Tag Archives: Lakota

Our top 10 aviation moments of 2016

So that’s 2016 almost over and done with. This past year saw  military aviation headlines wizz by in a  record and sometimes worrying tempo. Donald Trump’s pending presidency along with Putin’s neverending desire to show Russia’s potential will decide the pace for 2017. But for now, let’s look back at a year that wothout a doubt had it’s moments here at Airheadsfly.com. And for all readers: thanks for doing so and a happy new year to you all!


The Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford saw the F-35 for the first time. But this supposed star of the show was outstaged by the fabulous F-22 Raptor. Seeing is believing.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)


Early in the year, we flew the Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakota helicopter, courtesy of the US Army in Germany.  They come in green but also in this wild combination of colours, which stands out against the German countryside…. like a bruised banana. Because that’s what these machines are nicknamed.

(Image © Dennis Spronk).


A Lightning in blue skies. Early June, we boarded a Royal netherlands Air Force KDC-10 tanker aircraft for a sortie alongside the F-35A Lightning II over the North Sea. It’s in the air where the beast becomes a beauty.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)


A beast, that is also what this Eurofighter Typhoon was at Fairford in July.  Fully tooled up and piloted by BAE Systems test pilot Nat Makepeace, this jet gave all other Typhoon diplays at the same airshow – and there were plenty- a run for their money.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)


A top shot from Paweł Bondaryk, our guy in Poland. He was on scene when the Polish Air Force took delivery of its first Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Bielik trainer jets, capturing one of the aircraft peacefully after the delivery flight.

(Image © Paweł Bondaryk)


Airheadsfly.com was also on scene on when both Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) touched Dutch soil for the first time on 23 May 2016. The weather did not cooperate in any way, but as both jets came to rest and festivities ended, all was well. “An awesome experience”, recounted one of the pilots.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)


Between 21 February and 4 March, Portugal was the stage of annual exervise Real Thaw. Our contributor Jorge Ruivo was there to provide you with some much needed burner action. These burners belong to a US Air Force F-15C Eagle.

(Image © Jorge Ruivo)
(Image © Jorge Ruivo)


So yeah, of course our flight in the Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Master has to be in this. With hundreds of pictures taken, it’s a pity that we can show only a small selection. Here’s one of formation leader Cobra 1 over a fine turqoise Italian coastline.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)


Turkey made a lot of news headlines this year. And ok, technically it may have been 2015 when Dirk Jan de Ridder took this shot of two Turkish Air Force T-38 Talons. But we sure were glad to bring it to you in 2016 as part of a feature story on pilot training in Turkey. And given the fact that a lot of Turkish fast jet pilots were fired from duty after the failed coup, there’s a lot of training of new pilots to do.

(Image © Dirk Jan de Ridder)


Looking back at 2016, it has to be said:  it was the year of the F-35 Lightning II. We learned a lot about the program during successful visits to Edwards Air Force Base in the US and Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Furthermore, at Airheadsfly.com we were among the very first media ever to be allowed access to F-35 production in Cameri, Italy.

The F-35 program celebrated major steps in 2016, such as the Initial Operation Capability within the US Air Force, but also the delivery of more aircraft than even before, including new jets for Israel and Japan.

There were setback also: insulation problems kept many jets grounded for weeks, while Canada opted not to buy the F-35 for now. Last but not least, president-to-be Donald Trump started taking swings at the program’s costs. And yes, development of this jet is expensive and still has some way to go – but it will get there and it will be impressive. And perhaps prove necessary.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Flying bruised bananas during Saber Junction

Saber Junction and bruised Bananas. Not the phrase you expect? It makes sense when you realize that the strikingly camouflaged UH-72 Lakota helicopters used by the US Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Europe are dubiously nicknamed after a certain bruised fruit. Saber Junction confronts Lakota crews with three weeks of energy-packed exercise.

(Image © Alexander Lutz)
Related reading: H145: customized best seller for all. (Image © Alexander Lutz)

Earlier in April, Airheadsfly.com witnessed the kick off of Saber Junction at the US 7th Army Hohenfels training area in southern Germany . The area is the epicenter of the exercise for much of April. It is also a regular training ground for Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakotas, of which the US Army ordered well over 400.

The JMRC and it’s Lakotas exist to provide visiting forces with realistic training, and thus better prepare them for actual warfare. All is done under the watchful eye of an Observer-Controller-Trainers (OCT), all experienced officers who are quick to see where improvements are to be made.


