Boboc the cradle of Romanian Air Force aviation
by: Carlo Kuit & Paul Kievit/ Bronco Aviation
About 15 kilometres Northeast of Buzau the “Scoala de Aplicatie pentru Fortele Aeriene” (S.A.F.A) 'Aurel Vlaicu' (Romanian Air Force Training School) is located at Boboc and has been in the heart of Romanian Military Aviation since 1958 when the Aviation Officers School ‘Aurel Vlaicu' (formed in 1953) moved to Boboc. Aurel Vlaicu (1882-1913) was one of three pioneers of Romanian aviation. He built in 1910 the first aircraft for the Romanian Armed Forces. Since 2003 pilot training, radar and missile/anti-aircraft artillery training are being conducted at Boboc for these three branches within the Romanian Air Force.
The first military aviation school dates back to 1 April 1912 at Cotroceni Airfield near Bucharest. Currently the S.A. F.A at Boboc houses two squadrons; the first squadron (Esc. 1 Aviatie Instr.) is operating the IAK-52 and IAR-316B for initial flight training of the students. The IAK-52 is a licensed and locally built YAK-52 by the I.R. Av. Bacau (since 1991 Aerostar). The IAK-52 have been in service since 1985 and a replacement of the type is not foreseen for the near future. The IAR-316B is a Romanian license-built Aérospatiale SA 316B Alouette III manufactured by Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR).IAR began manufacturing the IAR-316 in 1971 at its plant near Brasov. Out of 125 delivered IAR-316’s only six remain in service solely at Boboc for training duties.
The IAK-52 squadron was previously based at Brasov-Ghimbav and relocated to Boboc in late 2003. The Alouette III's and the Antonov 2 fleet were based at Buzau before being relocated to Boboc in 2002. The An-2 fleet was grounded following a fatal accident in 2010 killing eleven people including Commander Nicolae Jianu, school commandant at that time. There is a large requirement for a multi-engine civilian aircraft to bridge the gap for future fixed wing pilots, but no decision on procurement has been made yet. Currently ten IAK-52’s remain on strength expected to soldier on for at least another seven years according to sources within the S.A.F.A.
Future fast jet and fixed wing pilots are trained by the 2nd squadron (Esc. 2 Aviatie Instr.) operating the IAR-99 ‘Standard’ as part of the second flying phase after students have graduated on the IAK-52. During 31st of July 2015 in total twenty-six students graduated, eleven on the IAR-316 and fifteen on the IAK-52.
Escadrila 205 operating the IAR-99 “Soim” (Romanian for Hawk) is currently based at Bacau operating under the logistic support of Baza 95 Aeriana as of 2012. There are rumours the “Soim” fleet will return to Boboc in 2016. The “Soim” compared to the IAR-99 Standard has a glass cockpit and is used for advanced training of pilots who graduated from Boboc and whom will make the transition to the LanceR-C fighters which are currently operated out of Câmpia Turzii and Mihail Kogalniceanu. The S.A.F.A is planned to train the first F-16 students as of 2017.
Initial training The Air Force Training School at Boboc is responsible for the initial training of Air Force students whom have graduated from the Air Force Academy “Henri Coanda”. At around fifteen new students are trained each year. “This year has been very busy for us with twenty-five new students starting to fly the IAK-52 and fifteen IAR-316 student pilots” according to Wing Commander Colonel Calenciuc.He continues: “We utilize the IAK-52 for screening and basic flying skills development. Over the past years we have seen our procedures and mentality change in order to be compatible with NATO standards. We have also regular contact with the Turkish Air Force Training School and the Polish Air Force training school at Deblin to learn and exchange ideas” he adds.
Till 2015 Air Force students had to go through a three year programme, which started during their three year studies at “Henri Coanda”, to finalize their training at Boboc. The first year focused on the IAK-52 (30-45 flight hours) focusing on VFR landing procedures, traffic patterns, maneuvering, formation flying and lastly aerobatics. “The decision whether future pilots will become transport, fighter or helicopter pilots is being made after twenty-five flight hours” according to IAK-52 Instructor Pilot Pusca Bogdan.He continues “Exception to this process are the pilots we train for the Ministry of Interior; they skip the IAK-52 phase and start directly with the IAR-316 as they only operate helicopters”.
“As of the autumn of 2015 a new concept will be introduced for training with the purpose to concentrate the number of training months for initial pilot training. The concept is to deliver new pilots, better trained within an uninterrupted eighteen month timeframe instead of more than four years, using only several months each year” according to Colonel Calenciuc. Previously students joined the YAK-52 squadron for three months at the time during summer when the Air Force Academy “Henri Coanda” at Brasov was closed for the holidays.
The first phase of the new concept consist of six months training on the IAK-52 with the goal for students to obtain their license after graduating from university. The second phase is a six month training on the IAR-99 Standard and is completed with a third phase; six months of training on the “Soim” at Bacau/ Escadrila 205 in which pilots are being trained in utilizing the glass cockpit, night flying and weapons usage. “We aim to further professionalize and standardize our operations” according to Base Commander, Colonel Nic Tanasieand experienced pilot himself, With a total of 1100 flight hours on the L-29, MiG-21 LanceR, Cessna T-37 , F-16 and MiG-23 he contributes with a lot of experience to the Training School. Commander Tanasiehas taken on Command of the Air Force Training School since early 2015. “Bringing all my experiences as a fighter pilot I can share my knowledge with our eighteen instructor pilots and deliver the best possible new pilots to our Air Force”. Due to resource constraints not all Air Force Academy students are trained at Boboc. They are trained by a civilian company, Romanian Flight Training, out of Strejnic near Ploiesti on either the Cessna 172 or EC-145. Aim is to achieve fifty flight hours and obtain their PPL (Private Pilot License) before joining the Air Force School at Boboc. “We also offer this as an extra program/ training capacity which is an opportunity for students to enhance their flying skills”. The intention is to offer this training both for the helicopter and fixed wing student-pilots prior to obtaining their military pilot wings” according to Captain Adriana Alecu.
