UPDATED 9 APRIL 2015 | A larger Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HMS) federation is slowly forming in Western Sweden. After the provinces of Värmland and Dalarna decided to work together in May 2014, Västra Götaland with its main city of Gothenburg now announced it will join the new HEMS group that will change its name to Svensk Luftambulans (Swedish Air Ambulance) this year.
On 15 December Värmland and Dalarna already ordered two new Airbus Helicopters EC145 T2s, to be delivered in December 2015 at the latest, with an option on eight more. Operations started with a EC135 P2 based in the city of Karlstad in August 2014, and has a second operations location in Mora further north. Värmland has even proposed to have a third helicopter on stand-by as a back-up for the new choppers, with hopes that this third machine – possible a EC145 T2 as well – will be available in Spring 2016.
Gothenburg City Airport
Västra Götaland’s län is currently using the services of Norrlandsflyg that has been flying the Sikorsky S-76 from Gothenburg City Airport (Säve) in the HEMS role since 2002. Säve is closing down as an active airport unless a buyer revamps the field for more than 26 million euro. Already closed down for heavier traffic, Säve is still much in use. Amongst the operators is the Swedish National Police flying one of its EC135s from the airfield. All operations are now gradually planned to move to Gotheburg Landvetter further east. Landvetter is both further away from the city of Gothenburg as well as from the important shipping lanes between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea / Atlantic Ocean, increasing the response time of all emergency services once based there.
Twenty of the 21 Swedish regions are currently building up a new organisation for the fixed-wing air ambulance, with only Skåne in the southwest opting out. Göteborg-Säve was an operating base for the principal subcontracter Scandinavian Air Ambulance. But the reorganisation only calls for Luleå in the far north, Umeå in the southern north and Stockholm-Arlanda in the centre of the country have a permanent fixed-wing flight. Scandinavian Air Ambulance (Ambulansflyg) operates four Beechcraft Super King Air 200s and a single Bombardier Learjet 35, making 4400 flights a year transporting patients and donor organs throughout the whole of Sweden.
Gothenburg Säve is well-known as the location of the impressive Aeroseum in the former underground air base complex of the Swedish Air Force. The Aeroseum will stay open, but if nothing happens the airshows that used to be there in Summer will no longer continue to take place – unless aircraft fly in from other airfields for the display only.
UPDATED 30 JANUARY 2015 | The Swedish Air Force welcomed two dozen new combat pilots during a ceremony at Linköping-Malmen Airbase on 22 January 2015. For a small air force as the Flygvapnet quite a substantial amount.
Twenty-two guys and two women received their wings after successfully finishing the advanced flight training course on the indigenous SAAB SK 60 (Model 105) jet trainer or on German Army helicopters. Eight guys will fly the JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighter, of which 88 C/D-versions are on strength with the Flygvapnet. Four graduated male cadet pilots will fly either the TP 84 (C-130) or Saab 340.
The other 10 men and female cadet pilots Therese Hörström and Caroline Herrstedt will fly helicopters, with Herrstadt performing her final examination flight on the Swedish Armed Forces HKP 15 (Agusta A109). The basic helicopter training was done in Bückeburg, with the German Army’s School of Army Aviation (Heeresfliegerwaffenschule) on the Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) EC135, while the fixed-wing training was done on the SAAB SK 60s.
The SAAB SK 60 serves the Swedish Armed Forces since 1967. Of the 150 that were delivered about two dozen retain full flight status, with many in reserve. A new, upgraded version was introduced in Autumn 2013, with this SK 60AU for the first time having GPS system plus other navigation aids to help the pilot navigate more precisely, a new radio with a sort of Bitching Betty function to warn the pilot for a too low altitude, plus sound effects that give the pilot the same warnings for failure or G-force stress as in the JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet.
The guys and girls at Airbus Helicopters must have given a few high fives today, as the European chopper manufacturer clearly profits from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit to Beijing. A whopping 123 rotorcraft will be delivered by Airbus over the next five years to three general aviation operators in China.
The rotorcraft will be used for various tasks, including utility work, aerial tours, passenger transport, business aviation, emergency medical services and search and rescue.
The three contracts were signed with Fujian Xinmei General Aviation Co., Guangdong Baiyun and Yunnan Fengxiang. The total fleet of 123 helicopters comprises mainly light single-engine helicopters from Airbus Helicopters’ Ecureuil family, as well as the light twin-engine EC135.
Fujian Xinmei GAC will be acquiring five AS350 B3e choppers, to be delivered this year. It also committed itself to an additional 50 light single- and twin-engine helicopters over the next six years.
Guangdong Baiyun GAC has placed an order for 50 Ecureuil and EC135 helicopters. An EC130 T2 from the Ecureuil family will be delivered this year; while the first three EC135 T2e will arrive by April 2015. The remaining aircraft are expected in the country in the next five years, as Baiyun aims to grow its business in general aviation, particularly in the relatively new segments of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS), search and rescue and corporate transportation.