Today, warfare seems to be limited to a sling load exercise and formation flying across the forest and fake villages of Hohenfels. In one of these villages, a minaret gives a clue about the scenario’s fought out. In a similar fake village, the minaret is replaced by a church. Elsewhere, tanks and other military vehicles cross the fields, signaling things are actually happening on the ground.

The relative peace in the Lakota’s cockpits contrasts with the actual numbers of this year’s Saber Junction: nearly 5,000 participants from 16 nations join forces and seek tactical interoperability. The exercise is originally meant to evaluate the readiness of one two US Army combat brigades in Europe. This year, the 173rd Airborne Brigade is at the focus of Saber Junction. On 12 April, the brigade showed itself in a massive airdrop near Hohenfels, using C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.

Other assets

Other airborne assets are UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47F Chinooks and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. In fact, the Lakota is outnumbered by many; only eight are available at Hohenfels, four in standard green camouflage plus another four in the bruised banana scheme. The former is used for obervation flights mostly, while the latter acts as an opposing force.

The Lakota is however not the primary aircraft for those flying it, says chief warrant officer Thomas E. Weekley, one of it’s pilots. “We are all Black Hawk, Apache or Chinook pilots. We fly the Lakota specifically for the period we are here. After that, we transition back to our primary aircraft. In about a year, I will be back on the Apache. I have about 2,000 hours in that helicopter, including tours to Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Experience is  what JMRC’s pilots have in common, which is the reason they fly the Lakota as an OCT. It’s a sought after position within the US Army, even when it involves flying a helicopter nicknamed ‘bruised banana’. It’s rewarding job, according to Weekely: “It’s great to see units improve with our coaching and sustain the things they already do well.”

Behind Weekely, a formation flight of three Lakotas returns to the flight line. They are readied for the next day’s flying, but mostly for all that’s to come next during Saber Junction.

More on this exercise will follow at Airheadsfly.com.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © by Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image (top): Its camouflage earned this Lakota a dubious nickname. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Air to air image of both camo’s, the green and the “bruised banana”, both operated by the US Army’s Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) based at Hohenfels. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Time for a briefing in the field for the next misssion. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
An Lakota crewmember. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The ‘bruised banana’ Lakotas often act als opposing forces. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hoisting in progress. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This is one of the 4 "green" Lakotas of the Falcon team, based at Hohenfels (Image © Dennis Spronk)
JMRC operates four standard green AH-72 Lakota, plus four in the ‘bruised banana’ caouflage. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
A green Lakota departs from an improvised landing area… (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
… and is followed by a camouflaged one. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The three-tone camouflage doesn’t really work over Europe… (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
… whereas the green camouflage does. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Landing at the end of the day’s flying. (Image © Dennis Spronk)


First new UH-72A Lakota for training

Airbus Group on 26 March delivered to the US Army the first UH- 72A Lakota helicopter to come off the Airbus Helicopters Inc. production line configured for the Lakota’s latest mission, as the service’s initial-entry training helicopter.

The aircraft will join seven Lakotas previously in the army inventory that have already been modified to the training configuration and fielded to Fort Rucker, in preparation for the Lakota’s formal introduction into the training curriculum in early fiscal 2016. Ultimately, army plans call for an initial-entry rotary wing training fleet of 187 Lakotas, made up of a mix of new deliveries and already in-service aircraft reconfigured for the training mission.

To date, the Department of Defense has ordered 411 Lakotas, 400 for the U.S. Army. With today’s delivery, 332 completed aircraft have been delivered from the Airbus Helicopters Inc. production facility in Columbus, MS.

The Lakota was competitively selected in 2006 to fill a wide variety of roles for the Active Army and Army National Guard, including search and rescue, medical evacuation, border security, command and control, VIP transport, general utility and training. Army National Guard units, operating UH-72As equipped with the Security & Support Mission Equipment Package, are deployed supporting Customs and Border Protection missions along the US-Mexico border. The Lakota is also operated in a training role by the US Naval Test Pilot School.

The Royal Thai Army has ordered UH-72As through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales program. These Lakotas are scheduled to be fielded to Thailand within the coming months. Airbus Helicopters is marketing the UH-72A to other allied nations with requirements for a modern, low cost multi-mission helicopter.

The UH-72A according to Airbus is a powerful, stable, and agile platform with a glass cockpit that is compatible with night vision goggles. The Lakota is single-pilot Instrument Flight Rules certified. It has the lowest cost to buy, own and operate of any US military helicopter in production.

Source: Airbus Helicopters
Featured image (top): A UH-72 Lakota inflight. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)