The 90th Air Base (Baza 90) at Otopeni is home to the transport fleet of the Romanian Air Force operating a mixture of C-130B/H, C-27Js (Esc.901 Av. Transp. Strategic/ 901st Strategic Airlift Squadron) and IAR-330 helicopters as part of Esc.903 Elicoptere Transport (903rd Transport Squadron). The contract for the delivery of seven C-27Js was signed in December 2007. The final seventh C-27J was delivered during January 2015. “The first crews had their training with Alenia in 2009” according to Lt. Col. Emil Tecuceanu“. Initially two crews, all former C-130 or An-26 crews. “We had seven months of training and thirty-four simulator training hours. After this initial phase we went to Torino for initial qualification and type rating. As of 2010 we train locally in Romania on tasks with support of Alenia” concludes Lt. Col. Tecuceanu. Currently there are six crews of which four are combat ready, the other two crews conduct basic missions. The Lt. Col. continues “The C-27J helps us to be compatible within NATO, it changed our philosophy of conducting operations”. “We are heavily involved in international cooperation and operations. In June we sent of a C-27J to the exercise ‘European Air Transport Training 15’ organized under the coordination of EDA (European Defense Agency) and the EATC (European Air Transport Command) at Beja in Portugal. We have been focusing on a common way of operating and for us it has been valuable to train and work together internationally. Furthermore we are also involved in the Spartan User Group and come together each year to share experiences around topics as flight hours, technical issues. For us it is important not be isolated in operating the new C-27J fleet. For both refresh courses and training of new crews which just graduated from Boboc we have a simulator available on base. Qualification on the C-27J takes around 36 flying hours for new crews”. Each crew member needs to go through a refresh every six months and is conducting ten simulator training hours. Currently only Italy and Romania have a C-27J simulator available. “We would be able to train foreign crews when asked” concludes the Lt. Col. The 903rd Transport Squadron has currently six new pilots in the squadron; student pilots have a preference for the transport unit as it allow them to be involved in international missions and gain a lot of flying experience according to one of the new pilots at Otopeni. The transition from the IAR-316 to the IAR-330 and from YAK-52/IAR-99 to the C-27J is completed in about fifty flying hours in which moving maps and GPS are introduced to the pilots. Within the Hercules community also new pilots are introduced, which is a bit more complex as these new pilots graduated from Boboc only have been training on the IAR-99 before joining. Currently ten new pilots are going through the training programme which starts with a theoretical training according to 2nd LT Hasegan Bogdan. He graduated from Boboc in 2014 and made the choice to become a transport pilot. After a 3 months theoretical course and exam the basic flying course starts with focus on turns, horizontal flight. After thirty hours of flight an exam will complete the basic flying phase. Next will be training on specific transport tasks and Para dropping. This phase will take about hundred hours of flight and the new pilots will be appointed as co-pilots on the C-130. This whole process will take about a year from start to finish.
MiG-21 LanceR and F-16 conversion Future LanceR pilots will join Escadrila 205 based at Baza 95 (95th Air Base) Bacau and start with a three month familiarization to the IAR-99 “Soim” which is equipped with a glass cockpit after completing their training at Boboc. According to Capt. Ramon “Balan” Balanica, one of current LanceR pilots assigned to Escadrila 861 Aviatie Lupta/ 861 squadron operating out of Baza 86 Mihail Kogalniceanu, the transfer to the “Soim” is not too difficult as there is a simulator available and the “Soim” is easier to fly compared to the IAR99 Standard. “In total at around a hundred flight hours are required to have the ability to transfer to the LanceR” as “Balan”explains. We have to conduct basic flying, BFM missions, acrobatics and weaponry training. The first year is around forty hours and the second year sixty hours. To transfer to the LanceR first pilots first have to go through a three months academic phase. “Conversion to the LanceR is a true step by step programme according to “Balan”.“Thirty-one hours are spend on basic flying and then the advanced phase starts with formation flying, night flying, instrument flying followed by an extensive Air to Air and Air to Ground programme”. Currently all LanceR’s diverted to Mihail Kogalniceanu as Baza 86 Fetesti is being rebuilt to house the twelve acquired F-16s. Operations are planned to commence as of September 2016 and “Balan” is one of the selected LanceR pilots to transition. The Romanian Air Force, in 2013, purchased nine ex-Portuguese Air Force F-16AM/BMs and the three former USAF F-16s, which the Portuguese military procurement agency DGAIED will procure on behalf of the Romanian Air Force. The twelve F-16s will be upgraded by the Portuguese Air Force to Mid Life Update (MLU) standard with assistance of OGMA-Indústria Aeronáutica de Portugal. This will take place prior transfer to Romania which is planned for September 2016. One year after contract signature, on September 30th, 2014, the first Romanian detachment of 23 pilots, maintenance crews and mission planners started a training program on the F-16 MLU, Monte Real airbase. November 26th marked a major milestone of the training program, when Lieutenant colonel Constantin Andrei, became the first Romanian pilot to take-off in an F-16A MLU for his first solo flight. The first Romanian pilots to be trained on F-16 are qualified as instructors on the MiG-21 LanceR. These first Romanian pilots will remain in Portugal until they will conclude the Mission Qualification Training and following that they will return to Romania qualified as instructors and ready to train the other pilots of the first Romanian Air Force F-16 squadron. By the end of the program a number of nine Romanian pilots will be trained in Portugal. The third group of pilots will be trained locally in Romania, starting 2017.