Austrian Air Force
An insight view into an Air Force in transition was given during a sunny, and sometimes also thundery week in June by the Austrian Air Force (Au AF).
Facing a major reorganisation of the whole AF structure called "ÖBH 2010"
What? Austria's Air Force
Where? several Austrian airbases
(ÖBH for Österreichisches Bundesheer) the future will see the disappearance of the Air Force itself as all the flying activities (and everything else involved with it of course) will be integrated as an "Air Staff" into the "Streitkräfteführungskommando" at Graz.
At the same time a "Kommando Luftraumüberwachung" ("Kdo LRÜ", Command for Air Surveillance) will be stationed at Salzburg to cover passive and active aerial surveillance. At the same time the "Kommando Luftunterstützung" ("Kdo LuU", command aerial support) in Linz/Hörsching will be responsible for transport and reconnaissance tasks using aircraft, helicopters and possibly recce drones in the future.
These two commands will be supplemented by the "Flieger- und Fliegerabwehrschule" ("WaGAS Fl/FlA", aviation- and anti aircraft school) in Langenlebarn responsible for the whole education of the personnel.
The visit of four airfields, namely
- Vogler at Hörsching,
Nittner at Graz/Thalerhof,
Hinterstoisser at Zeltweg and
Brumikovski at Langenlebarn near Vienna
gave an excellent overview of the current tasks of the AuAF, its lessons learned from the past and its challenges in the future.
The following pages are intended to give you an overview what aircraft are based on the different airfields of this tour and to show their role within the AuAF, so please proceed on the next page.
Hörsching currently holds a unique, and for the photographer a very interesting, position within the AuAF as three squadrons equipped with very different aircraft are based there:
The Tigerstaffel (Tiger Squadron) is still using the Saab 105OE as trainers and will fulfil this role in the near future to prepare the pilots for the Eurofighter once the F-5 Tigers have been returned to Switzerland. They will then serve the pilots in the transition phase from the Pilatus PC-7 to the Eurofighter Typhoon to get used to the performance and the handling of jet aircraft and vitally complement the training flights in the simulator. To ensure this the small jet trainer will be refitted with a modern glass cockpit to facilitate the customisation process.
The Lufttransportstaffel (LTSta - Air Transport Squadron) is currently equipped with three C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft that have been acquired from the RAF. These aircraft are used to support the Austrian troops that currently fulfil their duty abroad and can also be deployed in the case of humanitarian relief missions.
The very impressive flying capabilities of the Hercules were shown during a demonstration flight above Austria. The view out of the opened cargo ramp was very remarkable when flying over glaciers or when climbing up steeply after a low level flying part. A view in the clearly arranged cockpit during the flight finally topped the impression of this very useful 'tool'.
Two more helicopter squadrons finally complete the variety of aircraft types at Hörsching. They are equipped with 12 AB 212 helicopters. Their duties which mostly consist out of transport duties were also demonstrated during a flying including a low level part where the pilots skilfully manoeuvred in a flight level of only some meters.
The visit at the airbase Nittner in Graz/Thalerhof was one of the highlights of this trip, because the base is the home of the 18 F-5E Tigers that are currently on lease from the Swiss AF.
Since the farewell of the Draken they transitionally overtook the Air Interception and Defensive Counter Air Operations. To train the pilots 4 additional Saab 105OE are also based there and for QRA two F-5s armed with guns and missiles are constantly on alert together with an additional one only armed with a gun. To fly them two pilots are always on standby. For this duty the jets have been modified with a backup radio and in general the aircraft are recognized amongst the pilots as a very good aircraft in the transition process from the Draken towards the Eurofighter.
Though both aircraft emanate from the same generation and are equipped with the same sensors to fulfil the same tasks, the pilots appraise the carefree handling and the good turning rate of the Tiger. During the visit the Tiger and the Draken have been described as being "quite similar, but very different".
After all this information I was very pleased that there were a well prepared F-5 and Saab 105OE ready to be photographed on the ground, and the flightline could also be approached where two Tigers were prepared for a training mission. And in a far corner of the apron some old Draken frames could also be discovered…
Zeltweg is currently undergoing big chances with the arrival of the Eurofighters, which is planned around June 2007. This includes refurbishment of the runway and a lot of construction including the future hangars, simulator building and all the other infrastructure.
With the departure of the Saab 35OE Draken the airfield is nowadays the home for the flying school, equipped with Pilatus PC-7.
During a presentation the use of the PC-7 within the whole training process of the AuAF was explained: the first step of a future AuAF pilot are three check flights on a Cessna 152, which set the course for either a fixed or rotary wing flying career. The decision for the fixed wing branch will bring him/her then to Zeltweg to train on the PC-7.
In wartime and for other events like the G-8 summit the PC-7 are also ideal to intercept slow flying aircraft, but most of the time they are used for the flight training and to practice the young pilots skills in formation or low level flying. The next step would be then the Saab 105 towards the Eurofighter.
With the new structures of the Air Force and new (Eurofighter) and existing aircraft (UH-60, C-130) that are currently on the way to a full operational status and will therefore bring the ability to fulfil new (foreign) commitments, the training procedure will massively change in the next few years. Instructors at Zeltweg are sure that the new concept will bring its challenges but they also see a lot of chances that can be made out of this situation.
The convincing was done by a training flight in a PC-7, during which first a low level mission with a minimum height of 20m was flown at a special designated low flying area east of the airfield. The second part consisted out of some aerobatics with barrel rolls and loopings. All this was done in a two-ship formation to enable some air-to-air photos.
Pilatus PC-7 Training Flight
I have to admit that this was by far one of the most exciting flights I have ever had. Concentrating on the outside and of course the photography, added with some adrenaline, did make me forget about the stress that I have experienced during this 30 minute long flight. When getting out of the plane after this wonderful experience I was deeply impressed by the flying skills and the exhaustion occurred some time later, though I did only do some photography up there and nothing more!
In the afternoon the day was completed with a visit of the "Sammlung 2005" a collection of historical Austrian AF aircraft ranging from the Yak-11 up to the recently retired Saab Draken.
Impressions from Zeltweg
The last stop of the trip has been at the Airbase Brumikovski at Langenlehbarn/Tulln near Wien (Vienna). With its proximity to the Austrian capital Tulln is also the headquarter of the Air Force and home of the Fliegerwerft 1 (aircraft repair shop), 3 helicopter squadrons operating 9x S70A-42 Blackhawk, 11x OH-58 Kiowa, 11x AB206 Jet Ranger and a fixed wing squadron with 13x PC-6 Pilatus Porter and the last two remaining Shorts SC-7 Skyvan.
The pilots were very proud presenting their most modern Blackhaws and reporting about the successfully accomplished missions with the aid of this helicopter. To ease the farewell another flight was offered in a formation of 4 PC-6, with the possibility to get a feeling of its short-flied starting and landing capabilities together with some chances for photos, even though the weather was not very favourable that day.
Even though this trip did not even happen six months ago, the AuAF is already only some days ahead of its big restructuring and the things and future events will be very interesting to watch. I am sure that the personnel will take all the best out of this process to improve even more the performance and effectiveness of this small and very interesting Air Force.
All the very best and see you at latest for the Airpower08 air show!
OH-58 Kiowa & AB206 Jet Ranger
Pilatus PC-6 Porter
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