By: Carlo Kuit and Paul Kievit/ Bronco Aviation
Since 1986 Kotroni Naval Air Base has been the heart of Hellenic Naval Aviation. The small airport is situated south of Marathon village in Greece. Itis home to the fleet of SikorskyS-70s and Augusta Bell AB-212ASW’s currently in use with the Hellenic Naval Aviation (EllinikoPolemikoNaftiko). The two Alouette III’s on strength are currently withdrawn from use (since Summer 2013)and are awaiting their fate. In 2012 additional flight training was conducted on this type to bridge the gap for 2013-2014 in which no new student pilots will be trained. In 2015 flight training on the Alouette III will commence or the decision will be made to join forces with the Hellenic Army Flight Schoolat Stefanovikio Air Base for initial flight training.
From the early days theHellenic Naval Aviation helicopters were based at Hellinikon Athens International Airport. With the completion of Naval Air Station Amphiali in 1977 all operations moved to this airfield.Amphiali consists of one helipad, one ramp and one hangar and would therefore become too small after the arrival of the AB-212 helicopters. Deliveries of the AB-212’s helicopter started in 1979. To facilitate the new helicopters a new airfield was built in the Marathon area on the northeast side of Athens. Naval Air Station Kotroni was finished in 1986 on top of the Kotronihill. With the arrival of all thirteen AB-212s.The Navy Aviation School was founded in 1992 to train aviation professionals with a special focus on naval operations is also housed at Kotroni. The flying squadron was divided into two flights called Sminos. SminosAlouette-3 and Sminos AB-212. Further modernizations started in 19994 with the delivery of the first S-70B-6s ‘Aegean Hawk’ helicopters which were at first allocated to Sminos Aegean Hawk. Deliveries commenced till 1998. In 2007 an additional three S-70B’s were delivered to the unit.
Currently COMHELNAVHEL (Command Hellenic Naval Helicopters) is the overall organization for all naval aviation operations and is also based at Kotroni. Under its command there are three divisions and two squadrons. The first division is Naval Air Station Kotroni, responsible for all logistic and technical support. Secondly, there is Naval Air Station Amphiali, which is available as a back-up airfield. The third division is the Navy Aviation School (ScholiElikopteronNaftikou, SEN). The majority of student pilots start with their training on the Alouette III, but also this type is used for the conversion to the AB-212 or the S-70B-6. Some students follow their initial flight training at the Army Camp at Stefanovikio.
The sensor operators are also training at SEN. Furthermore, all maintenance personnel and all ship’s helo teams receive their training at SEN. First Squadron (1st Mira ElikopteronNaftikou, 1 MEN) provides the personnel, facilities and assets for the AB-212s, where 2nd Squadron (2nd Mira ElikopteronNaftikou, 2 MEN) does the same for the S-70’s. COMHELNAVHEL also has the operational and administrative command over the Coast Guard Helicopters Squadron although this is an independent organization belonging to the Hellenic Coast Guard General Staff.
“First squadron is responsible for the operational training of aircrews and the maintenance of the eight AB-212ASWs currently on strength” according to Commander of the Hellenic Navy Helicopter Command Stavropoulos “The second squadron is responsible for the operational training of aircrews and the maintenance of eight S-70B-6 and three S-70B helicopters.
“Our helicopters are capable of performing multiple tasks. Of those hunting enemy submarines and surface targets (Anti-Submarine Warfare-ASW/Anti Surface Warfare- ASUW) are high on our tasks lists”. The ASW tasks can be performed by both the AB-212ASW as by the S-70s. Both are equipped with medium frequency variable depth sonars. Three S-70Bs are equipped with the Low Frequency Helicopter Long Range Active Sonar (HELRAS). Last but not least both helicopter types can deploy the MK-44 and MK-46 torpedoes” as Commander Stavropoulos highlights. Looking at the ASUW tasks both AB-212 as S-70B’s are equipped with surface surveillance radar and AIS tracking system for detection of enemy surface targets. Additionally the S-70s can conduct passive electronic warfare, attack surface targets with Penguin or Hellfire missiles by which target acquisition is supported by an Infra-Red system. Other capabilities in which crews are trained are night flying, Search and Rescue, VERTREP (Vertical replenishment), fast roping and MEDEVAC missions”. For night flying operations no night vision goggles are being used.
“With the decommissioning of the AB-212EW some years ago the electronic warfare capabilities were taken over by the S-70 fleet as of 2005. These are equipped with advanced electronic intelligence capabilities and provide valuable information to the Naval Forces at sea. Also the S-70 is able to provide quickly an EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) which is crucial for the Naval Forces at sea” according toCommander Stavropoulos.
