BLUEBIRD CLOSING DOWN – FARWELL RNLAF ALOUETTE III
here we are with the last report of this year. The December 15, 2015 at Gilze-Rijen airbase took place the phase out official ceremony for the helicopter Alouette III.
Arthur Bijster was there for Airholic.
After the arrival of the first Alouette of a total of 77 in 1964, they couldn’t imagine that it takes 51 years before this reliable workhorse was taken out of service by the RNLAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force).
The possibilities of the Alouette III was so much bigger then it’s predecessors the Hiller Raven (Groep Lichte Vliegtuigen, GPLV. Group Light Aircraft) and the Alouette II (Search and Rescue, SAR). The transport capacity was much bigger and after his introduction man and machine get used together very quick.
There were three squadrons who will fly with the Alouette, 298, 299 en 300 Squadron and operated from Soesterberg AB and Deelen AB. At Ypenburg AB, near The Hague, a Alouette was based for SAR/TAR flights.
The cold war was in full progress so you could find the Alouette in former West-Germany to support and training with the Army during exercises very often.
Aside his war task it has also a national task to support civilians during the floods or during harsh winter time.
From 22 January till 19 March 1970 two Alouettes together with genie-troops were send to Tunisia to assist the people there after the floods to rebuild the infrastructure. The helicopters and personal were brought with a Dutch navy suply ship, the HMS Poolster, to North Africa. The first international mission was a fact.
The Alouette did not fly only in Germany, but he was also make flights to Belgium or France to bring high ranking army officers. Or a navigation flight with high trainings value to the UK, Denmark or even Spain.
In the nineties the first Alouettes were withdraw from use, because they getting out-dated. The MoD comes to a conclusion the they need a more multi-task helicopter in the future. So in 1994 they started to phasing out the first examples and 1998 there were 9 left for liaison duties. They were sold to Chad, Pakistan, Malta or back to Eurocopter.
From the 9 helicopter that were left, four were stored in shelters and five kept operational. In 2000 MoD decided that four helicopters will kept operational until 2016 ( A-247,A-275, A-292 and A-301).
There major tasks were VIP flights, Royal flights and Photo flights. They are all part of 300 Squadron, based at Gilze-Rijen AB.
In 2004 al four Alouettes were send to RUAG Switzerland for a major overhaul and they received the now well known Royal Blue colour. In 2013 the A-301 made his 10.000th flight hours and the others were follow soon. In 2014 they reach the milestone of 50 years in service by the RNLAF, in September they celebrate this with a event. For this occasion a Alouette came from Belgium and two from Portugal after a three days trip.
Flight operations were done by (guest- and staff) pilots who flew the Alouette in the past and has a lot of experience at this type. The technical flight are ten full-timers and five part-timers, the part-timers also work at the Cougar.
The Grasshoppers 1973-1995
The RNLAF Alouettes gets international fame by the demo-team ‘The Grasshoppers’. The show they gave was from a very high level. The team flew with several painting schemes, but the most memorable one is the red, with and blue. They flew with this scheme from 1980 until 1995.
During their operational life, the Alouette flew several mission for the UN, EU and IFOR. For the EU they flow E.C. Monitor Mission (ECMM) in former Yugoslavia, 1991. These flights were to monitor the withdraw of Yugoslav troops. All four helicopters were painted white to clarified their neutral status. Despite the white colour the A-343 was hit by five bullets, crew and passengers were unharmed. The situation escalated in the area and was spread out over former Yugoslavia. At the end of October of that year it was decided to end the ECMM.
In March 1992 the Dutch government came to a decision to send a battalion of Marines, a detachment of Military police and three Fokker F-27’s to Cambodia. They took part in operation United Nations Transitional Authority Cambodia (UNTAC). They Marines ask for helicopter support, because that was easier to transport personal and material. They send four Alouettes and first they operated from U-Tapao in Thailand and later to Sisophon, Cambodia. The circumstances were very hard for several reasons. Countless many vaccinations, everyday malaria pills, it was hot and the humidity was very high (about 35 degrees and 90 percent humidity), no airco, satellite telephone ($24 per minute) and a lot of mines. October 1993 the operation comes to a end and everybody returns back to the Netherlands.
The last detachment for the Alouette took place in 1996 for IFOR. With the IFOR, stationed in Bosnia, were the warring parties by including NATO checked on compliance with the Dayton agreements. From Santici, where also the headquarters of the Dutch transport battalion was located, was with three Alouettes IFOR operation supported. Soon the detachment named Santici Air Service (SAS) and was operating in close cooperation with the British.
Bluebird Closing Down….!!!
These words were said when the pilot shut off the engine to the Air Traffic Controller. At 15 December the Alouette III was officially taken out of service in one of the hangars at Gilze-Rijen AB. In the morning the press and some spotters had the opportunity to take their last shots of the Alouette with his characteristic sound. After 1 January 2016 it is over and these words should never be said again.
The complete gallery: HERE
Text and pictures by Arthur Bijster