Aviation News Journal
NATO Training Article 5
Text and photography: Patrick Dirksen and Joop Zandbergen of
Within NATO countries, ‘Article 5’ is a well-known phrase, meaning an attack on one NATO member is treated as an attack on all members.
16 When Drachten Airfield is turned into a Forward Operating Base, a large group of the Air Task Forces immediately uses it as a staging point from where the next mission of the ground forces at nearby Havelte can be supported.
With the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the resulting war, Article 5 has been frequently mentioned in the media. And an Article 5 scenario is exactly what was the theme of Exercise Falcon Autumn 2022, which was held in the Netherlands at the end of last year. The biennial combined air mobility exercise was not held in 2020 for well-known reasons, but this edition was larger than ever. It enabled Dutch armed forces to train with foreign counterparts in large-scale airborne operations, during which air and ground forces of different militaries had to work closely together.
After being refuelled, this AS.532U2 quickly leaves the FARP at Ginkelse Heide in a spectacular way
For three weeks the Dutch 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade (LMB, Air Mobile Brigade) and the Defensie Helikopter Commando (DHC, Defence Helicopter Command) operated together as the 11 Air Manoeuvre Brigade (AMB). In total, more than 1,000 soldiers were deployed. The Air Task Force consisted of four brand new CH-47F MYII CAAS Chinooks, two NH.90s, two AS.532U2 Cougars and five AH-64D Apaches from the DHC, as well as three Polish Mi-8M/MT Hips from the 25 Brygada Kawalerii Powietrznej (25th Air Cavalry Brigade, 25 BKP) at Tomaszów Mazowiecki. Arriving a few days after the start of the exercise, and participating for one and a half weeks, was the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade (12 CAB) of the US Army, based at Katterbach Army Air Field in Germany. They formed a second Air Task Force with another five CH-47Fs and six AH-64Ds, as well as eight UH-60M Black Hawks.
The setting of Falcon Autumn was a classical Article 5 scenario: NATO member Altravedo (situated in Southern Germany) got in conflict with neighbour Wislania (Northern Germany). Other NATO members came to assist Altravedo and did so operating from Obsidia (the Netherlands). Obviously, Altravedo was not happy with this and invaded Obsidia from the north. The mission of the 11 AMB and its allies was to fight back and push the forces of Altravedo back over the border.
A Polish Mi-8M is preparing for departure while a Dutch AH-64D is taking off to provide air cover.
During the first week of the exercise, small missions were flown so participating forces could become used to each other and to their surroundings. This culminated in a large operation where the lock area at Ossesluis, a tactically important piece of infrastructure keeping the area dry, had to be liberated. Attack helicopters, transport helicopters and infantry worked closely together and overwhelmed the enemy, conquering the canal lock. During the fighting an L-39ZO Albatros of Skyline Aviation conducted reconnaissance and aerial photography, thereby providing real time information to monitor the progress and success of missions. This would be done by F-16s or F-35s during a real conflict. After spending the night on location, all troops were exfiltrated again either by air (including many vehicles that were sling loaded) or by road.
A CH-47 Chinook can take a large amount of fully equipped soldiers, as is visible here.
During the next week, the frontline was pushed further back north. The airfield of Drachten was used by enemy forces, and the task for the 11 LMB was to reconquer this airfield. Lt. Col. Laurens van Leussen, commander of the 13th Infantry Battalion of the 11 LMB, was clear about the value of Falcon Autumn, “Training is needed to make sure procedures are clear. When an actual conflict happens and we have to be deployed, there is no time for that anymore.” He continued, “In NATO, we are used to working together, therefore we have standard procedures. But it is good to do the fine-tuning beforehand, instead of when you are actually deployed.” When asked about the challenges regarding taking back Drachten Airfield, he explained, “The success of the mission was not conquering the airfield in itself, but using no more force than necessary so the airfield and especially the runway could be made operational as soon as possible.” The task was not an easy one. After a few reconnaissance flights the nights before, during which scouts identified and assessed potential helicopter landing sites, insertion of more than 300 troops was done during the night. Divided in multiple groups, they were dropped between 5 and 8 km from the airfield so the helicopters could not be heard by the enemy. Next the airfield had to be approached without being noticed. But the task force succeeded, and the airfield was quickly turned into a Forward Operating Base (FOB) for the ground forces that were following shortly. Part of these ground forces were soldiers qualified for air traffic control, who established ground-to-air communications as soon as the airfield had been secured. Within one hour, the first aircraft landed, a German M-28 Skytruck performing a casualty evacuation or CASEVAC, followed by multiple helicopters.
Lt. Col. Laurens van Leussen, commander of the 13th Infantry Battalion of the 11 LMB at Drachten Airfield after his men have fulfilled their mission.
Not surprisingly, the ongoing war in Ukraine was a hot topic during the exercise. According to Van Leussen, “When Russia invaded Ukraine, within two days my unit was one of the first to be deployed to the Eastern border of Romania as part of the NATO deterrence force. We exercised with Romanian and US troops, giving a clear signal to Russia and also the Romanian people. Since then, we have been following the conflict closely to see what lessons are learned there. How do they use their unmanned systems, their air force, how do they move and operate?”
