Tag Archives: Germany

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)

Winter wonderland with Cold Blade 2016

UPDATED | Finnish and German military rotary aircraft and their crews had a blast this week up in Scandinavia. Exercise Cold Blade 2016 put machines and men & women to the test from 7 to 18 March 2016.

Place of the winter wonderland was Ivalo far up in the most Northeastern country, with the training area being about 40 km (25 miles) from the Russian border.

The Finnish Army (Maavoimat) played the leading role, with 6 of its 20 NHIndustries NH90s supported by 95 people. The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) sent 2 of its 64 Sikorsky CH-53G Stallion and 70 personnel. Sweden sent some observers, while Italy dispatched a few trainees.

Cool shot of Finnish NH90s getting ready for action during Cold Blade 2016 (Image © Johannes Heyn)
Cool shot of Finnish NH90s getting ready for action during Cold Blade 2016 (Image © Johannes Heyn)
German CH-53Gs in the winter wonderland of Ivalo, Finland, during Cold Blade 2016 (Image © Johannes Heyn)
German CH-53Gs in the winter wonderland of Ivalo, Finland, during Cold Blade 2016 (Image © Johannes Heyn)

Operate in a challenging environment

Cold Blade, like its sister exercise Hot Blade in the Southern European countries, is aimed to train European helicopter crews and technicians to fly and operate in a challenging environment and to teach and learn techniques, tactics and procedures in those special conditions.

Finnish special forces

Simultaneously with Cold Blade the Finns ran Northern Griffin, an combat search and rescue exercise of Finnish special forces, enabling the NH90 and CH-53 crews to train with ground forces in infiltration and exfiltration. Airheadsfly.com guest photographer Johannes Heyn sent us some nice footage that we love to share with you.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Scandinavia can be extraordinary beautiful with sundown, or sunrise for that matter (Image © Johannes Heyn)

A Finnish Army NH90 on the ground, while a CH-53G stays on the look-out (Image © Johannes Heyn)
A Finnish Army NH90 on the ground, while a CH-53G stays on the look-out (Image © Johannes Heyn)
Nice panorama of the Luftwaffe Stallions in snowy Finland (Image © Christian Albrecht)
Nice panorama of the Luftwaffe Stallions in snowy Finland (Image © Johannes Heyn)

Last advanced Stallions up for delivery in Germany

Fifteen more years of useful service. In 2010, that was the goal of an Airbus Helicopters modification program for German Air Force CH-53G Stallion heavy transport helicopters. Over the past years, these green giants have been getting modernized cockpits, new avionic and warfare suites and countless other upgrades.

The end is near for the modification program, delivering fourty modernized helicopters to the German Air Force. They are known as CH-53GA, signifying ‘Germany Advanced’. As it should.

In the Airbus Helicopters Military Support Center (MSC) in Donauwörth, Germany, well over a dozen Sikorsky CH-53s receive attention. Among them are the last of fourty of these airborne workhorses to be upgraded to CH-53GA. When done, the upgrade shows itself by no uncertain means in the cockpit, where avionics and communications systems almost identical to those used in the NH90 and Tiger attack helicopter, present themselves to awaiting pilots. All is contained in a completely new glass cockpit.

Miles away

With five multi-function displays, the new cockpit is miles away from the analogue workplace it used to be. “We’re taking out all the old mechanical instruments and we put in multifunctional displays that provide the crew with enormous flexibility and increased efficiency”, says Michael Hoofdmann, head of programs at the MSC.

A huge upgrade is the newly designed four-axis autopilot with auto-hover automatic flight control system that is similar to the NH90’s auto pilot. An electronic warfare system for threat recognition and electronic self-protection protects crews in hostile environments. A forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor turret is also part of the update.

The CH-53GA cockpit. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)
The CH-53GA cockpit. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)

Four decades

The first modernized Stallion was handed back to the German Air Force in 2012, close to four decades after the first of 110 helicopters were introduced in German service. Externally, the CH-53GA lacks the big fuel tanks that identified the past CH-53GS update, a program that mainly served to add personnel recovery and extraction capabilities. An internal fuel tank has been installed in the latest variant instead.