Yunnan Fengxiang GAC, a new company, buys 18 AS350 B3e choppers to add to the pair already in service with Yunnan. The first four helicopters are scheduled to be delivered this year. The remaining 14 aircraft are expected in the next two years, and Fengxiang intends to engage in multiple missions including aerial tours, business aviation and even HEMS.
The Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME) is the youngest branch of the Spanish armed forces. It was created in 2006 for situations of serious risk and catastrophes. Dirk Jan de Ridder has a look at the Spanish Army’s helicopter battalion specialized in combating homeland emergencies.
The UME is to intervene within the national territory, in cooperation with state emergency services. The five emergency intervention battalions involved have about 4,000 men and women working for them. They come from the different branches of the armed forces: Air Force (7%), Army (90%) and Navy (2%). The aviation component of UME is equipped with Canadair CL-215 and CL-415 aircraft from the Spanish Air Force, as well as Spanish Army helicopters. All of UME’s airborne assets are used for fire-fighting while the helicopters have a couple of additional missions.
Within the Fuerzas Aeromóviles del Ejército de Tierra, or Spanish Army Aviation (FAMET), it is the Batallón de Helicópteros de Emergencia II (Emergency Helicopter Batttalion II – BHELEME II) that flies its helicopters under the operational command of the UME when being used for disaster relief. The types of missions performed include evacuations, fire-fighting, search and rescue as well as transportation of emergency personnel and material.
The unit’s light helicopters, four Eurocopter EC135s, are based at Colmenar Viejo near Madrid. Four brand new AS532AL Cougars form the medium helicopter unit of the battalion and are based at Bétera near Valencia. The latter serves as BHELEME II’s homebase, where it cooperates closely with the Emergencies Intervention Battalion III (BIEM III). Both chopper types are currently produced by Airbus Helicopters.
The four Eurocopter AS532AL Cougars at Bétera were all delivered fresh from the Eurocopter Spain production line between 2011 and March 2013. They are painted in a camouflage scheme with large parts of the fuselage painted over in bright orange, making it easy for other fire-fighting aircraft to spot them. Auxiliary fuel tanks increase the Cougar’s flight time to nearly five hours, enough to reach any location on the mainland without refuelling. The only part of Spain not within direct reach are the Canary Islands, so those are covered by the Canadairs in case of wildfires.
In theory the Cougars could be repainted quickly for war missions, but that is unlikely to happen. BHELEME II’s personnel has deployed to Afghanistan, but always as part of other battalions and using their helicopters. In reality, during the fire-fighting season they are as busy as any pilot deployed to abroad.
BHELEME II’s Eurocopter EC135s were ordered in 2007 and delivered a year later. For maintenance efficiency reasons they were not based at Bétera, but at Colmenar Viejo. There a further six EC135s are used by the Spanish Army’s helicopter pilot training center. Student helicopter pilots fly the Turboméca-powered EC135T1, T2 and T2+, while BHELEME II uses a single EC135T2+ and three EC135P2+ with Pratt & Whitney engines. Apart from the engines, the only real difference between the ‘Echo Charlies’ of both units are mission equipment and color scheme. The brightly yellow painted rescue helicopters really stand out from the dark grey EC135s used for tactical training.
The EC135 is used for a variety of missions ranging from command and control during emergencies to reconnaissance, medical evacuation and VIP transport. The EC135 is suitable for both IFR and VFR flights and it can even fly at night using night vision goggles, which is trained for every four months. The helicopter is flown by a pilot and co-pilot and takes a maximum of 5 or 6 passengers or 2 stretchers. It can be flown by a single pilot (both IFR and VFR), but that is against Spanish Army regulations.
For fire-fighting the Cougars use two types of bambi buckets. The BBT 6578 takes 2500 litres, the smaller 2000-litre BBT 4453 can even be taken onboard. Both of them have a PowerFill system allowing bottom-filling from sources of water as shallow as 18 inch (45 cm). When working with bambi buckets, the helicopter is equipped with adjustable mirrors, a megaphone and siren.
While the Spanish Air Force’s Canadair water bombers are able to drop a much bigger load, helicopters have advantages of their own. During the 2012 fire-fighting campaign Canadair planes dropped an average of 3 loads per flying hour, while Cougars managed to drop six loads per hour. This is mainly due to the fact that aircraft need a big lake to refill their water tanks whereas a Cougar can even take water from a small backyard swimming pool.
The most dangerous aspects of fire-fighting are obviously picking up and especially dropping water. When pilots release 2500 litres of water, the helicopter loses a lot of weight in an instant and the helicopter will climb away from the fire. If the bucket does not open well this can lead to tricky situations, even more so when flying in mountainous areas.
The fire-fighting season runs from mid-June to mid-September. When pilots are off-base, their response time is two hours. More commonly they remain on-base 7 days a week, being able to fly ‘as soon as possible’. Wildfires are initially the responsibility of local fire brigades and civilian fire-fighting helicopters. When they are not able to control the fire, UME’s helicopters are called into action. The role of the EC135’s crew is similar to that of an airborne forward air controller. The helicopter will fly over the scene, guiding other fire-fighting assets onto their targets and making sure they keep a safe distance from each other. A fully loaded EC135 can fly autonomously for about three hours.