International cooperation at its best: a US Army CH-47F with a Dutch army vehicle as underslung load.
All lessons learned were put in practice in the last week of Falcon Autumn, when former Valkenburg Naval Air Station had to be liberated from the enemy. A large force was again dropped off by the transport helicopters, including para jumpers, while AH-64s arranged cover from the air. After some fierce firefighting, the airfield was cleared from enemy troops.
Two Dutch NH.90-NFHs of 860 Squadron skimming the treetops on their way to Ossesluis
As logistics are a critical part of every military operation, a lot of attention was given to that during the exercise. Main camp was dormant De Peel Air Base, nowadays called Lieutenant General Best Barracks, in the south of the Netherlands. Lt. Col. Roy Hemmelder, commander of 300 squadron in daily life and, during the exercise, commander of the Air Task Force with the Dutch and Polish helicopters, said, “At De Peel we have built a complete camp from scratch on a grass field. Here we are fully self-supportive… We also have multiple locations spread over the country where we can pick up troops or refuel our helicopters and get additional arms and ammunition.” Deelen airbase was used as a hub for the forces that deployed to the north while at the Ginkelse Heide and the Arnhemse Heide Forward Arming and Refuelling Points (FARP) were created. “These facilitate the big advantages of aerial operations: quick reaction and large reach, while being unpredictable.”
Polish special forces boarding one of their Mi-8s
Hemmelder is also convinced of the value of the exercise: “During Falcon Autumn we can train all procedures we have within NATO. If you want to be good at something, you have to practise. As a military force we don’t participate just for participating, but we participate to win if needed. And during this exercise we see it is very important to train these kind of complex operations.” Asked whether the Netherlands is not too small and crowded for such a big exercise, Hemmelder was clear, “’Freedom isn’t free,’ I heard an American soldier say, and that is important to remember. We often go abroad for exercises, to export noise and also to learn working in different circumstances. But sometimes it is needed to exercise in your own country; that makes it more real. The motto of the Dutch Defence is ‘protecting what we hold dear’ and nothing is more valuable than your own country and its allies. Here we make that motto reality!”
One of the US Army UH-60M Black Hawks. The tactical code 1-5 in the window was specifically applied for Falcon Autumn, enabling the ground troops to easily find their ride.
Although one can only hope Article 5 will forever act as a deterrence and won’t have to be called into action, it is reassuring to see that NATO looks ready to step into action if needed!
A US Army CH-47 arriving at Ossesluis. In the background a group of soldiers who are waiting for the next ride.
Rockwell Space Shuttle Challenger
Text by Divan Muller
Photographs courtesy of NASA
The mere mention of the name ‘Challenger’ conjures up images of an exploding Space Shuttle. However, there is so much more to the Challenger story than its widely publicized, tragic ending.
This is a brief history of Orbiter OV-099 – NASA’s most loved Space Shuttle.
The early years
The concept of sending a reusable aircraft into space is much older than most people realize. In fact, aeronautical experts had been contemplating ways of sending aeroplanes into space even before the Second World War. It was only with the introduction of the X-Planes that constructing a reusable spacecraft seemed possible. When Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 first broke the sound barrier in 1947, the stage was set for succeeding X-Planes to break more speed and altitude records. The hypersonic X-15 was undoubtedly the most significant research platform. It was responsible for many major scientific breakthroughs, particularly in developing technology, such as reaction control systems, that would later be used extensively in Space Shuttles. Interestingly, Joe Engle (who had flown sixteen X-15 flights) later acted as commander on two Space Shuttle missions. US President Nixon finally approved the Space Shuttle programme in 1972, in spite of the cost of the Vietnam War, which was a considerable burden in itself. After evaluating several design plans, NASA awarded the Space Shuttle contract to Rockwell International, which had also been responsible for building the famous Apollo modules.
Whilst NASA’s first Space Shuttle, Columbia, was already operational, NASA announced the requirement for a lighter weight airframe design. For this purpose, Rockwell built the Challenger as a Structural Test Article (STA), called STA-099. This meant that the Challenger would be used almost exclusively to test how a lighter airframe would react to intense heat and stress, by being subjected to months of vibration and thermal testing. In other words, STA-099 would never leave the ground. Later in the programme, budget cuts forced NASA to reduce the number of operational orbiters in its intended fleet of Space Shuttles. The only way to maintain its capability in space, was to refurbish and upgrade the Challenger from an STA to an Orbiter Vehicle (OV). Challenger OV-099 blasted off for the first time on 4 April 1983, soon earning the reputation of being NASA’s most reliable, popular and capable space orbiter.