Fleet

The current German fleet consist of forty CH-53GA and 26 remaining CH-53GS/GE helicopters (of which 20 GS and 6 GE), adding up to 66 in total. To examine the remaining service life, one CH-53G has been completely dismantled and inspected for signs of fatigue at Donauwörth. The fleet saw extensive use over the last decades, deploying to Afghanistan and Kosovo. In the same timeframe, all remaining helicopters were transferred from the Germany Army to the German Air Force. The NH90 took the CH-53’s place in the Army.

One of over a dozen CH-53s in Donauwörth last February/ (Image © Dennis Spronk)
One of over a dozen CH-53s in Donauwörth last February/ (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With so many CH-53s in one space, foldable tails help save space. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With so many CH-53s in one space, foldable tails help save space. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Twilight

Updated or not, truth is the Stallion is in the twilight of its career. Berlin is looking at its options, being either the CH-47F Chinook or… the CH-53K. The ‘Kilo’ is the latest incarnation of the Stallion, seeing its first flight just last year. There is no road map yet for a purchase, but it seems likely the Germans will decide on a new heavy transport helicopter in the next two or three years. Deliveries are still at least six years away.

Until then, the CH-53GA is the tool of the trade when it comes to heavy helicopter transport in Germany. “They are now state of the art again”, concludes Michael Hoofdmann. “No more upgrades needed for these helicopters.”

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

H145: customized best seller for all

On first glance a military special forces member may not have a single thing common with an offshore worker, a paramedic or even your average VIP. On second glance, they do. It’s called the H145, currently one of Airbus Helicopters’ best selling choppers and since December 2015 the preferred airborne ride of the German Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK). Starting April, Thailand will also welcome the H145M, a helicopter that like all Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft, can be customized almost to infinity.

Customization is indeed built into our design structure and production process, says Gottfried Hornung, heading the combined Final Assembly Line (FAL) of H135 and H145 helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany. Behind him, Airbus Helicopters employees perform quality inspections on what is to be the third of fifteen H145Ms for the KSK. The dark green colour sets its apart from other helicopters built for civilian customers.

Hornung is in charge of final assembly of all H135s and H145s produced in Donauwörth. “Helicopters have been produced at this location for many decades.That experience has led to optimized customization for our customers, which in turn contributes to the market success of both the H135 and H145”, says Hornung while an H135 for the Australian Defense Force (ADF) awaits attention. Nearby in the flight hangar, two olive green H145Ms for Thailand are readied for flight and an additional H145 is prepared for its customized ‘Mercedes-Benz style’ VIP interior.

Quality control on the third H145M for Germany. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Quality control on the third H145M for Germany. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Versatile

Customized or not, the H135 and H145 are true multipurpose helicopters. Their versatility is demonstrated by the fact the both are the preferred platform for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). As civil market leader, Airbus Helicopters has a strong foothold in this corner of the helicopter market, which globally decreased by over 20 percent last year.  Nevertheless, Airbus Helicopters in 2015 slightly increased its civil market share and  chalked up total 383 orders, military contracts included. Out of these orders, 107 are for the H145 and 49 for the smaller H135.

An H145M for the Thai Army awaits its next test flight. (Image © Alexander Lutz)
An H145M for the Thai Army awaits its next test flight. (Image © Alexander Lutz)
While another waits to have its rotor blades fitted. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
While another waits to have its rotor blades fitted. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Military

On the military market, the H145 may appear like the new kid on the block while in fact it is anything but. Disguised as the UH-72A Lakota and as a replacement for the UH-1 Huey, the type has been serving the US Army for years already in training, transport and liaison roles. A staggering 423 Lakotas were ordered by the US.

In its special ops role, the H145M – advertized as a ‘light battlefield support helicopter’ – offers  room for up to 10 soldiers in the ballistically protected cabin. The sliding side doors and fast rope systems offer quick exit in hover situations, while the double clamshell doors at the rear can also be used when on the ground.The Fenestron shrouded tail rotor offers protection and safety on the ground. Until now, special forces in Germany relied on the – again – UH-1 Huey.

Fast rooping from an Airbus Helicopters H145M. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)
Fast rooping in action. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)

Weapons

The H145M features a mission computer, an infrared/TV electro-optical system, a laser range-finder/designator/pointer plus two rigid but removable multi-purpose armament pylons. Optionally, the helicopter can be fitted with rocket launchers for ballistic and guided weapons, guns pods, mounted door guns and air-to-ground missiles. According to Airbus Helicopters, laser-guided rockets could be added to the H145M’s weapons arsenal in the future, too.

