As a spotter on the sidelines you have a beautiful sight when a helicopter makes a snow landing. For the flight crew it's a little bit different. The final seconds before landing is their proverbial image turns to black in the snow cloud. "At that time it can go wrong really quick," says loadmaster Sergeant Major Clarence. How do you bring such a dangerous whiteout landing a success? A pilot, loadmaster and Mobile Air Operations Team (MAOT) show their tactics.
Landing on a snowy mountain peak, between trees or on a frozen lake: they manage. But a breeze you quickly get the hang of it, it certainly is not. A week before landing scenarios are part of Cold Response, a staged realistic war against "Norlandia '300 Squadron practices his skills.
Because of forward speed the helicopter attempts to remain if front of the snow cloud for as long as possible. The last few seconds of landing, when the Cougar fully obscured by powder, the directions of the loadmaster are essential.
The real deal
"Next week we have to put dozens of sailors safely to the ground," says Cougar pilot Captain Willem. "The operation is indeed an exercise, for us it's the real deal. Mistakes we can not afford. "Two flight crews practice in turns in the fjord near the Norwegian Harstad. Even after sunset. From the ground, they are guided by the MAOT.
Using a ice drill sergeant Paul Hulscher (left) and Corporal Ron Fischer measure ice thickness of the frozen lake. A massive 50 centimeters layer is required for a safe landing.
From behind one of the numerous Norwegian snowpeaks a Cougar appears. "I am at your 11 o'clock: 2 kilometers," Sergeant Major Paul Hulscher reports to the flight crew. A day earlier The MAOT commander took the intended landing spot under the microscope with fellow corporal-1 Ron Fischer: a frozen lake at 500 meters above sea level surrounded by several peaks. A two-hour walk. The route was impassable for the SUV by heavy snow. They found a 50 centimeter thick layer of ice covered with an equally thick layer of snow. A bold landing spot, but not impossible to operate safely, according Hulscher. "The boys should also be challenged a bit: that's what we train for."
A frozen lake between peaks: a beautiful but challenging landing spot for the flight crew.
“Steer left, steer left, steer left,” Hulscher let the helicopter fly past until he is at 'his 12 o'clock. "Roll out," he concludes, and walks to the middle of the lake. There Hulscher throws an orange smoke pot. The Cougar is flying over it. The exact landing spot is now clear. Willem returns to his '12 o'clock 'starting position and starts the dummy run. The snow gushes as he skims a few meters over the ground. Near the smoke pot, he pulls up. "Now I know how the approach feels and what my references are directly above the spot," he explains his near-landing. An additional advantage: the first layer of powder is now meters away and will not get in the way during the landing.
Vliegdeklandingen, you can not train often enough. Because of the rocking surface, they form a great challenge. During Cold Response and winter training prior to it, the Cougars are stationed at Zr.Ms. Rotterdam.
Accurately the helicopter approaches landing spot again. "Cloud is building up at the tail ... Cloud is building up at the cabin ..." loadmaster Clarence describes the snow cloud created by the downwash. Just before the entire Cougar disappears into white powder, his message: "Cloud is building up at the cockpit."
"Good ref," Willem reacts as long as he has enough sight. Meanwhile, Clarence goes flat on his stomach with his head outside the helicopter. He carefully keeps an eye on the movement of the helicopter in relation to the ground and the position of the tail rotor. Which may not touch the ground or a possible obstacle in any case .
On calm tone, but lightning fast they exchange findings, confirmations and actions to be taken. Slowly the 9,000 kilo cougar sinks into the snow. "Hold position", Clarence recommends as the base touches the snow. The pilot continues to hover half a minute in this position. At that time, we'll be able to transcend the Marines.
While the Cougar flies away, Willem thanks de MAOT: "Beautiful spot guys, well done!"
The participating air crews are stand-by for the NATO Response Force this year. They were declared purpose combat-ready last year. This winter training is a nice perk on wich they can maintain their level of training.
Tijdens Cold Response opereren 2 Cougars samen met 2 Amerikaanse CH53E Superstallion transporthelikopters. In meerdere waves zetten ze tientallen mariniers af in het slagveld.