Two new Belgian Air Force aircraft types presented
In less than a single week the Belgian Air Force could present two new aircraft types, for sure an occasion which is quite unique in todays atmosphere of budgetary restriction.
At Koksijde airbase, Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem (CD&V) could indeed unveil to the press the newest version of the Airbus Helicopters NH 90, the naval multirole version or Nato Frigate Helicopter (NFH) while only four days later at Melsbroek airbase the Minister first showed the Airbus A321-231, the newest transport/passenger aircraft for the Belgian Air Force.
Airbus Helicopters NH90 NFH
In June 2007, after approval by the Belgian Government, NAHEMA (the NATO Helicopter Management Agency) signed a contract (on behalf of Belgium) with NHIndustries to supply Belgium Defence with a total of ten NH90 helicopter. These ten NH90's included four aircraft in the TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) version, four in the NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) version - and two options (which later were dropped due to budgetary restrictions). On September 18th, 2012 the first NH90 (TTF version) destined for Belgium made its initial flight and was delivered to its home base Beauvechain on October 2nd, 2013. In January 2014 the NH Industries company name was officially changed into Airbus Helicopters. In the mean time the first Nato Frigate Helicopter version for Belgium (registered RN-01) had made its first flight at flight Donauwörth(D.) on 13 Apr 2013 (temporarily registered 98+51). As this aircraft remains at Marignane (F.) until July 2014 for contractual training of both crews and technicians, it was the second NFH with registration RN-02 who took the honours of being the first machine to be offiially presented at Koksijde airbase on Friday 16 May 2014. (The aircraft was delivered to Koksijde on 09 May 2014)
The NH90 NFH, which is to replace the very popular Seaking helicopters at Koksijde, has a crew of 5 comprising a Captain SAR (pilot), a First Officer (co-pilot), a Cabin Operator (winch man), a Diver and a Medic. For its Search and Rescue operations (SAR) and compared to its predecessor, the NH90 has much more powerful engines, better manoeuvrability, night vision goggle compatibility, a new generation infra-red camera and digital cockpit. For additional maritime operations (MAR) the NH90 NFH is equipped with a 360° maritime radar, electronic self-protection and is able to land on ship decks.
Demonstrating the sleek lines of the NH90 NFH, with undercarriage extended and retracted.
Airbus Helicopters NH90 NFH RN-02 in formation with its predecessor the Westland Seaking Mk.48 RS-04
By 2020 the Airbus Helicopters NH90 NFH will also replace the Aerospatiale (Sud Aviation) Alouette III such as M-2 seen at Koksijde on 16 May 2014.
In order to replace the Airbus A330-300 leased from the Portuguese airline HiFly trough French airline broker Avico of which the contract was coming to an end, the Belgian Defence opted for a smaller sized single aisle (or narrow-body) airliner which could fulfil most of the tasks of the A330 and this at a significant lower operating cost (savings of up to 4 Mio Euro a year were/are projected). After a tender procedure a contract was signed with the same company for the lease of a single Airbus A321 includes all aircraft maintenance and insurance, provision of a replacement aircraft in case of unavailability within a 3 day's notice, provision of additional aircraft upon request from Belgian Defence and the possibility to lease back the dedicated aircraft to 3rd parties.
The aircraft, Airbus A321-231 CS-TRJ, has been tailored to the requirements of the Belgian Air Force and includes the required cabin configuration, installation of an auxiliary central fuel tank and installation of a cargo loading system. With the installation of the additional fuel tank the maximum range becomes 5.550km or 4300km with a full load of 153 passengers bringing the US East coast within reach from Melsbroek airbase. If a larger range or capacity is needed the Belgian Air Force can still utilise other equipment within the EATC (European Air Transport Command) as since 07 April 2014 the new A321 officially came under the operational control of the European Air Transport Command in Eindhoven. Reversing the habit of painting their passenger carrying aircraft white (giving them the Belgian Air Force nickname "white products") the Belgian Air Force decided to paint the Airbus A321 in a more "military" overall grey colour scheme.
This newest aircraft in the Belgian Air Force fleet was officially presented at Melsbroek airbase on Tuesday 20 May 2014.
Airbus A321-231 CS-TRJ (c/n 1004) at the official presentation of the newest Belgian Air Force aircraft at Melsbroek on 20 May 2014.
Some interesting details of the low-viz markings of Airbus A321-231 CS-TRJ
© Daniel Brackx (May 2014)
Last updated 07/11/11 10:59 Daniel Brackx