There are several basic prerequisites regarding the successful conduct of military operations, including a sound knowledge of the tactical situation, the quality of ones own equipment and training and the motivation to successfully complete the mission. However, history has shown that it is above all good logistics that is absolutely vital to the successful completion of all military operations. Up to the end of the 19th century the main form of transport for armies and their equipment were horse-drawn wagons, however the ever increasing size of armies and their supplies saw wagons replaced by railroads and eventually by trucks.
The turning point was during the Second World War, where for the first time in history aircraft were used to transport armies and their supplies in mass. Following the Second World War the utility of strategic air transport to provide aid to the civilian community came to the fore by events such as the Berlin Airlift where the supplies delivered by air proved absolutely vital for the survival of a large population. So, it is not surprising, that the first operational air wing of the newly created German Luftwaffe was an air transport unit.
On 24th August 1957 Air Transport Wing 61 (LTG 61) entered operational service at a former USAF base located in the Bavarian city of Erding. The wing was initially equipped with the Douglas C-47D DAKOTA (also known as the SKYTRAIN or GOONIE BIRD) being made up of surplus Royal Air Force aircraft with the balance being provided by the USAF. In total the Luftwaffe procured 20 of the type with 18 being utilized by No 1 Squadron of LTG 61. The DAKOTA was only a temporary solution for the transport units as it was already outdated by the time in had entered service. After a brief year of use by LTG 61, the C-47 was replaced by a more modern design in the form of the SNCAN 2501 NORATLAS. But the career of the venerable DAKOTA in Luftwaffe service was in fact far from over with the type still flying as VIP transports, training aircraft and at various flight training schools (Landsberg, Fuerstenfeldbruck and Fassberg) until its decommissioning in 1976. The type was also used by Telecommunications, Teaching and Testing Regiment 61 in the Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and Telecommunication Intelligence (COMINT) role.
The SNCAN (North) 2501 NORATLAS made its maiden flight on 10th September 1949 and was developed primarily for the French Arm‚e de'l Air as a replacement for their Junkers Ju 52/3m and C-47 DAKOTAS. The designers at SNCAN (Soci‚t‚ Nationale de Construction A‚ronautique du Nord, NORD) used a concept previously applied to the Gotha Go 244 in the form of a double hull design which made it possible to use a continuous fuselage segment which considerably facilitated the loading and unloading of large bulky goods. The main disadvantage was that the rear door of the NORATLAS could not be opened in flight, as such it was not possible to drop large loads by parachute without removing the large rear doors before flight.
The NORATLAS was powered by two Bristol Hercules 739 double-row engines (14 cylinders) which had a maximum output of 1520 kW (2040 hp). The NORA, as it was also called by its crews, reached a top speed of 405 km/h at full load. With a payload of 7.5 metric tons it maintained a maximum flight time of almost 6.5 hours - which corresponded to a range of 2500 km. The German Luftwaffe received a total of 186 aircraft of which 25 were from French production, the rest were built under license by a German consortium (HFB, Weserflug & Siebel), which earned the name Flugzeugbau Nord GmbH. The following Luftwaffe air transport squadrons were equipped with the Nord 2501D NORATLAS:
The NORATLAS was the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s tactical air transport wings from September 1957 to June 1971. In other units the NORA's were still flying however by the end of 1980, the last Nord 2501D NORATLAS to fly was also to see the end of the piston engined propeller-driven transport aircraft era within the Luftwaffe. The NORA was replaced by the co-produced German-French product from the same stable: the TRANSALL C-160D!
Development of this tactical airlifter began at a time when the serial production of its predecessor, the NORATLAS, had only just begun. A requirement from the French Air Force and the Bundeswehr called for a tactical transport aircraft with Short Take-off or Landing (STOL) capabilities which included the ability to take-off and land on unpaved runways. The German design studies originally envisaged a four-engine, larger (wing surface 180 m2) and a two-engine, smaller (wing surface: 150 m2) variant, with the French companies preference for the two-engine version. With the companies of both countries coming together in the beginning of 1959 to form a joint venture called TRANSPORTER ALLIANZ (TRANSALL), the two-engine version was selected on the basis of studies by the Weserflug of Germany and Nord Aviation of France.
