What started as the training of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) pilots at Fort Hood in Texas almost 20 years ago, has grown into a multi-functional training centre at Robert Gray Army Airfield. Frank Visser reports on the current Dutch training program for AH-64D and CH-47D/F pilots.
In the early nineties the Dutch decided to modernize its ageing helicopter fleet and replace it by state-of-the-art aircraft. Till then they had Aérospatiale Alouette IIIs en MBB BO-105CBs at their disposal. The replacement consisted of 17 Eurocopter AS532U2 Cougars, 13 Boeing CH-47D Chinooks and 30 Boeing AH-64D Apaches, which were delivered between 1995 and 2002. Suitable locations for the training of the pilots were found to be in the USA in Fort Rucker, Alabama and Fort Hood, Texas.
Not only were the facilities at both American bases, but also the extensive practice areas and climate the decisive factor for the Dutch choice. Till today future pilots start their training at Woensdrecht Airbase in the Netherlands. In six months they learn to fly Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer at the EMVO (Elementaire Militaire Vliegeropleiding). The advanced training course depends on the type of aircraft for which the graduate has been selected. F-16 pilots will move to Sheppard AFB in Texas, whereas the young helicopter trainees will continue their course at Fort Rucker where they learn to fly the
TH-67 Creek. This course will be followed by Initial Qualification Training (IQT) in the aircraft they will fly operational later. For the future Cougar pilots an intermediate IQT is flown on the UH-60 Black Hawk. Before becoming members of an operational squadron, the Apache and Chinook pilots continue their training in Texas where they will complete the Mission Qualification Training (MQT).
When in 1996 the RNLAF started to fly the AH-64A as Tactische Helikopter Groep Koninklijke Luchtmacht (THGKLu), these aircraft were divided between two squadrons, namely 301 and 302 Squadron: both to be based at Gilze Rijen Airbase in the Netherlands. Soon, however, 302 merged with 301 Squadron, so operating the Apaches was to be of short duration. In November 2013 302 Squadron was reborn again at Robert Gray Army Airfield and for almost ten years Lt. Col. Emco Jellema has been the Commanding Officer of first the JNTD and then 302 Squadron. About the training facilities at Robert Gray Airfield he said: “ This is the most ideal place for us to continue training pilots, even the experienced. The practice area is about three quarters of the Netherlands and very thinly populated. Moreover our many years’ presence has brought about a close cooperation with the U.S. Army.” Other operators of the AH-64 Apache, such as Singapore and Egypt, have been station here as well. At this moment only Taiwan is still present. However, the Netherlands is the only country to be organized in this way and as Squadron to be assimilated into the U.S. Army.
Lt. Col. Emco Jellema: "As I have said before the cooperation with the Americans is good but our contracts are based on the old system. These are being evaluated and if necessary adapted in order to fine-tune our processes to achieve an even higher performance."
Lt. Col. Emco Jellema and his staff showed this passion more than anybody else.
Concerning the structure 302 Squadron is set up just as any other operational squadron in the Netherlands, but since Dutch Airborne troops practices five times a year here Maj. Larry Hamers of Airborne troops has been assigned to 302 Squadron as an extra officer. The Squadron is made up 23 Dutchmen, being employed here by the squadron for a minimum of three years. The greater part of
the Squadron consists of Americans, who are for example responsible for the maintenance of the helicopters. 302 Squadron has some 120 personnel. An important role of the Squadron is to organize and carry out the five level 4 exercises with the Airborne troops from the Netherlands. Each so-called Joint Training takes about four weeks in which the emphasis is on the individual in the first week and developed further to the individual and his group in the second week. In the third week the platoon is central in order to come to practicing various scenarios with the entire company, together with
CH-47Fs en AH-64Ds in the closing week.
Operation Daytona is part of the five level 4 exercises with the Dutch Airborne troops. Airborne troops and helicopter pilots seen here planning Operation Daytona.
During Operation Daytona a compound (Commanche Springs ranch) is secured by Dutch Apaches and Airborne troops.
A Dutch CH-47F delivers extra supplies for the Airborne troops during Operation Daytona.
Next to Air Manoeuvre units a medical unit has been added in 2014 to provide optimum training for them as well. The cooperation with the U.S. Army results in them providing the sparring partner, Forward Air Controllers and UAVs to make the exercise as realistic as possible. These comprehensive exercises are also called CALFEX (Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise). An example of such an exercise is Operation Daytona, in which the ranch Commanche Springs is the target. The assignment obtained from Task Force is to eliminate two targets and capture an arms smuggler of SAM components. For transport to the area around Commanche Springs ranch the Air Manoeuvre unit uses two CH-47Fs and for reconnoitering and securing the area five AH-64Ds are deployed.
Extra troops were also dropped by a CH-47F.
The Commanche Springs ranch is secured and a AH-64D bring a last greeting to the Dutch Airborne troops on the ground.
In addition to the five Joint trainings 302 Squadron also provides for two MQTs annually. Per MQT two Apache pilots, two Chinook pilots and two loadmasters attend a very intensive course for nine weeks. One should think of life firing and picking up loads under various circumstances. After finishing this course successfully the go back to Gilze Rijen Airbase to become part of an operational squadron.
An AH-64D Apache of 302 Squadron taxiing at Robert Gray Army Airfield.
Robert Gray Army Airfield is the ideal place for the RNLAF to conduct their training.
A local U.S. Army AH-64D banks left to start its mission from Robert Gray Army Airfield.
Apache crews join the 301 Squadron and the Chinook crew members go to 298 Squadron. Maintenance remains of the utmost importance to carry on with the Joint Training and the MQTs. It is mainly done by the Americans, the so-called U.S. contractors, assigned to 302 Squadron. The target is a 95% severability of the eight AH-64Ds present. Of the remaining three CH-47Fs two aircraft always have to be severable. To achieve these standards maintenance personnel works in two shifts according to the regulations of the Dutch Military Aviation Authority (MLA).
During the 20 years the RNLAF detachment has been present present in Texas it has undergone a remarkable development. In the first few years the focus was on training Apache pilots. In the years that followed the variety of tasks was extended further. The arrival of the CH-47Ds and later the
CH-47Fs led to a training of ground and air personnel at the highest level to prepare them optimally for their missions worldwide. The ever changing global situation has had its impact on 302 Squadron. The addition of UAVs to the Joint Training is a good example. It also implies that 302 Squadron will always have to focus on a continuous improvement of the training.