German Naval Aviation – Base visit Nordholz – August 25, 2014
The sole remaining naval air base in the Germany, Nordholz, is worth a visit. On August 25, we were welcome on base. This report tells the story of Nordholz airbase. The focus lies on the current aircraft and units but will also look back and in the future.
Nordholz airbase lies in the northern part of Germany. Close to the city Cuxhaven, only a few miles from the North Sea coast. Nordholz is the only airbase of the German Naval Aviation Service. The base houses two flying squadrons with approximately 50 aircraft and 2000 personnel. The airport shares its runway with civilian aviation companies. They have their own part on the field known as Sea Airport Cuxhaven Nordholz. However, civilian co-use is very limited the majority of the flights are military.
The first use
The first use of Nordholz as an airbase started more than a century ago. In 1912, the Navy decided to create an airbase to house its naval airships. It took two years to construct all necessary infrastructure, so the first airships arrived in 1914. During World War I the airport played an important role in bombing raids on London. After the war the field was dismantled because the treaty of Versailles forbid the Germans to have military airfields. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the base became active again. The German Air Force used Nordholz from 1938 until 1941. They left that year but returned in 1943 and used the field until American forces occupied the area in 1945.
Post war use
The American Army Air Force used the field for two years. In 1947, they left after which the Royal Air Force dismantled the field. In 1959, the German Navy decided to rebuild the field as a Naval Air Station. The first aircraft arrived in 1962 and the field became an important naval air station. During the height of the Cold War Nordholz airbase became Germans main sub hunting base. The location of the field made is very suitable for monitoring Sovjet subs on both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. After the end of the Cold War, the German Naval Aviation Service became smaller. Several airbases were closed due to a declining amount of aircraft. In 2012, Nordholz became the sole remaining German Naval Air Station when the Seaking helicopter moved from Kiel to Nordholz.
The base houses two naval squadrons in Germany known as ‘Marinefliegergeschwader’ (MFG). The first one, MFG 3, operates all fixed wing aircraft and operates the airfield. MFG 3 is for example responsible for the fire brigade, air traffic control, etc. MFG 5, the second squadron, operates the rotary wing aircraft and trains all flying and non-flying base personnel. For example, there are two full mission simulators on base for both the Orion and the Lynx. But MFG 5 gives for example 1500 persons a year a sea survival training.
MFG3 uses two types of maritime patrol aircraft namely the P-3C Orion and the Dornier 228NG. The first one mainly for sub hunting and the latter mainly for pollution control. MFG 5 uses two types of helicopters the Seaking Mk41 for SAR missions and the Sea Lynx Mk 88A as a frigate helicopter. There is also a civil EC135 helicopter available for training purposes. The latter is based on Nordholz too, but on the civilian part of the airport.
The German navy has eight Lockheed P-3C Orions. The German government bought eight former Dutch aircraft in 2004. The Orion came in service in 2006 as a replacement of the ageing Brequet Atlantic. Recently the Marineflieger bought an old US Navy Orion to use as instructional airframe for mechanics. This aircraft recently got a new paint scheme in German Navy colors.
The Orion main use of the Orion is for classic MPA missions. For example, one aircraft is in Djibouti for monitoring piracy in support of the EU mission Atalanta. Despite most aircraft are older than 30 years they have still a long time to go. Right now, all aircraft get an update to expend their life. They get new wings, a modernized cockpit and updates on the mission related software and hardware. This will keep them flying at least another 20 years.
The Orion still plays a vital role in being the ears and eyes for the German Navy surface fleet
Besides the Orion, the navy operates the Dornier 228. The aircraft entered service in 1994 as a pollution control aircraft. Today the Navy operates two aircraft on behalf of the German Ministry of Infrastructure. The Do-228 flies all year round, 7 days a week, even at night. During a mission, the aircraft use different kind of sensors to detect all kinds of pollution. Most often oil pollutions but also garbage dumps, etc. The most important sensor of the aircraft is the Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR). This radar has an effective range of 40 kilometer. The Dornier is completely up to date. The Navy upgraded their oldest aircraft a few years ago and bought a new one in 2012. The Dornier will be in use for at least the next decade.
The Seaking is one of the oldest helicopters in use. Currently there are 21 aircraft in active use but due to the age it is hard to keep them flying. The most important role of the Seaking is that of search and rescue (SAR) helicopter. There are permanently two helicopter stationed at the coast one at Helgoland and one at Warnemünde. The Seaking is large and very suitable for SAR. It´s a stable aircraft which can take a large amount of people. The helicopters are so worn out right now that, it is hard to fulfill all tasks. According to plan, the last aircraft will leave service in 2018-2020. The German Navy wants to replace the Seaking with 18 NH-90 but the government have not made a formal decision yet.
The Seaking is the German Navy main SAR helicopter
The main frigate helicopter of the German Navy is the Lynx. There are 22 aircraft in use all modernized to the same standard. After several updates, all aircraft are up to Super Lynx Mk88A standard. The Lynxes has seen many upgrades during the last decades and there are many upgrades coming. The plan is to use the helicopter till at least 2030. The reason for that is that it is the only frigate helicopter, which can operate from the 123-type frigate (Brandenburger class). So the Lynx will stay in service as long as the Brandenburger class frigates. To keep the helicopter flying for so long can be quite of a challenge.
Currently MFG 5 uses one civil EC135 helicopter. DL Helicopter Technik is the owner and operates from the civil part of Nordholz. The Eurocopter is a temporary solution for providing basic helicopter training for new pilots. It is possible to learn new pilots the basics of helicopter flying without using expensive Lynx or Seaking hours. Compared to the Seaking one flight hour in the EC135 is approximately 17 times cheaper. This makes the Eurocopter a good alternative for flight training. The project is still a pilot but the first results are promising. Probably the Navy will increase the amount of flight hours in the future.
Nordholz stays the only Naval Air Station in the future. Almost all hangers are newly built with the arrival of the Seaking and Orion. At the moment, many old buildings are demolished and the whole runway will be replaced. That makes the airfield ready for the future.
We would like to thank the German Navy for their hospitality and GRAS for organizing this visit.