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NH90 Initial Qualification; Beauvechain, May 20, 2015

The THPU 2015, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

After the contract for the procurement of the NH90 was signed in late 2007, the NH90 helicopters have now all been delivered during 2014 and 2015. The first crews of the helicopters are now in the conversion training from the A-109 to the NH90. This training consisted of some necessary trainings and qualifications.

The latest purchase of the Belgian Air Force is the NH90 medium transport helicopter. Belgium signed the contract for the purchase of the NH90 multirole helicopters on June 18, 2007. The Belgian Defense bought a total of eight helicopters in two versions. Four machines are helicopters of the type NH90 TTH (Troop Transport Helicopter) for tactical transport tasks. The four TTH helicopters will complement the Augusta A-109 fleet at Beauvechain for the tasks performed by the Army. In addition, the Belgian Defense has purchased four NH90 NFH (Naval Frigate Helicopter) helicopters. These helicopters will be stationed at Koksijde Air Base. The last helicopter of the type NFH was delivered to the Belgian Air Component in the spring of 2015. The NH90 NFH can be deployed on frigates and is recognizable by its gray color scheme and the radome under the fuselage. The four NFH variants will replace the outdated Sea-Kings at Koksijde Air Base. The Sea-King fulfilled the SAR task for more than 40 years and is now strongly outdated. The Sea-King will remain in use until 2016 at the Belgian Air Force, because the NH90s are currently undergoing the qualifications to take over the SAR task. Only since 2014, the Belgian air component received its first NH90 heli- copters. The NH90 helicopters will be maintained at Beauvechain Air Base, because maintenance of the helicopters will be centrally organized on this basis.

The four Belgian NH90s of the type Troop Transport Helicopter (TTH) have conducted a formation flight for the first time on Thursday, February 12, 2015. The four NH90s took off from their home base Beauvechain for a training flight. This flight was part of the operational qualification trajectory of the Belgian NH90 fleet. This qualification flight lasted about 45 minutes. With this training flight the Air Component showed that the new NH90 TTH fleet is available for hundred percent, according to Lt. Col. Michel Gelders. Gelders is currently the commander of the no 18 Squadron (18 Smaldeel). The no 18 Squadron is the unit which will fly at Beauvechain with the NH90. During the

initial qualification we will train the main formations. They are all formations which are used in tactical missions in which the NH90 TTH helicopter can be deployed in the near future. The transition from the Augusta A109 helicopter to the much more modern NH90 is for the pilots a large adjustment. The NH90 is a helicopter which is much heavier than the A-109. The A-109 weighs three tons and the NH90 over eleven tons. Another important aspect which the NH90 pilots are facing is the new glass cockpit. The analog gauges and dials of the A-109 are in the NH90 replaced by modern digital screens. The cargo capacity of the NH90 is many times larger than that of the Augusta A-109. The NH90 can carry a large number of well-armed soldiers.

The crews of the NH90 TTH transport version performed an operational training and evaluation (OT&E) in Schaffen (Belgium) and Sanicole airport in Leopoldsburg (Belgium) on February 23, 2015. During an OT&E the crews will train procedures for the lifting of heavy loads under the helicopter. This evaluation exercise was created to get the crew operational on the NH90. During the first flights of the day an NH90 moved various cargo pallets in nets weighing about 500 kg under the fuselage as a sling load. When moving such big loads of cargo the loadmaster plays a crucial role in the helicopter. He must determine very accurately the position and altitude of the helicopter. The ground forces are then safely able to attach the cargo on the hook under the fuselage of the helicopter. Later during the training the NH90 picked up thirteen soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Commandos with full equipment. These soldiers were picked up in Schaffen and were moved to Sanicole where the soldiers performed a dropping in a combat situation. During such operations, the loadmaster should continuously monitor the weight of the cargo to ensure the stability of the helicopter. Furthermore, the loadmaster is responsible for quickly loading and unloading soldiers and the load of cargo in the helicopter. During this qualification, also a session was flown with heavier loads such as mortar canons and light terrain vehicles under the fuselage. Finally, the crew of the helicopter also flew sorties in darkness making use of night vision equipment.

Since the beginning of 2015, the crews of the naval version of the NH90 are in training at the Belgian airbase Koksijde. The four NH90 NFH helicopters will be deployed mainly in the SAR role along the Belgian coastline. On March 18, a so called Sea Work training flight was performed by the Belgian NH90 crew along the Belgian coastline. During the flight the crew trained procedures for search and rescue at sea (SAR). During these exercises, the crew and their helicopters are prepared for their operational deployment. Training of the team is an important aspect of the trajectory. Everyone has a specific function on board of the helicopter. Each crew member must know exactly what the others are doing. During the training flights one of the NH90 helicopters flew in the direction of the Westhinder Bank which is a sand bank at the Belgian coast. The crew of the helicopter joined the new patrol boat P901 Castor of the Belgian Navy Component. The helicopter flew parallel with the ship. It seems that the helicopter is hovering stationary over the quarterdeck of the Castor. In reality, the helicopter flies exactly at the same speeds as the ship sails. The diver and medic were hoisted down on the ship during this exercise. The pilot, the cabin operator and the man at the bottom of the cable work closely together to lower these men as safe as possible. They need to determine very accurately the position and altitude of the helicopter. The coordination during such kinds of action is determining the success of the mission. Later during the flight the diver was dropped at full sea with full equipment and was later picked up again. These types of workouts are the basis for the qualification of the NH90 in the SAR role.

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