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Redskin Challenge 2007; Gilze-Rijen, 12 september 2007

Practice with the 11th LMB; Text and Photograph's by door Alex van Noye

The exercise Redskin Challenge took place from Monday, September 11, until Thursday, September 13, 2007. This preparation exercise took place in the eastern part of Zeeland. The main goal of this exercise is the integrated action of air force units and ground units as a preparation for the mission in Afghanistan.

The helicopter crews of the Royal Netherlands Air Force are trained during the exercise Redskin Challenge. This training contains an integrated action between ground units and air force units. The exercise is a preparation for ISAF III mission in Afghanistan. The focus of the training is a safe and effective cooperation between the participating forces. Ground units of the Royal Netherlands Army are in this scenario supported by Apache helicopters from Gilze-Rijen airbase and Cougar transport helicopters from Soesterberg airbase during Close Air Support and Close Combat Attacks actions. Besides the Dutch helicopter fleet, two German Bo-105 Bölkow helicopters are supporting the actions during the exercise. The two helicopters are mainly used for reconnaissance purposes during the mission. There is a cooperation between helicopters and fighter planes in addition to the cooperation with ground troops. The helicopters carry out reconnaissance flights and support ground units on dangerous locations. The exercise takes place exclusively during the daylight period from 8 am until 4 pm.

The scenario of the exercise takes place on the glider field of Axel in Zeeland. The two German Bölkow helicopters will initially explore the approach route to the glider field in Axel on Wednesday morning. The German unit found an anti aircraft battery on the dike near the property of Saeftinghe. The installation is a radar guided installation. The formation of the Diablo Flight which consists of four Apaches decided to split up after they got this information. Two Apaches went down to destroy this battery before the transport helicopters arrived. The Germans will designate the target for the Apache crews. The other two Apaches will escort the two Chinook and the two Cougar transport helicopters. They guide the helicopters to the landing zone where the soldiers of the 11th LMB are dropped. Two army units are present inside the transport helicopters, namely; the 'Red Devils' of the C Company of 12 Infantry Battalion and the

Air Assault unit of the Regiment Van Heutsz. The soldiers need to contact immediately after their landing some soldiers who operate under the flag of the United Nations in this area. A group of fifty citizens, working with the Shell and Dow Chemical Company, needs to be evacuated from this hostile territory. The security situation is too low and immediate reinforcement was applied by the authorities. The purpose of the mission is to evacuate the citizens as safely as possible from this hostile territory.

The exercise Redskin Challenge started early for me. I was already at 9 am at Gilze-Rijen. I knew that a few helicopters would arrive before the mission today. Gilze-Rijen was the collection point for all helicopters which took part in this exercise. This meant that the Cougars and Chinooks from Soesterberg first came to Gilze-Rijen to pick up the soldiers of the 11th LMB. It soon became clear that today was going to be a day with much flying activity at Gilze-Rijen. There were already four Apaches on the platform when I arrived. It did not take long before the Bölkows of the German Army were put outside. The two Bölkows were from Fritzlar and they were both equipped with TOW missile tubes on each side of the helicopter. The helicopters from Soesterberg appeared on the horizon after 30 minutes. The two Cougars arrived first and the two Chinooks followed five minutes later. My current position is the perfect location for photography at this moment of the day. All the helicopters landed on the platform of the no 301 Squadron. The Cougars banked exactly at the right moment towards the platform. I was therefore able to shoot some great shots. The Chinooks appeared a few minutes later. The Chinooks flew lower than the Cougars did during their approach. The Chinooks were both equipped with gunners in the side doors and one who was sitting on the ramp at the back.

The first helicopters which were started were the two German Bölkows. Both helicopters were parked on the platform with the back side towards me. This was not the ideal position for photos. The light on the helicopters on the platform was great. When the German helicopters started to move I saw that I was a lucky guy today. The pilots of both helicopters had chosen to leave via the taxi track next to the fence. Both Bölkows flew at one meter height over the taxi track to the runway. These were the photos of the day. It was especially good when they turned at the corners of the taxi track. The helicopters hovered in spectacular positions above the concrete. So it was a great series of pictures from various angles. Two Apaches appeared immediately after the two Bölkows and they made the same maneuvers. The Bölkows and the Apaches disappeared together to the west. The other helicopters had started their engines as well in the meanwhile. Six helicopters were warming up on the platform at this moment, namely; two Apaches, two Chinooks and two Cougars. The transport helicopters were waiting on the runway for the two Apaches which were still on the platform. I was luckier with the Apaches; they used the first taxi track. The two Apaches taxied over the taxi track towards the runway. I positioned myself at the head of the runway in the meanwhile. I was therefore able to catch the Apache when they entered the runway. All the helicopters were on the runway now. This was a spectacular sight. It is quite unusual to see that many helicopters on the runway at the same time. All helicopters went at once into a hover above the runway. The helicopters hovered all with their back side towards me. This was a unique picture, because I had never seen this before. The helicopters hovered a few minutes at this position before they left. Also these helicopters moved to the west. My relatively short visit to Gilze-Rijen was over after the departure of this formation. I would not wait for the return of these helicopters. It took more than two hours before they would return, because the helicopters moved to Zeeland for the exercise.

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