Also, for the next seven years the Airbus Helicopters Military Support Center in Donauwörth will take complete care of the fifteen German special ops choppers. The same center already looks after all military helicopters in service with the Germans, including Sikorsky CH-53Gs, NH90s and Tiger attack Helicopters. It also provides support for German Marine Sea King and Sea Lynx helos.

Helionix

What sets newer H145s, including the German special ops ones, apart from earlier models is the modulair and impressive Helionix cockpit suite which according to Airbus Helicopters offers pilots the world’s most advanced cockpit – apart from the Airbus A350. In the case of the H145, the suite consists of three large MFDs that can all be adjusted for diplaying either basic flight control instruments, engine parameters, digital maps or a range of other options. Two Garmin GTN 750 GPS/NAV/COMM multifunction displays complete the typical Helionix setup in the H145. The system offers a 4 axis autopilot including Auto-Hover function. Helionix will be integrated in all new or updated products of Airbus such as the new H135 and H160.

Helionix is another example of Airbus Helicopters customization and attention to customer needs. “We aim to get the most out of our product”, says Gottfried Hornung. “Take the recently increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) for the H145, which was 3,650 kg and now is 3,700 kg. In an helicopter, that extra 50 kilos makes all the difference.”

And yes, no matter if you’re a military special forces member, an offshore worker, a paramedic or your average VIP. Or anything else.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: Out for a test flight is this H145M for the Thai Navy. (Image © Alexander Lutz)

(Image © Alexander Lutz)
Each helicopter is thoroughly checked during several test flight. (Image © Alexander Lutz)
 (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A view of the combined H135/H145 production facility in Donauwörth. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
20160122_EDMQ_FAL_H135_WIRING3
Electrical testing in progress. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
20160122_EDMQ_FAL_H145_KSK_COMPOSITES
No guessing where these parts will end up: Thailand.(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Engineers work on on this H135 destined for the Australian Defense Force. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Engineers work on on this H135 destined for the Australian Defense Force. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

First picture: NH90 Sea Lion for Germany

An Airheadsfly.com visit to Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth on Friday 22 January produced the very first picture of the first NH90 Sea Lion helicopter for the Germany Navy. The helicopter is currently in final assembly and along with 17 others and from 2019 onwards, replaces the Sea King helos still in use with the Marine.

The first Sea Lion entered final assembly in October and is now having its electrical harnesses fitted, after which avionics and initial mission equipment will be installed. The helicopter is expected to fly for the first time in November 2016.

The naval variant differs from German Army NH90s as it has a stronger landing gear for deck landings, plus provisions for the installation of a full anti-submarine warfare (ASW) kit and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) kit. The German government still has to decide on the exact specifications, though. The Netherlands, France, Italy, Norway and Sweden already operate ASW-versions of the NH90.

Search and rescue

In 2019, the Sea Lion will be ready to take over search and rescue (SAR) plus transport and support duties from the Sea King, the oldest of which dates back to 1973. At a later stage, the new NH90 should be ready also to take over the ASW and ASuW role from current Super Lynx helos.

With the engines ans landing gear installed, this brand new NH90 for the German army, is almost ready to be moved to the so called Flightline hangar at Donauwörth for test flights (Image © Dennis Spronk)
With the engines ans landing gear installed, this brand new NH90 for the German army is almost ready to be moved to the so called Flightline hangar at Donauwörth for test flights. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
In the front the first German NH90 Sea Lion, in the Final Assembly Line (FAL) at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Airbus Helicopters is ramping up production tempo a bit in 2016. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Production

The last of 18 Sea Lions – total estimated cost 1.4 billion EUR – is to be delivered in 2022. Airbus Helicopters will slightly push production tempo in Donauwörth a bit to over ten NH90 helicopters per year. These also include the remaining NH90s for the German army, plus more ASW-variants for Sweden. Worldwide, 35 to 50 NH90s are manufactured yearly.

The NH90 has suffered from a bad reputation in Germany over maintenance and reliability issues. Airbus Helicopters is now retrofitting early production helicopters with the latest configuration including software and other upgrades. The company also says it is now getting good and positive feedback from NH90-pilots.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): The first German NH90 Sea Lion in production, in the Final Assembly Line (FAL) at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

The first German NH90 Sea Lion in production, in the Final Assembly Line (FAL) at Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Production of a single NH90 takes about 12 months. (Image © Dennis Spronk)