Future plans call for the Cougars to be used during biological and chemical disasters as well. The battalion is in an early phase of testing NBC-suits in flight but as of yet no date has been set for when this role will be activated. The economic crisis, which started around the time when BHELEME II was created, has had a big impact on the battalion. The unit was originally slated to receive 15 Cougars, but not only have the number of helicopters delivered decreased dramatically, the pilots’ flying hours have been downscaled as well.
Being the youngest branch of the Spanish Army the Batallón de Helicópteros de Emergencia II, as well as the larger Unidad Militar de Emergencias, have only started to unlock their potential in situations of serious risk and catastrophes. There is hope that the EC135s and Cougars success will even grow bigger once the economy pulls out of its crisis.
LATEST UPDATE 25 MARCH 2014 20:20 UTC | The armed forces of the Netherlands have turned a former navy air station into an airhead for the huge international Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in the area of The Hague from 23 to 26 March 2014. The US Army and US Marines landed nearby.
Five AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, 4 AS532U2 Cougar tactical transport choppers and 2 CH-47D Chinook medium-lift helicopters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force have as of 21 March 2014 been temporarily forwarded to ex-NAS Valkenburg near the Dutch governmental city, together with 500 personnel. Their number will increase to 19 helicopter of the armed forces and the national police, with at least three of the police’s Eurocopter EC135s on location. On Saterday a sixth RNLAF AH-64D arrived on Valkenburg, followed on Sunday by two National Police AW139s.
RNLAF F-16 Fighting Falcons will provide air coverage during the summit, with a pair of Vipers airborne at any time. They will enforce a declared no-fly zone above The Hague and hotels in Noordwijk near Amsterdam and intercept any threats. Extra F-16s will be put on alpha scramble alert on both Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases. Surface to air missiles have been put on five different locations in the crowded west of the country. See here a few photos of the RNLAF F-16s that flew CAP missions.
Tanker & AWACS
Eindhoven Airbase deploys 2 RNLAF KDC-10 tanker aircraft to refuel F-16s in the air, while NATOs AWACS fleet at German Geilenkirchen – near the Dutch border – has put 2 E-3 Sentry aircraft on alert. The Royal Netherlands Navy deployes air defence frigate Zr. Ms. De Zeven Provinciën off the coast, with corvettes Zr. Ms. Holland and Friesland in support with each of the corvettes having a NH-90 helicopter on board. The Coast Guard (Kustwacht) also deployed several vessels and is likely to put their Do-228s airborne as well.
During the NSS – with the actual summit days only on 24 and 25 March – a total number of 13,000 police and 8,000 Dutch military personnel will try to guarantee safety: 4,000 from the army, air force and navy plus 4,000 from the military police. The air situation picture during and from these days will not be shared via online media.
Rotterdam-The Hague Airport
Rotterdam Airport has seen several arrivals the last couple of days, including six US Army UH-60 Black Hawks arriving on 18 March. Two Presidential VH-60s and other stuff arrived by three USAF C-17A Globemasters on 15 (1 aircraft) and 19 (2 aircraft) March 2014. Check some images here. Another four C-17s landed on Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport.
The 58 world leaders and their entourage of 5,000 members will arrive in aircraft at Amsterdam-Schiphol IAP, where the so-called Polderbaan (Runway 18R – 36L) will be used for parking. Schiphol has already closed it down since 10 March and will execute scheduled maintenance after the nuclear summit. A relatively vast area around the runway will be a special secured area during the event.
From the following countries VIPs (and their aircraft) are expected: Argentine, Armenia (A319CJ), Australia, Azerbaijan (B767-300ER), Belgium, Brazil (VC-99B), Canada (CC-150), Chile, China (B747), the Czech Republic, Denmark (CL-604), Egypt, Finland, France (Falcon 7X), Gabon (B777), Georgia (G450), Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy (Falcon 900EX), Japan (2x B747-400), Jordan, Kazakhstan (A330-200), Lithuania (C-27J), Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria (B737BBJ), Norway, Pakistan (G450), Poland (ERJ175-200LR), the Philippines, Republic of Korea (B747-400), Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (Falcon 900EX), Thailand, Turkey (B737-800), Ukraine (IL-62), the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America (VC-25A “Air Force One”, Gulfstream C-37B (G500), C-32 and more) and Vietnam (B777-200ER). Images of the arriving government aircraft can be found here.
One of the aircraft spotted early on at Schiphol was a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150. Also the Chinese start early with an official state visit of the Chinese president on 22 and 23 March to the Netherlands ahead of the NSS2014. As it is custom during these state visits the Air China Boeing 747 was accompanied from the Dutch border by a pair of RNLAF F-16s. See images of these scrambled aircraft here.
Source: Ministerie van Defensie (the Netherlands MoD) / Nederlandse Politie (the Netherlands National Police), with additional reporting by AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger