Tag Archives: Gilze Rijen

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)

Rehabilitation for Dutch Cougar helos

The seventeen Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Cougar transport helicopters were earmarked for retirement as early as 2011 once, but Dutch Defense minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert on Wednesday 14 October reported to parliament that they will now remain into service until 2023. It’s rehabilitation for the helicopters, that never saw much love in the Netherlands.

With a least four more years until the first of 14 new Boeing CH-47F Chinooks are delivered, the RNLAF is desperately looking to  keep its helicopter transport capability on par. Recent troubles with newly delivered NH90 helicopters also didn’t help.

The Cougar suddenly seemed on its way out in 2011 already because of budget cause. A lacking search and rescue capability forced the RNLAF to keep a number in service, however. Before today, 2020 was mentioned as the final year for the Dutch Cougars, the first of which was delivered in 1996.

Keeping them flying until 2023 will cost Dutch taxpayers 130 million EUR. The choppers are based at Gilze Rijen airbase.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image:  A Dutch AS532 Cougar transport helicopter. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

WITH VIDEO: Regular passenger MD-11 says goodbye!

KLM says farewell to its long serving McDonnell Douglas MD-11 three engine airliner, marking the end of regular intercontinental passenger traffic with the type worldwide. The aircraft made one of its last public appearances at the 2014 Royal Netherlands Air Force Days on 21 June 2014 at Gilze-Rijen Airbase, where the aircraft named Audrey Hepburn landed after two passes. (Image © Marcel Burger)
KLM says farewell to its long serving McDonnell Douglas MD-11 three engine airliner, marking the end of regular intercontinental passenger traffic with the type worldwide. The aircraft made one of its last public appearances at the 2014 Royal Netherlands Air Force Days on 21 June 2014 at Gilze-Rijen Airbase, where the aircraft named Audrey Hepburn landed after two passes. (Image © Marcel Burger)

The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Days at Gilze-Rijen Airbase on 21 June 2014 saw the final official public appearance of the last McDonnell Douglas MD-11 airliner that regularly flew passengers on intercontinental routes.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’s three-engine airliner named Audrey Hepburn saluted the roughly 140,000 spectators of the airshow with a joint pass together with a RNLAF KDC-10 tanker-transport aircraft before stealing the show one more time with an extra fly-by before landing and taxiing up-close to a fairly enthousiastic crowd. The aircraft later took off again, giving a large number of terminally or chronically sick children the ride of their lifetimes.

Despite the end of regular passenger flights with the MD-11 as part of a everyday airline schedule, some of the 200 MD-11s that were produced will keep on flying people over the globe on charter flights or for transporting US troops. The others fly as cargo planes.


Legendary

The RNLAF Days saw other legendary planes making their appearance, like the Battle of Britain’s Spitfires and a Lancaster bomber and the Catalina PBY-5 amphibious aircraft, as well as 4th generation fighter jets like a Slovakian Air Force MiG-29, several F-16 fighter jets.

Highlights
Amongst the highlights were the fly-by of the first Dutch Boeing 787 of Arke Fly – one of the few Dreamliners flying in Europe and the fairly impressive Spanish Patrulla Aspa helicopter display team flying five fine looking Airbus Helicopters EC 120B Colibri choppers. And of course the air assault demo with explosions, troop insertions by RNLAF Chinooks, Cougars and a Hercules plus overflying Apaches and F-16 in an offensive and protective role.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger,
video footage by AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest

KLM says farewell to its long serving McDonnell Douglas MD-11 three engine airliner, marking the end of regular intercontinental passenger traffic with the type worldwide. The aircraft made one of its last public appearances at the 2014 Royal Netherlands Air Force Days on 21 June 2014 at Gilze-Rijen Airbase, where the aircraft named Audrey Hepburn landed after two passes. (Image © Marcel Burger)
KLM says farewell to its long serving McDonnell Douglas MD-11 three engine airliner, marking the end of regular intercontinental passenger traffic as part of an airliners daily schedule with the type worldwide. (Image © Marcel Burger)

Joint Warrior Spring 2014 Participation

Two of the RNLAF AS532U2 Cougar Mk2s are deployed at sea on board the Hs. Ms. L801 Johan de Witt, a landing platform dock (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Two of the RNLAF AS532U2 Cougar Mk2s are deployed at sea on board the Hs. Ms. L801 Johan de Witt, a landing platform dock (Image © Dennis Spronk)

LATEST UPDATE 4 APRIL 2014 22:45 UTC | Kick off on 26 March 2014 for the very large NATO+ naval exercise Joint Warrior – Spring edition. Place of events: the North Sea and coastal areas of Scotland. More than 10,000 military personnel from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands, New-Zealand, Norway, Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom participate. They put to sea 35 vessels, 35 helicopters and about 30 aircraft. The actual war games take place from 31 March to 10 April and marks the first deployment ever of the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon (US Navy) in Europe!

Footage of 40 Commando Royal Marines in helicopter assault, Joint Warrior 31 March 2014

RAF Lossiemouth will be the main air base of operations for the land based air assets, with RAF Leuchars as the secondary land base. The air assets confirmed to be involved in Joint Warrior Spring 2014 are these units and/or aircraft:

  • Marine (French Navy) Breguet Atlantique from SECBAT (tail nr. 18), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CP-140 Aurora, two aircraft (140115, 140113 (404 Maritime Patrol and Training Squadron, CFB Greenwood)), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm Westland Wildcat maritime helicopters from 700W Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Yeovilton, UK
  • Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm AgustaWestland Merlin Mk1 shipborne ASW helicopters from 829 Naval Air Squadron, operating from Type 23 frigates
  • Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm AgustaWestland Merlin Mk2 maritime patrol & anti-piracy helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, UK
  • Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm Westland Sea King Mk4 (Commando Helicopter Force) from 845 Naval Air Squadron, operating from Helicopter Carrier HMS Illustrious
  • Royal Netherlands Air Force Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) AS532U2 Cougar Mk2 transport helicopters from 300 Squadron (Gilze Rijen AB), two embarked on the LPD L801 Johan de Witt
  • Royal New Zealand Air Force Lockheed P-3K Orion from 5 Squadron (NZ2403) (Whenuapai Mil), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • Royal Navy/Fleet Air Arm BAe Hawk T1 advanced jet trainers from 736 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Culdrose), at least 4 aircraft (incl. no. XX170, XX301, and XX316), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • Royal Norwegian Air Force Lockheed P-3C Orion (3298 “Viking”) from 333 skvadron (Andøya AB), operating from RAF Lossiemouth
  • Royal Norwegian Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules (5629 “Nanna”) from 353 skvadron (Gardermoen IAP), flying in supplies to RAF Lossiemouth
  • Royal Air Force BAe Hawk T2 advanced jet trainers from 4(R) Squadron, RAF Valley
  • Royal Air Force BAe Hawk T1 advanced jet trainers from 100 Squadron, RAF Leeming
  • Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4 interdicter strike aircraft from IX Squadron, RAF Marham
  • Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role fighters from XI Squadron, RAF Coningsby
  • Royal Air Force Boeing E-3D Sentry AWACS from 8 Squadron, RAF Waddington
  • Royal Air Force Airbus Voyager tanker (A330 MRTT) from 10 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton
  • Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules from 47 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton
  • Royal Air Force BAe 125 CC3 (ZD703) liaison jet from RAF Northolt, flying in RAF Lossiemouth 29 March 2014
  • Royal Air Force Agusta Westland Merlin HC3 medium-lift helicopters from either 28(AC) Squadron and/or 78 Squadron, RAF Benson
  • Royal Air Force Boeing Chinook medium-lift helicopters from either 7 and/or 18 and/or 27 Squadron, RAF Odiham
  • Army Air Corps Boeing/Westland WAH-64 Apache attack helicopters
  • Army Air Corps Boeing Chinook transport helicopters, incl. from 27 Squadron, RAF Odiham
  • Army Air Corps Aérospatiale Puma transport helicopters
  • Army Air Corps Lynx Mk9A
  • US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol & surveillance aircraft, from VP-5 (436) (NAS Jacksonville), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • US Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion MPA, two aircraft from VP-10 (161413, 885) (NAS Jacksonville), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • US Navy Lockheed NP-3 Orion MPA test aircraft, from VX-20 (158204) (NAS Patuxent River), operating out of RAF Lossiemouth
  • US Navy Sikorsky SH-60 and MH-60 Seahawk shipborne maritime helicopters on board the cruisers USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) guided-missile destroyers USS James E. Williams (DDG 95), USS Cole (DDG 67), USS Ross (DDG 71), guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG 58), and fleet replenishment oiler USNS Kanawa (T-AO 196)
  • US Navy Lockheed C-130T-30 Hercules (no. 4598) from VR-55 (NAS Point Mugu) flying in supplies to RAF Lossiemouth

Sources: Koninklijke Marine / Royal Navy / US Navy and several aviation enthousiasts with the latest on-site confirmations.

RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)
Britain is likely to give the Joint Warrior naval fleet simulated air threats with RAF Typhoons like this one
(Image © Marcel Burger)

The 12th USN P-8A Poseidon taking-off from Boeing Field, Seattle (Image © Boeing)
The 12th USN P-8A Poseidon taking-off from Boeing Field, Seattle (Image © Boeing)