Helicopter day at Holzdorf – Tag der Bundeswehr 2018

On 9th June 2018, the gates of sixteen military facilities belonging to the German armed forces opened for general public, within the fourth edition of Tag der Bundeswehr – an annual open-doors event organized by the German Ministry of Defence, in order to improve the image of Bundeswehr and create the social bounds between the armed forces and local communities.

This time, among those sixteen locations, two air bases were included – Fliegerhorst Wunstorf in Lower Saxony and Fliegerhorst Holzdorf in Brandenburg. Both locations were exceptionally attractive for aviation enthusiasts – Wunstorf is a home of Lufttransportgeschwader 62, a unit of Luftwaffe operating the newest addition to the German Air Force fleet, Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft. And the recently modernized Holzdorf air base is currently a home for Lufttransportgruppe of  Hubschraubergeschwader 64 (LTGrp HSG 64), operating Sikorsky CH-53 and Airbus H145M helicopters. Holzdorf is also one of the locations where Helicopter Flight Training Services GmbH, the military contractor providing training services for HN90 operators, established one of its Training Centres.

Air base Holzdorf, often also called Schönewalde (lit. beautiful forest) from the nearby village, is located in the Elbe-Elster valley, an old region with a rich history, nowadays advertised as the holiday destination. The airfield is surrounded by deep Lusatian forests and lying just about 20 kilometres from the point where the Black Elster (Schwarze Elster) river flows into the Elbe river. Interestingly, the air base is divided by the boundary of two German federal states: Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, cutting the runway at its western section.

The air base in the middle of Elbe forests was built in 1970s for Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) – the location was chosen in 1968, a field airstrip was ready in 1974 and the air base completed until 1980. At that time, Holzdorf was the most modern air base in the East Germany, consisting of three separate operational areas.

In November 1982, Jagdfliegergeschwader 1 equipped with MiG-21 fighters was transferred to Holzdorf from Cottbus, becoming the first unit operating from the new airfield. Shortly thereafter, Holzdorf was a home for several other NVA units: Fliegertechnische Bataillon 1, Nachrichten-Flugsicherungsbataillon 1 and Funktechnische Bataillon 41.

After the German reunification, the air base was taken over by Lufttransportgeschwader 62 (LTG 62). In the late 1990s it was decided about the significant reconstruction of the base. The construction works were carried out in 1997-1998 and costed approximately 40 million DM. Another 50 million German marks were spent on upgrading the infrastructure to German Improved Air Defence System standard. The Air Command and Control System at Holzdorf was launched in 2000 and was then the most modern in Europe.

Along with the successive modernizations, Holzdorf became the helicopter air base, with rotorcraft components from LTG 61, LTG 62 and LTG 63 operating from there, together with HSG 64 and German Army (Heer) helicopter units. Until 2012 approximately 300 milion EUR was spent on the infrastructure necessary for helicopter operation, service and training, including the training centre for NHIndustries NH-90 rotorcraft.

As a result restructuring of the Bundeswehr, Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters were transferred from Heer to Luftwaffe and assigned to HSG 64. A detached Air Transport Group of HSG 64 was created, with its seat in Holzdorf – LTGrp HSG 64, that became operational in 2013. Three years later, the first H145M helicopters were added to its inventory.

Today, LTGrp HSG 64 is consisting of No. 3 Squadron (operating CH-53 and H145M LUH SOF rotorcraft), plus technical, supply and maintenance units. In addition, Holzdorf air base is also a location for SAR detachment – SAR 87 from TrspHubschrRgt 30, operating one Bell UH-1D helicopter.

And it was no surprise that the open day in Holzdorf was dominated by the rotorcraft. Both static and dynamic displays offered the possibility to get familiar with the current German military helicopters.

Several CH-53s, H145M and NH-90 TTH were available at the static exhibition, including the possibility to make a stop at the hangars. Apart from the usual possibility of talking with the crews, there was also a chance to get into those rotorcraft, try the pilot´s seat and see other equipment.

A rare opportunity to recall the older times was offered by two historical rotorcraft – Bell UH-1D (operated by HSG 64 between 2010 and 2012) and Mil Mi-24D (former NVA helicopter). That Mi-24D is now a gate guard at Holzdorf and has an interesting operational history. In addition to abovementioned rotorcraft, the static display included EF 2000, Tornado and A400M Atlas.

As usual, the open day event was also an opportunity to present at the air base several other Bundeswehr units together with security and rescue services. A variety of equipment, from armoured vehicles to ambulances, attracted many visitors that spent a long time on walking around that part of static exhibition. German armed forces displayed at Holzdorf a Leopard 2 main battle tank, Marder infantry fighting vehicle, Fennek and Fuchs carriers.

Apart from the static exhibition, visitors to the air base could enjoy flying and ground dynamic displays. The ground forces presented a variety of infantry and engineering equipment, but the biggest applause was received by Panzergrenadierbrigade 37 for the impressive and eye-catching Marder show.

The flying displays were divided into two blocks, performed before and after the noon. They included a solo display of Eurofighter 2000 from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74 ´Bavarian Tigers´ (Fliegerhorst Neuburg), the airplane with an attractive ´Ghost Tiger´ livery for NATO Tiger Meet 2018. Airbus A400M, C-160 Transall and Tornado performed several flypasts over the Holzdorf runway, but, obviously, the highlight of the programme was a helicopter display performed by CH-53 and H145M LUH SOF. An attractive scenario of the CSAR mission was received enthusiastically by the spectators.

According to Bundeswehr, more than 33,000 visitors arrived to Holzdorf that Saturday, enjoying both static and dynamic display during the hot and sunny day at the airfield. A bit too hot, we dare to say, as the temperature exceeded 30 degrees Celsius. The whole May and beginning of June 2018 were both hot and dry, resulting in the yellow, a sun-burnt grass all over the place.