“Currently one of the AB-212s has been equipped with an experimental in-house developed system which consists of a moving map and GPS to show the position of the helicopter. Inputs are received from sonar, radar and AIS in order to combine a holistic view of the battlefield. Furthermore a new Sapphire II FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) system has been installed” according to 1 MEN Commander Savvatis.
“The main difference on training compared to the Air Force or Army is that our Naval Aviators are specialized in operations in a maritime environment. This particularly includes shipboard operations and special training in earlier mentioned ASW and ASuW operations. The first stage of training doesn’t differ from training in the other two branches of the armed forces.The ship borne operations focus on land-launch operations, hoisting, fast roping, VERTREP and ASW and ASuW operations, especially night operations. To conduct these exercises we are using SOPS (Standard Operational Procedures) manual in order to conduct these trainings” explains Kotroni Naval Air Station Commander Bekiaridis. He is the first non-pilot in this position. Previously he has been ASO/TSO on the S-70. The helicopter units are either stationed at one of the‘Meko 200 HN’ Frigates which can host one helicopter or at one of the ‘Kortenaer (Elli Class)’ Frigates which can host one S-70 or two AB-212s. Currently, March 2014, one of the ‘Meko’ Frigates consisting ofan S-70, two pilots, two co-pilots, four SENSO’s and ten maintenance crew are involved in operation ‘Atalanta’ according to 1 MEN Commander ‘Vas’ Savvatis.
“Currently there are about eighty pilots connected to the units at Kotroni. In practice this means we have two flight crews per helicopter available. In order to meet our operational requirements we train on average two to three new pilots each year, except for 2013-2014 in which we have no Alouette III available for initial training” concludes Commander Stavropoulos.
“The trainings path consists of two stages” according to Commander of 2 MEN TheodorosTsiros.“All Naval Aviators start with the Basic Pilot Training on the Alouette III. Upon successful completion, the training will continue to the next stage with either the AB-212 or S-70. Both stages will consist of a ground school element and flight training. Especially in the second stage the student pilot receives advanced naval operations training on every type of warfare being conducted. These trainings will commence both during the day as night. The naval pilots are mainly trained for night flying under multiple threats and high level of stress in a VFR (Visual Flight Recovery). “Students train eighty hours on the S-70 in order to qualify as a co-pilot. After around five hundred flying hours a co-pilot can transfer to status of pilot after an additional eighty hours of training” according to Commander Tsiros. “Based on our requirements we can further train pilots to become an instructor”.
Every six months a mandatory training has to be conducted by all pilots for night operations. Each pilot will go through this so-called 6 months cycles in which 20 hours night flying is combined with hoisting exercises. Another cycle will consist of dipping and ASW operations. The level of difficulty is tailored to the experience of the pilots. Training of the S-70 pilots starts on the ‘older’ S-70B-6 version; to achieve operational status on one of the three S-70Bs and additional 50 hours of training will be required. Furthermore both units cooperate on regular basis, simulator training, with their counterparts of the Spanish Navy (SH-60s at Rota) and in Dubai and Sweden for the AB-212. “This has proven to be a cost effective way of training our pilots” according to Commander of 1 MEN Vasileios‘Vas’ Savvatis.
The Coast Guard squadron was established in 2006. The unit operates currently six Dauphin helicopters. Despite the squadron is subject to Navy Helicopter Command by means of administrative and operational control, actually it constitutes an independent organization belonging to the Hellenic Coast Guard. Due to the fact there was no previous experience concerning helicopter operations for the time being the Hellenic Navy is providing training to flight crews and maintenance personnel.
Its main tasks are search and rescue, pollution control, fishery protection and prevention of illegal immigration. The first Aegean Dolphin arrived in February 2004 at Tatoi-Dekelia AB. The Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) Helicopter Squadron was commissioned here and fully operational in June 2004. In December 2005 the HCG Heli squadron moved to NAS Marathon and was placed under the operational command of the COMHELNAVHEL in order to expand its operations with the expertise of the naval counterparts. There is a combined training program installed to ensure that the HCG Helicopter Squadron is ready to take full advantage of the Dauphins capabilities.
“The plan of the Hellenic Naval Aviation is to establish a broadened Hellenic Naval Aviation Command under the Fleet Command. This will included both helicopter as fixed wing operations. Furthermore there is an ongoing procedure for the acquisition of new training helicopters. The ambition for the next five years are to maintain and boost operational availability and integrate the fixed wing aircraft into a squadron under a Naval Aviation Command” concludes Commander Stavropoulos.