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De Luchtmacht Open Dagen, Part I; Leeuwarden, June 15, 2006

303 Squadron – Search and Rescue; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

Leeuwarden is the home base of the no 303 Search And Rescue (SAR) Squadron. The unit is currently equipped with the Augusta-Bell AB-412SP. These bright yellow helicopters are used for rescue missions and hospital transports in the Wadden area. One helicopter is standby at Terschelling for this duty every day.

The Search And Rescue (SAR) Flight was established on April 26, 1959 at Ypenburg Air Base. The unit at this base was part of the no 298 Squadron. The SAR flight was at that moment equipped with 6 Allouette II helicopters. The unit was initially equipped with the Hiller 23B Raven after it was founded. The capabilities of this helicopter were far below standard and therefore it never came into action. The Allouette II was used for the SAR Flight from 1959 to 1966. The flight was later expanded with two additional Allouette II helicopters which came back from New Guinea. The SAR Flight was assigned to the Flight Duty Squadron of Ypenburg Air Base from September 1, 1961. The SAR Flight received its first Allouette III helicopter in 1966. A total of 5 Allouettes were purchased for the SAR Flight. Ypenburg Air Base was closed because of cuts in funds in 1968 and the SAR Flight was simultaneously with the no 298 and the no 334 Squadron relocated to Soesterberg Air Base. It did not take long before the unit moved again, because on September 23, 1977 it moved to Leeuwarden Air Base. The reason for action was to serve the islands in the north of the Netherlands in the Wadden area. The photography task which belonged to the flight stayed behind at Soesterberg. The SAR Flight is nowadays still active at Leeuwarden Air Base. The unit also has a detachment at Vlieland to guard the Cornfield Range. The 4 Allouette III helicopters were replaced by 3 Augusta-Bell AB-412SP helicopters to improve the capabilities of the unit. The first of these 3 helicopters was delivered in February 1994 at Leeuwarden Air Base. The helicopter was soon nicknamed "Tweety" because of its yellow color.

The SAR Flight has a number of operational tasks. The SAR Flight has besides the military task also a civilian task. There is at least one AB-412 helicopter available every day for patient transport from the Wadden Islands to the mainland. This helicopter is standby at Vlieland since 1993 to perform this task quickly. The SAR Flight received a new name in 1998. The unit was renamed from SAR Flight to no 303 Squadron.

The primary tasks of the no 303 Squadron are to track and rescue soldiers practicing on; The Vliehors Range at Vlieland, the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) Range over the North Sea and the Temporary Reserve Airspaces (TRAs) north of the Wadden Islands. Those areas are widely used by the Dutch F-16 units to practice maneuvering the F-16. The secondary task of the no 303 Squadron is medevac. This task consists of transporting people from the Islands to the hospitals on the mainland. The yellow SAR helicopters are about 150 times a year scrambled to support medical actions. The no 303 Squadron is also involved with search actions for the police. The crew helped the police to search for fugitive thieves at the Green Star near Leeuwarden on September 18, 2002. The basic crew of the AB-412SP consists of a captain and a first pilot. The crew is expanded during a Search And Rescue mission with two board technicians; one is a hoist operator and the other is the rescue swimmer. Both the board technicians had first aid training. One nurse and one board technician are on board when the helicopter is equipped in the so-called flying medevac configuration. Also a doctor can fly with the helicopter if needed. The nurses are not permanently employed in the SAR Flight; they are from the Medical Service.

The weather was very bad when I arrived in Leeuwarden during the arrivals’ day. It would be gray all day and from time to time it would rain a lot. The planes came in via the east wind landing on the Marsum side. Unfortunately, the police had closed the road to the spotter’s hill today. We were lucky, because the farmer allowed us to enter his field next to the base. Spotting during the arrivals would have been very difficult without this action of the farmer. The arrivals’ day started for me with the arrival of a Czech Grippen. It was followed not much later by a German Phantom from Wittmundhafen. The Phantom made several touch and go’s before the plane actually landed. The Blue Angels started their demo practice at the beginning of the afternoon. They made a reconnaissance flight over the field to become more familiar with the air base for their demonstration at the air show. The F/A-18s of the Blue Angels flew several times at a very low altitude over the houses near the air base; the people who live in the houses must have heard this. One of the Blue Angels went almost supersonic at this low height. The Blue Angels practice took about one hour. The aircraft landed one by one after a good practice round. Several arriving aircraft were in the holding area around the airfield during the Blue Angel practice. All these aircraft came in for landing.

The first aircraft which arrived was a MiG-29A of the Polish Air Force. Several helicopters came in, such as; a British Merlin, a Belgian Sea-King and a Dutch Lynx. Two Spanish Hornetts and one British Jetstream appeared not much later. The Red Arrows came in with a large formation which went neatly into the break over the field. One of my highlights came in after the landing of the Red Arrows; it was a Finnish Fokker F-27 Friendship. This aircraft is not often seen; therefore it is a special aircraft to catch. The Belgians came in with two F-16s. A German Eurofighter from JG-73 entered the landing shortly after the Belgians had landed. I still do not have too many of these brand new aircraft in my collection. Laage is currently the first German airfield which is active with this type. Slowly, all Phantoms are being replaced by the EF2000. My second highlight which came in was the German Atlantic. I was very happy with this aircraft because it was the first time I could catch it decently. It was already late in the afternoon and the weather was not improving. I therefore decided to go home after the landing of the Czech Antonov An-26. The weather was horrible today, but I managed to catch a few decent photos of the arrivals. Today’s results were three photo containers with 36 photos on each of them.

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