Following a long political discussion, German procurement of the C-160 finally proceeded. As a competitor to the C-160, the US Lockheed C-130 HERCULES was part of these discussions. As an aircraft which had been in US service since 1954 and had impressively demonstrated its qualities since, the four-engine C-130 also corresponded a lot more closely with what the Luftwaffe had originally wished for. Interestingly, the C-160 is the larger (with a slightly larger payload volume than the C-130 models available at the time) of the two aircraft. Unfortunately the C-160 can not take advantage of its greater capacity due to the lower engine power produced by its two Rolls-Royce Tyne Mk.22 turboprops. The biggest difference between the two aircraft is their range, as while the C-160 can travel a distance of just 1200 km with full payload, a C-130H has a range of almost 4000 km!
While the C-130 would have been clearly a better choice from a technical and economic point of view (compared to the operating costs per ton payload and also the cost of ownership), the C-160 was ultimately the preferred option - purely a political decision from a comprehensive point of view. At the time of the Cold War no one in West Germany ever believed that the Bundeswehr/Luftwaffe would operate beyond its own borders, however, from today's point of view, the HERCULES would definitely have been the smarter choice. This has been highlighted by the fact that the Bundeswehr has recently announced its intent to acquire six Lockheed Martin C-130J SUPER HERCULES to serve alongside the Airbus A400M ATLAS, both as a replacement for the old C-160D.
Nevertheless the C-160 TRANSALL has served the Luftwaffe well with the aircraft proving to be both robust and reliable. Sadly, in contrast to the C-130 the TRANSALL never really evolved in Luftwaffe service. In the early 1980s, the French Arm‚e de'l Air received a modernized version called the C-160NG (Nouvelle G‚n‚ration) which is characterized by the its ability to perform air to air refuelling with the Luftwaffe procuring a total of 110 of the type from April 1968. Its expected the TRANSALL will still be flying until 2021 at which time LTG 61 will be disbanded and the remaining aircraft transferred to LTG 63 located in the far North of Germany (Rendsburg/Hohn).
Each year the Bundeswehr holds "Day of the Bundeswehr" at 16 selected locations around Germany. This year the Luftwaffe presented at Fassberg (Technical College of the Luftwaffe), Diepholz (Weapon System Support Center 2) and Penzing (Air Transport Wing 61). One reason for the decision to favor LTG 61 this year was not only the fact that its the oldest air wing within the Luftwaffe and celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, but also that it was possibly the last time that LTG 61 will be seen by the public as unfortunately the unit is to be disbanded by the end of the year. For this reason it was particularly important for the more than 50,000 visitors who attended to take a final opportunity to honor the wing and its members.
Not only the radiant sunshine but also a great flying program made Day of the Bundeswehr at Penzing an unforgettable experience. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Daniel Draken, and his team succeeded in providing all three aircraft types to have served in LTG 61 available for the event. An original Douglas C-47 DAKOTA from the British company ACES HIGH (TV and film specialist) from Dunsfold participated together with the only still airworthy North 2501 NORATLAS. The NORA with the civil code F-AZVM (built in 1956) belongs to the Association Le Noratlas de Provence which operates the machine from Marseille Provence airport. Together with a specially painted C-160 of LTG 61 the two vintage aircraft performed what is known as a generational or heritage flight.
In addition to the aforementioned formation flight of the three cargo aircraft, there were still a few but none the less interesting demonstrations that included an evacuation exercise featuring a Sikorsky CH-53GS in co-operation with four C-160 and ground troops. They received close air support from two Panavia TORNADO IDS of Tactical Air Force Squadron 33 from Buechel AB and two EUROFIGHTER EF 2000 from Tactical Air Force Squadron 74 from Neuburg on the river Danube. The successor to the C-160 as the transport aircraft of the German Luftwaffe, the AIRBUS A400M, was to be admired in the ground exhibition which included a small number of fine guests, amongst them two Lockheed C-130 HERCULES (a C-130H of the 336 Sqn/Koninlijke Luchtmacht/Royal Netherlands Air Force and a C-130H of the 153rd Airlift Wing/Wyoming Air National Guard/USAF), a Pilatus PC-6 PORTER of the Austrian Armed Forces, and a private Dornier Do 27 in Luftwaffe colors.
Verdict: Day of the Bundeswehr is not an air show, but nevertheless it is the only way to see German aircraft in action. Even if you managed to see a few of the rare highlights you only need just a little sunshine to complete what would be a truly successful weekend. This is exactly what happened in Penzing at LTG 61. The only downside is the fact that this long serving unit will be disbanded by the end of the year. Maybe its just because of this why so many spectators enjoyed a truly special event!
Robert Kysela / CHK6
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