The improved construction method of the Challenger’s airframe made it considerably lighter than the Columbia, resulting in its capacity to carry heavier payloads. Astronauts preferred flying in the Challenger as its flight deck was much more spacious and its instrument panels were not as cluttered as those on the Columbia. In fact, the Challenger was the first Space Shuttle to be equipped with HUDs (Head Up Displays) and became the first Shuttle to carry a crew of five. As a matter of interest, the Challenger was also the first Shuttle to have a female crew member as well as the first to have an African American as part of the crew.
Later on, it became normal practise to have a crew of seven onboard the craft, whilst the maximum number of the crew was eight. However, in an emergency there would be sufficient space for ten people. In theory, it would be possible for a two-man crew to fly a Shuttle into orbit, in order to rescue eight crew members of a stranded orbiter.
Programme managers used the Challenger more often than other shuttles, as it could be prepared for the next flight in less time than other orbiters. This was mainly due to its incredible reliability. The first spacewalk of the Space Shuttle programme took place during the Challenger’s maiden flight. During its third mission, it became the first orbiter to launch and land at night. Challenger was also the first Space Shuttle to land at Kennedy Space Centre. In short, every Challenger mission became a groundbreaking flight.
A typical mission
A Space Shuttle flight begins with the STS (Space Transportation System) resting on a launch platform. The biggest component is the external fuel tank, to which the orbiter (Space Shuttle) is attached. The external tank provides fuel (liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) to the Space Shuttle’s three main engines. Two white SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) are responsible for the Shuttle’s initial acceleration and can be seen on either side of the external tank. At the end of the launch countdown, the Space Shuttle’s three main engines ignite. 2.64 seconds later, the two SRBs ignite, providing more thrust for the next two minutes than 140 Boeing 747 engines. As the Shuttle leaves the launch platform in its wake, it rolls 120° to the right, whilst accelerating at 3Gs. 124 seconds after lift off, the Shuttle is 45 km above the ground and explosive bolts separate the SRBs from the external tank. At 129 km altitude the Shuttle will have exceeded Mach 15. Just less than nine minutes after lift off, the external tank is released from the Shuttle and disintegrates as it falls back to Earth. The two SRBs descend to the Atlantic Ocean with parachutes and will be refurbished and reused in future STS missions. Once in orbit, the Shuttle uses orbital manoeuvring systems and reaction control systems to alter its attitude.
At 300 km altitude, the Shuttle orbits the Earth once every hour and a half at a speed of 15 200 kts. This is where mission specialists start completing the mission’s objectives. These objectives range from launching, repairing or retrieving satellites to conducting Spacelab experiments and providing a ‘shuttle service’ to the International Space Station. The Shuttle’s most important tool is its Remote Manipulator System (RMS). A highly trained RMS operator uses this robotic arm to store or unload cargo and to assist astronauts in conducting ‘extra vehicular activities’ (space walking). On Earth, the RMS arm weighs just over 400 kg, but in space it can move large objects weighing as much as 30 tons. ‘Manned Manoeuvring Units’ with vectoring thrusters allow astronauts to move around outside the orbiter, without the need to be tethered to the spacecraft. Astronauts can literally spacewalk up to a distance of 90 metres away from the Shuttle, to retrieve an object.
Interestingly, in order to finance the Space Shuttle programme, NASA continuously has to prove that it is a good investment to keep these spacecraft operational. Fees charged for placing, repairing and retrieving commercial satellites, as well as maintaining military satellites with strategic importance, help to make the programme financially viable. NASA claims that each dollar they spend returns at least $2 in benefits.
Having completed orbital operations, the Shuttle has to slow down in order to quite literally ‘fall’ out of orbit. Once the cargo bay’s doors have been shut, the Shuttle manoeuvres into a tail-first attitude – flying backwards. The Shuttle’s orbital manoeuvring engines then fire a three minute burst, slowing the Space Shuttle down, to the extent that it starts to descend. The commander quickly has to correct the orbiter’s attitude to a nose-first 30° angle of attack. The thermal protection tiles start to heat up as the Shuttle enters the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 14 000 kts. The heat causes the surrounding air to ionize (become electrically charged), causing a communications blackout that lasts up to the point where the orbiter slows down to Mach 6. At 200 000 ft the Shuttle’s aerodynamic control surfaces become more effective. Finally, after gliding the spacecraft to the landing strip or runway, the Shuttle touches down at about 190 kts.
The Challenger’s tenth and final mission took place on 28 January 1986, at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral (Florida, USA). The crew of seven included Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, who was to become the first private citizen to fly into space. Half a second into the flight, an SRB released a puff of grey smoke. Cameras detected eight more puffs during the next two seconds. 65 seconds after the launch, flames mixed with hydrogen from the external tank. Ten seconds later, this lead to a massive explosion and the end of the Challenger’s illustrious career. A subsequent inquiry found that an O-Ring (pressure seal) in the right-hand SRB had been damaged by extreme cold temperatures during the mission’s preparation stages. The Challenger exploded at an altitude of 46 000 ft. at a speed of Mach 1.92.
US President Ronald Reagan summed up the Challenger story beautifully in his Address to the Nation. “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.”