Tag Archives: Eindhoven

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)

Feature: Closing the tanker gap with EART

No air power without air-to-air-refueling. But also, no air-to-air refueling without certifications, clearances, bilateral agreements between countries and heaps of paperwork. The infamous European ‘tanker gap’ perhaps is not a matter of aircraft after all, but a matter of overcoming bureaucracy and inefficiency, it appears during the current European Air-to-Air Refueling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. If anything, participating tanker crews are determined to work together as closely as possible.

The platform at Eindhoven usually houses just two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker aircraft, but until 24 April an Airbus A310 MRTT from Germany, an Italian Air Force KC-767 plus a French Air Force KC-135R join the two Dutch aircraft. Together with their crews, all aircraft participate in EART, an initiative started by the Eindhoven-based European Air Transport Command (EATC), which commands large parts of the military air transport and tanker fleets of the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain.

 

Libya
This exercise specifically for tanker aircraft originated from lessons learned during Operation Unified Protector over Libya in 2011, says Eric van Osch, attached to EATC and a flight engineer on the KDC-10. “During those flights all nations used the same standardized procedures, but nevertheless we noticed slight variations in planning, radio communication and other operational details. Those variations made efficient use of available tankers hard at times. This exercise here at Eindhoven is held to harmonize operations, get to know each other even better and use our joint assets more efficiently.”

The current shared feeling is that European tanker capacity is sufficient in peace times, but falling behind in major operations or during large scale conflict. Optimal use or available aircraft and purchase of new tankers should close this ‘gap’.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 in one shot. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A shot of its own for the French KC-135. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Frisian Flag
For two weeks, the aircraft participating in EART refuel fighter aircraft that participate in Frisian Flag 2015. Today, the Dutch KDC-10 is joined in the air by four Polish F-16Cs and four Dutch F-16AMs, while the Italian KC-767 supplies fuel to other fighters. The Italians and French are able to refuel using both the boom and probe and drogue method, while the Dutch and Germans only use the boom and drogue method respectively. The US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles currently at Leeuwarden are only allowed to refuel on the French tanker. Once more, an example of clearances, certifications and other bureaucratic headaches.

The EART tankers fly twice a day, giving away precious fuel to Frisian Flag players. Air-to-air refueling allows the fighter pilots to stay close to their target area, a necessity in current operations around the globe.

Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

European pool
Modern air power requires air-to-air refueling and tankers are said to be in short supply in Europe. Several nations have joined forces and are looking to buy at least four A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft from Airbus, with a request for proposal expected soon. These aircraft will serve as a joint pool for the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and Norway. NATO will pay for the aircraft and they will operate from Eindhoven, with forward operating bases in Norway and Poland. Deliveries start in 2019 at the earliest. Dutch 334 squadron will likely be absorbed into the new European tanker unit.

“That means the end for the fantastic KDC-10 in our fleet”, says Van Osch, who has flown on KDC-10s since the aircraft was introduced into Dutch service twenty years ago, although both KDC-10s were actually built in the seventies and used by charter airline Martinair before. “It’s a great and fantastic, stable platform for air-to-air refueling. And of course, it has lots of character.”

Racetrack
Dutch Viper pilots flying next to us have ear nor eye for any of that. They are looking for gas and are happily supplied with exactly that by our KDC-10, which is orbiting the ‘Shell’ racetrack over the North Sea. Another five minutes and some friendly waving later, they disappear to continue their Frisian Flag mission.

 Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Observe
During EART, air crews fly along on board each other’s aircraft to observe variations in procedures.  These variations are discussed back at Eindhoven, where academics also take place. Ground personnel is also involved, with turnaround times for aircraft during the exercise being shorter than usual. This year’s EART follows up last year’s first successful edition, which was also held at Eindhoven. Participating crews are enthusiastic about it. According to EATC there’s a lot of potential for growth, with future exercises possibly held elsewhere also.

EART allows more efficient use of European tanker aircraft, while the number of available tankers is set to grow. The European tanker gap seems to close slowly but steadily, just like another F-16 pilot who slowly but steadily approaches our KDC-10 and gets to hear the word he wants to hear at the end: contact!

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Italian KC-767 during preparations for its next flight. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
View on the French KC-135. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (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)

Spanish transports for European Air Transport Command

On Monday 9 March, a total of 25 Spanish Air Force transport and tanker aircraft came under the authority of European Air Transport Command (EATC) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. Spain became an EATC member in 2014, but maintained full authority over its fleet up until now.

Spain is the sixth nation to transfer command over its transport and tanker capacity to EATC. Others were Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The first Spanish aircraft to fly an EATC-assigned mission was a Lockheed C-130 Hercules from Air Transport Wing 31, stationed in Zaragoza. It departed on Monday from Torrejon Airbase (near Madrid) via Algeria to Libreville.

In total, the EATC assigned air fleet now consists of 189 aircraft. Among those are now Spanish C-130s, Boeing 707s and C-295s.

Source: EATC

Italian airlift and tankers join European Air Transport

Italy became the seventh nation to join the European Air Transport Command on 5 December 2014. The EATC is a pool of airlift and air tankers that makes it possible for the partners to easily use available resources for their military operations. Target is to make the most use of all available aircraft contributed.

With the addition of the Aeronautica Militare’s transport and in-flight refuelling fleet, the EATC partners gain Boeing KC-767s, Lockheed C-130J Hercules’s and Alenia Aermacchi C-27J Super Spartans. The Italian aircraft join Airbuses, Hercules’s, A400Ms, Transalls, Falcon jets, Embraers, KDC-10s and more exotic planes.

Headquartered at Eindhoven Airbase in the Netherlands Belgium, Germany, France, Luxemburg, the Netherlands were the first partners in the EATC, with Spain joining the training, planning and ops co-operation last Summer. All aircraft operate from their normal bases in their own countries, while those nations combined contributed 200 personnel to the EATC HQ at Eindhoven.

Among the recent results of the EATC was the airlift of emergency and military hardware to Northern Iraq and the pick-up of the flight recorders of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 MH17 that was shot down over Eastern Ukraine.

Source: Koninklijke Luchtmacht / EATC

The Alenia C-27J Spartan tactical transport aircraft (Image © Marcel Burger)
The Alenia Aermacchi C-27J Spartan tactical transport aircraft (Image © Marcel Burger)

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)