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3 Régiment Hélicoptères de Combat; Etain-Rouvres, June 26, 2011

Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre; Text and Photograph’s by Alex van Noye

On Sunday, June 26, 2011, I attended the air show at Etain-Rouvres. The 3 Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat of the ALAT (Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre) is based at this airfield. This unit flies the Gazelle of several types and the Puma and it is one of the biggest helicopter regiments in the French Army.

The 3RHC was founded on August 1, 1977. The 3RHC is a direct descent of the Aviation Platoon of the 9th Colonial Infantry Division. This unit was later designated as the 23rd Artillery Group. The 9th Division d'Infanterie Coloniale (9DIC), which is known as the 9th Colonial Infantry Division, was formed on July 15, 1943, in North Africa. The unit was stationed in the French colonial parts of West Africa and was based in countries like Morocco and Algeria. Many Africans were therefore moved to France from North Africa through Spain. The 9DIC existed mainly out of Africans who came from all the regions of the colony. The 9th DIC was part of the First French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny. The 23rd Artillery Group was stationed in the former Indochina from 1947 to 1954. The insignia of the unit's military medal contains an olive of the Croix de Guerre from overseas operations with six citations. The 3RHC is located at Etain-Rouvres nowadays. This town has about 3,700 inhabitants and is situated 20 km from Verdun and 50 km from Metz just below Luxembourg. The main task of the 3RHC is primarily an offensive role. This task is to attack enemy targets by day and night time anywhere in the world. Possible targets of these actions may include attacking armored vehicles, transfer stations and enemy shelters.

The 3RHC consists of a number of squadrons which are equipped with different helicopter types. In total there are 6 helicopter squadrons stationed at Etain. The first squadron is the 1 Escadrille d'Hélicoptères d'Attaque (EHA1). This unit is equipped with the Gazelle SA342M; the unit flies 9 of these helicopters. The Gazelles of this unit are identified by the letters GAx, GBx and GCx where x is a letter which is unique per helicopter. The helicopters of this unit are equipped as a combat helicopter. The gazelles are armed with the Vivane system and they are armed with HOT missiles. With these weapons, they can destroy targets under any weather condition. The second squadron is the Escadrille d'Hélicoptères légers de Reconnaissance (EHR1).

Also this unit is equipped with the SA342M Gazelle. The helicopters of this unit are equipped as light reconnaissance helicopters. These Gazelles are identified by the codes GAx, GBx and GCx. The unit has a total of 9 SA342M Gazelle helicopters. The third and fourth squadron are the Escadrille d'Hélicoptères Appui Protection (EHAP1) and the 2 Escadrille d'Hélicoptères Appui Protection (EHAP2). The helicopters of these units are identified by the codes GQx, GEx and GFX. Both units have 8 SA341F Gazelle helicopters in their order of battle. The Gazelles of these squadrons are equipped with a 20mm cannon. These helicopters are used for armed escorts of transport helicopters. The fifth and sixth squadron at Etain are the 1 Escadrille d'Hélicoptères de Manoeuvre (EHM1) and the 2 Escadrille d'Hélicoptères de Manoeuvre (EHM2). These two units are equipped with the SA330B Puma. These helicopters are used for tactical transport of ground troops and their equipments. The helicopters of these squadrons are identified by the codes DAx, DBx, DCx and DDx.

I arrived at Etain in the morning and the weather was beautiful. It did not take long before we could drive to the parking lots on the base. There was a small static display with a few based helicopters on the main platform. There were a few Puma’s open for the public. The Gazelles were also present on the static. Besides all these helicopters also a number of armored vehicles were on the line. The flightline was not big. There were some Epsilons parked in the grass and a white PC-6 was parked into the grass. Also the Tigre was parked into the grass. This helicopter was already prepared for departure. A small tribune was present at the corner of the display area. This was the place to be for today’s show. The show at Etain was not a big display. There was only 1 helicopter demonstration on the program which would be repeated several times today. The small show became a very big spectacle. The scenario of the demo was to capture a few terrorists by using military force. A Tigre entered from behind the trees after several warnings which were ignored by the terrorists. The helicopter flew with high speed towards the terrorist’s bunker and opened an attack on it.

The first troops who set foot on the ground in this area were a number of enemy paratroopers which were dropped by the PC-6. These were the scouts who had to mark the landing zone. 2 Gazelles took position in the air near the landing zone to secure the area for the Puma's. 2 Puma’s which were escorted by 2 Gazelles appeared on the horizon. The Puma's went into a hover at 3 to 4 meters height on the left side of the shelter. The loadmaster opened the door and a group of soldiers were lowered with the fast rope technique. This all happened very quickly. More armored vehicles attacked the terrorist bunker during the demo. The 2 remaining Gazelles were still guarding the area. Again 2 Puma's appeared on the horizon. These Puma's both had a sling load suspended underneath the helicopter. Both helicopters carried an artillery cannon under the fuselage. These guns were quickly dropped to the ground and the soldiers started to use the guns. The terrorists surrendered after the artillery attack. The artillery cannons were carried away by the armored vehicles after the terrorists had surrendered themselves. The 2 guarding Gazelles flew away with a spectacular manoeuvre. The Puma’s came back once more to pick up the troops who landed before. The Puma's flew away spectacularly low after they had picked up the soldiers. The Puma's were flying at 1 meter height over the grass away from the public. Finally, the Tigre returned to its landing spot. The Tigre landed with its nose in my direction on a taxi track. This resulted in some good pictures of this helicopter. After this demo, I had seen everything and I could leave Etain again. Etain was the first visit during a trip that eventually would lead me to Zeltweg, Austria. Tomorrow I would continue my trip at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The short visit to Etain was good.

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