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Low Flying Area Five; Oirschotse Heide October 20, 2009

Integration Exercise Phoenix Challenge; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The exercise Phoenix Challenge took place at various locations in the Netherlands in the week of October 20, 2009. I followed this exercise at the Oirschotse Heide which is officially designated as Low Flying Area 5 (LFA5). During the exercise this area is used as a landing zone behind the front lines.

Air Force Helicopters, a company of Marines, Army units and units from Germany and Belgium are practicing this week together during the exercise Phoenix Challenge in the counties of Noord-Brabant and Zeeland. The Dutch Air force will participate with four Apaches, two Chinooks and two Cougars and the German Air Force will join the exercise with Two Bolkows. The ground units consist of company of Marines, a platoon of the Air Mobile Brigade, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists and troops from Belgium. The scenario of the exercise is to secure an area by means of a so-called air assault. The participants of Phoenix Challenge will practice how a combined attack from the air in a hostile area can be performed. Armed Apache helicopters will fly through the area first and explore the landing zone and sweep the area from hostile forces if necessary. The Chinooks and the Cougars will enter the area after this action and they are escorted by the Apaches and the Bolkows. They will take over the area by dropping the ground forces and occupy the enemy base. The ultimate goal of the exercise is a safe and efficient cooperation between the various ground troops and air units.

The flying activities of the exercise will take place on Tuesday 20th of October and Thursday the 22nd of October 2009. Helicopters will fly in the afternoon to the Oirschotse Heide, the military practice area of Budel-Weert and the Peel airbase on Tuesday, October 20. On Thursday, October 22 missions were flown during a night session in the vicinity of the glider field near Axel, Zeeland. Military helicopters are allowed to fly as low as needed in the designated areas of the exercise. The participating ground forces are one company of 120 Marines, four soldiers of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit and four Belgian soldiers of the Mobile Air Operations Team. Soldiers from the 11th Airmobile Brigade act as the enemy during the exercise. The Peel airbase and the glider field of Axel are the areas which need to

be occupied during the exercise. The Oirschotse Heide and the military practice area of Budel-Weert are both used as a logistics center behind the front lines. The transport helicopters of the Air Force will use these areas to pick up and deliver some sling loads and to pick up ground forces and transport them to the areas which will be occupied. These were very nice conditions for shooting the green helicopters of the Dutch Air Force. It was clear that an exercise would take place today because there was much more military activity in this area than usual. A Belgian soldier placed the markings for the landing zone for the helicopters after half an hour of waiting. These markings will indicate where the helicopters can land during the exercise. That was very important information for me, because I could position myself on a nice spot next to the landing zone. In the meanwhile a group of six people was gathered around me and we were waiting together for the helicopters. Several army vehicles drove along us during the waiting. It was nice to see all those vehicles and I made a couple of action shots of them. Over one hundred soldiers arrived in the meanwhile and they were preparing themselves for the exercise.

After half an hour of waiting the first helicopters checked in at the air traffic controller of Eindhoven airbase. Eindhoven Airport is located next to the Oirschotse Heide and traffic going to this heath is under control of the air traffic controller of this airbase. A Chinook and a Cougar appeared at the horizon, they flew low over the area looking for a suitable landing spot. They flew in from the north towards the south when they came in for landing at the landing zone. This was very beneficial for us because we had some beautiful light on the front side of the helicopters. Both helicopters made a brown out landing right in front of us. During a brown out landing the sand is blown up by the rotor blades of the helicopter and therefore the pilot can't see anything. The loadmaster needs to guide the pilot to its exact landing spot. Communication between pilot and loadmaster is therefore very important. When those two helicopters stood on the ground I was able to walk to them and I took a few spectacular shots of these machines standing in the sand. The light was really great on the green Chinook and the gray Cougar. Both helicopters stayed grounded for a while with running engines and I had the feeling that they were waiting for something. My thoughts were right when another Chinook and another Cougar appeared on the horizon. Also these helicopters followed the same landing procedure as the previous two.

The Chinooks returned to the landing zone GLV5 after one hour of waiting. For me this would be the highlight of the exercise. The first Chinook which came in for landing had a sling load in the form of two Land Rovers of 5400kg each. The rotor blades of this Chinook were almost overloaded because of the heavy sling load. Such a heavily loaded helicopter can only fly with a very low speed. I was fortunate that this heavily loaded cargo helicopter dropped its sling load right in front of my camera. This event brought me to the best photos of the day. There were a few soldiers on the ground ready to receive these vehicles. A Cougar appeared on the horizon when the Chinook was gone. This Cougar would perform a tactical landing over the heath just next to the indicated landing zone. This was a beautiful moment to capture the Cougar. Finally the second Chinook came back and it also had a sling load under its fuselage. This Chinook wasn't as heavily loaded as the first Chinook which arrived, but the photos of this helicopter were also very beautiful. A group of soldiers who left before by Chinook arrived with this Chinook next to its sling load. This was a group of Belgian soldiers who participated in the exercise. This was the last flight movement that would occur for today. I gathered a spectacular series of photos on my digital photo cards after a great afternoon at the Oirschotse Heide and I was able to go home.

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