2015 Event Review

HGL-Kurs (Hochgebirgslandungskurs) February- March 2015
Location: Aigen im Enns Valley (LOXA), Austria
Admission: Closed to the general public, by invitation only
Parking: N/A
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: Not an air show
 
The crest of the MZHSStaffel Aigen, Austria
The crest of the MzHSStaffel
Participating Helicopters:

Austrian Air Force (all Austrian helicopters belonging to the Air Support Wing)
3 x Bell OH-58B “Kiowa“ (from Langenlebarn)
1 x Sikorsky S-70A-42 “Blackhawk” (from Langenlebarn)
3-7 (depending on the day) Sud-Aviation Alouette III (based in Aigen im Ennstal)

German Army Aviation
2 x MBB Bo 105 P1A1M  (HFlgAusbZ =Heeresfliegerausbildungszentrum  "C" from Celle) 
2 x Eurocopter EC-135T1 (HFlgAusbZ  “B“ from Bückeburg)

Between the last week of February and the first week of March 2015 was pretty busy at the Austrian Air Force helicopter base Fiala-Fernbrugg (located in the beautiful mountainous part of Northern Styria, Enns Valley). The so called HGL exercise (HGL stands for lofty mountain landing exercise). This very special exercise, which is very popular among Austrian but also German helicopter crews, provided the rather sleepy town of Aigen a busy atmosphere. The air base Aigen in the Enns Valley is home of two squadrons equipped with Alouette III of the MzHSStaffel (multipurpose helicopter squadron). The MzHSStaffel in turn is part of the air support coordinated by the Fliegerhorst (Air base) Vogler in Hoersching. The maintenance of the Alouette III is carried out at this base as well.

The geographical location of the air base Aigen with its proximity to the mountains makes this place an ideal starting point for such a exercise. Since the German helicopter training grounds do not offer similar conditions, this exercise is a key component in the training program of the German Army Aviation as well.

Every year one exercise is held in winter, another one in summertime. The aim is to make the pilots familiar with the specificities of mountain flying to identify suitable landing sites and ultimately landing themselves always safely (and to be able to abort the landing whenever it is necessary). Even night flying is part of this training program. Flying in extremely high alpine conditions is definitely a special challenge for all helicopter crews. In the summer the crews are challenged by the thermals on the steep mountain slopes, in winter there are avalanches and snow drifts to to which special attention must be paid to. Another big issue is the "white-out" condition when loose snow is kicked up when landing by the wash of the rotors of the helicopter.. The danger with these whiteouts is, that the pilots suddenly loose any reference point to the landing area. Some additional factors, such as lack of oxygen in high altitude and the psychological burden of flying close to the steep slopes and over the abyss makes this kind of flying very special. Therefore, it requires a minimum of 200 flying hours in the logbook, before a pilot is allowed to participate in this exercise. To be certified for high altitude landing the helicopter pilot must have attended at least one summer as well as one winter exercise.

This year's exercise was held under unfavorable weather conditions. Only two days out of the two weeks favored perfect flying conditions. Very limited flying was possible on the remaining days.. The exercise includes lots of theory (around 40 hours in total) but when taking everything into consideration the participants were able to fulfill their tasks successfully.

The Aviation Magazine received an invitation to cover this exercise due to a good relationship with the Austrian Air Force. We took off with one of the Sikorsky SH-70 BLACKHAWKs early in the afternoon from Aigen heading directly to the Gross-Venediger mountains and from there we flew to the Grossglockner, which is Austria's highest mountain (3798 m above sea level). We circled around this fantastic mountain for several times - this was a lasting impression to us! While looking for a perfect landing spot we saw some other participants every now and then, just to disappear immediately behind the massive peaks and steep slopes. The two flight engineers play a significant part in the landings, as they have to watch the surroundings of the landing site left and right from the helicopter. It is their thumbs up which allows the pilot a safe landing. The pilot needs a great skills to land a 5.3 ton heavy helicopter in the snowy mountains. After several landings and altogether 2.5 hours of flying time we landed safely back on the air base. With the beauty of the Alps, the Grossglockner glacier the Hohe Tauern National Park in our mind we really enjoyed this special day.

Our special thanks goes to the helicopter squadron, its commanding officer for the invitation and the local support. Special thanks for this great flying experience goes to the crew of the Blackhawk; Co-pilot Sergeant Major Brandhofer; Pilot Lieutenant Holzer; Flight Engineer Warrant Officer Kronawetter and flight engineer Staff Sergeant Barth.

 
Report and photography by Wolfgang Jarisch for The Aviation Magazine

Click on image to start a slide show

from the cockpit of the Austrian Blackhawk
 
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