .

The AB412 – and the Alouette III before it – were faithful till the end – although not all is over for the yellow Tweeties. According to various sources the RNLAF AB412s are sold to Peru, like Fokker fixed-wing aircraft before them. The official sale announcement is yet to be made. Meanwhile, memories of RNLAF search and rescue missions remain. One of the surviving SAR Alouettes serves as a reminder in the recently opened National Military Museum in Soesterberg.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

The RNLAF AB412 seen over a typically Dutch landscape. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
The RNLAF AB412 seen over a typically Dutch landscape. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
AS532 Cougar helicopters will temporarily provide SAR cover. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
AS532 Cougar helicopters will temporarily provide SAR cover. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Rare shot of all three Tweeties in formation over the city of Harlingen, near Leeuwarden. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
Rare shot of all three Tweeties in formation over the city of Harlingen, near Leeuwarden. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

AHF↑Inside: Alright Austrian Alouette

Across the impressive green landscape of Austria, a high pitched screeching sound reverberates against the Alps. It doesn’t seem to worry two women walking a baby stroller on this sunny day. They’re not impressed as the sound comes even closer, only to be drowned out by the sound of a beautiful waterfall at the foot of a mountain called Grimming. The two local women know this waterfall, they know this mountain, and they know this high pitched screeching sound alright. It has been around for 47 years in Austria.

The sound is the familiar sound that lets everybody in the area know there’s an Alouette III helicopter about. It just took off from nearby Aigen-im-Enstall airbase for a training flight including winch operations next to the waterfall. It’s routine stuff for the pilots of Mehrzweckhubschrauberstaffel (utility helicopter squadron), who know the Alouette and the scenery surrounding Aigen-im-Enstall like the back of their hands. However, they also operate in theaters where they are less familiar, the ongoing mission in Bosnia being a prime example. During the May 2014 floods, Austrian Alouette and Black Hawk helicopters hoisted many dozens of trapped civilians to safety.

“It was constant hard work for our colleagues. They flew 60 hours in three days”, says Thomas Schönauer, an Alouette pilot with 1,500 flight hours, 2,100 high mountain landings and 800 winch operations under his name. “Three of our 15 Alouette pilots are now in Bosnia, and in Austria we also always have an Alouette and pilot standing by in Schwarz and Klagenfurt. These operations take a big hit on our squadron, and while it seems a bit quiet here at Aigen-im-Enstall, we’ve actually been very busy for a long time.”

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Winch training in progress. The ‘victim’ is in the lower left hand corner of the image. (Image © Dennis Spronk)


Suited
Search and rescue (SAR) is perhaps the most important mission of the Sud Aviation / Aérospatiale Alouette III, of which the Austrian Bundesheer has 24, of which in turn 16 are part of Mehrzweckhubschrauberstaffel. “While the Alouette is of course an old design without autopilot and fancy avionics, it is actually very suited to the mission. It is a very reliable helicopter, and it’s max take-off weight of 2,200 kilograms – or 4,848 lbs – is plenty. It is also easy to maintain. We are quite independent and do almost all kinds of maintenance ourselves here at Aigen-im-Enstall”, says Schönauer as he points out a mechanic working on the Alouette’s 460 horsepower Turboméca Artouste IIIB turboshaft engine.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Maintenance being done on a EUFOR-marked Alouette. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Austrian Alouettes can be found operating all over the Austrian Alps, involved in SAR, looking out for avalanche danger in wintertime and dropping explosives to trigger one, transporting military personnel from one base to the other or just doing VFR training across the famously impressive Austrian landscape. “We usually fly in the valleys and only go up the mountains when we really need to. Still, we are perhaps the most experienced in Europe when it comes to mountain flying. Crews from Germany, the UK and Ireland come over here to see how it’s done.”

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
An Austrian Alouette with rescue kit laid out next to it. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Modifications
Mountains cause problems when it comes to communications. The VHF and UHF transmission are blocked, and the Austrian Bundesheer is now starting to install digital radios in the Alouettes. Other modifications include new seats and a simple GPS. Also, the Alouettes are adapted for the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG).

Austrian Alouettes have been around for 47 years now, but they won’t be around forever. “These helicopters are getting old, and we now have to look more carefully at flight hours”, says Schönauer. “We will see a reduction of flight hours over the next six years. It may mean that our pilots fly less hours a year than than we would like to see.”

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
A quick landing in a farmers field is every day stuff. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

If it was up to the pilots at Aigen-im-Enstall, the Airbus Helicopters EC645 T2 is the helicopter to replace the aging Alouette. “That is the helicopter that meets all our requirements. It operates in the spectrum that is required to keep up our experience. Unfortunately a decision has yet to be made on replacing the Alouette.”

So, until at least 2020, the sound of an Alouette will regularly reverberate across the Alps, be it during training missions or during an all important, actual search and rescue mission. Of course Austrians don’t worry when hearing the high pitched screeching sound; they know it’ll be alright.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Some vertical distance to go! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
It’ll be 2020 at least before the Alouette quits Austrian service. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Take away an Alouette’s skin and there’s not much left. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
It looks new, yet it’s 47 years old. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Another flight done at Aigen-im-Enstall. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The view at Aigen-im-Enstall, with mount Grimming rising up in the background. (Image © Dennis Spronk)