Sea King MISSION: “DAY 202 - 15h17 + 30  seconds"

 

It is quite common for us, Belgians to have the annual national military parade at Brussels on the 21st of July. As a spectator of the event or as viewer on television, it looks rather evident that the parades on the ground and in the air of elements of all Components of the Belgian Defence are presented as well oiled machinery. However to have the whole performance come together as a well organized parade, every part has to be timed to the second. This requires a very tight schedule to be respected by all participants and which has to be rehearsed and practiced weeks in advance.

The flying part of this operation will be trained 3 to 4 times some 2 weeks in advance, with at least one type of each helicopter/airplane type flying over the Belgian capital, this in order to avoid any height and/or timing conflicts during the actual presentation of the various formations.

This year I was privileged to have a look behind the scenes and even to participate in the air parade.

 KOKSIJDE (EBFN): 21-07-2005 – 12h00

At noon, we were welcomed by a PR-representative of Defence at the coastal base. After filling in the necessary administrative paperwork, we quickly went to the 40 Squadron hangar were we received a warm welcome by the CO and some pilots. They were in process of filing their flight plans and were ordering the ground crew to refuel the different helicopters. The briefing for all participating Sea King and Alouette helicopters pilots would take place at 13:00 hour local.

 3, 2, 1… TOP, its now exactly 13:00:00! All the watches are now adjust to precisely the same time; this is of utmost importance to reach the various waypoints within the specified time limits. During this briefing all aspects of the flight are discussed in depth; weather-forecast, the precise flight plan, the positions in the formations….  Further some recommendations are given in case one of the helicopters should suffer a technical mishap during the start-up procedure or even in flight to destination.

Sea King crew

The crew of RS-02

I’ am becoming part of “fogtip 1” with the 40Sqn crewmembers “chappy”, “billy” and “little joe” flying together with “navy 1”, “navy 2”, “fogtip 2”, “fogtip 3”, the representative call signs for the 2 Alouette III and 3 Seakings helicopters participating in the formation flight over Brussels. After a last short briefing concerning safety around and in the helicopter, we are boarding “RS02”at 14:00 hour, the machine which is to act as the lead-ship for the triple Sea King formation.

 

TAKE-OFF: 21-07-2005 – 14h15.

With a short forward move, the Sea King is taking off from the helicopter apron; sitting at the observers-window, I can see the other helicopters departing as well. Soon afterwards the helicopters take up their positions in the formation and at 14:20 the first way-point is reached. Weather conditions are favorable today with even a sunny spell over the coast. At a height of 800 feet we are heading for Ruiselede, further to Aalst and finally to Halle. Aalst is acting as the last coordination point, were last timing and/or speed adjustments are made to reach the capital at precisely the right time. During the last part of the route, speed will be reduced to 70 knots, and the flight level to 500 feet. This in accordance with the other slower helicopter types which are taking part in the flying parade.

 Sea King in flight

Pinpoint navigation on the way to Brussels

BRUSSELS: 21-07-2005 – 15h17 + 30 seconds.

We have made it exactly on time and are flying over the parade grounds in front of the Royal Palace. From the observers window I can clearly see the first Alpha Jets passing above us in tight formation. In their wake they are trailing the Belgian tricolor smoke. Everything is now following in rapid succession, all the formations Alouette II, Alouette III, Agusta A-109, SF-260 Marchetti, C-130H Hercules, Fouga Magister, Embraer RJ, Belgian and Dutch F-16s and a sole A-310 Airbus are passing just above or near to us. It’s a unique sight to view this spectacle from the air instead of having to watch it from terra firma.

 Sea King rear view

View to the rear from the observer's seat.

THE ACTORS:

The Belgian Defence’s Air Component has two helicopter types available at Koksijde airbase. Least known of these are the three SA.316B Alouette III’s, previous resorting under the Sea Component and before on the inventory of the Navy. Already in use since 1971 these 3 machines have flown a combined total of about 22.000 hours (+ 7430 hours for the M-1). Primary mission remains the support of the Navy ships of Belgium and/or The Netherlands. These activities account for about half of the total flying hours. Amongst other tasks are cross country VIP transportation flights. The five Sea King helicopters on the other hand are widely know if not for their star performance in the very successful television-series “Windkracht 10”. Due to their age and operation in a demanding salt seawater environment the Sea Kings are expected to be replaced by a new type of mid-sized helicopter within a couple of years. Together the 40 Squadron Sea Kings totalise 49.000 flying hours (+ 10110 hours for RS04). For 2005 up to mid-August no less than 55 scrambles were noted in which the lives of 20 persons were saved.

 Sea King's over the beach

Crowded beach on 21 July 2005

During Mr. Guy Verhofstadt’s, Belgian’s Prime Minister’ visit to the biggest aviation marketing place at Le Bourget (Paris) in June 2005, he announced that in about 2 years time both helicopter types will be replaced by probably the NH90 or the EH101! A call for tenders is expected by the end of 2005 or early 2006. To be continued….

 

Everybody interested to see the Belgian Defence’s Alouette III and/or the Sea King in action is invited to visit the annual airshow at Koksijde airbase, taking place on 3 and 4 September 2005. Website: http://www.airshowkoksijde.be/

Text and pictures

DIRK A. GEERTS (July 2005)

Last updated 15/08/07 08:36   Daniel Brackx

daniel.brackx@telenet.be