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Rolph Klijn reports on the SAR meet 2023 at Nordholz NAS

In Europe, active SAR units gather once a year on the occasion of an International SAR meet, which is organised on a rotating basis by participating units or nations. A SAR meet consists of a number of contests allowing the different teams to improve their skills by learning from other competitors, whether they are pilots, navigators, flight engineers, medics or divers.

A German Navy Westland Sea King Mk.41 - 89+63  in a special livery "50 years Sea King" at Nordholz Naval Air Base

Galileo SAR Meet 2023 in Nordholz

Search And Rescue (SAR) is a service provided by all member states of the United Nations and comprises the search for and the provision of aid to persons, aircraft, ships or other craft which are, or are feared to be, in distress or imminent danger. How this service has to be performed is laid down in documents published by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), two specialised bodies of the United Nations.

The implementation of those standardised rules and regulations, however, usually takes place at the national level, hence the existing differences in organisation, procedures and equipment. It is therefore of paramount importance for SAR units to become acquainted with the equipment, capabilities and operating procedures of other SAR providers.

This applies especially for SAR services of neighbouring countries as they have to be ready and able to work together in case of major accidents or disasters. That is why international SAR exercises and meetings are organised on a regular basis.

Helicopter Force

 Galileo Service:

The Galileo SAR service is comprised of two components:

 1. An automatic forward link distress alert
 2. A unique return link alert that informs the sender that their message has been received

Global Search and Rescue (SAR) operations quickly locate and help people in distress. The SAR/Galileo service, launched on 15 December 2016 as part of Galileo Initial Services, contributes to these live-saving efforts by swiftly relaying radio beacon distress signals to the relevant SAR crews by means of dedicated payloads on-board Galileo satellites, supported by three ground stations strategically deployed across Europe.

On January 21 2020, the SAR/Galileo Return Link Service (RLS) was declared operational. Now, Galileo not only locates people in distress and makes their position known to the relevant authorities, the SAR/Galileo RLS provides an automatic acknowledgement message back to the user informing them that their request for help has been received.

The exercise

A typical SAR meet lasts just a few days and is not organized along a strict set of rules and procedures. During the exercise each unit is put to the test on various specific tasks. This can be a test for the pilots, to show their precision flying skills with the helicopter, for example during the winching contest, while the navigators need to accurately guide the pilots to an exact location at open sea or the isolated spots near the coast or overland, and the rescue divers/medics are put to the test during the survival test. Next to the test of the daily "routine" the SAR meet is also a social gathering.

A Dauphin flown by the Lithuanian Air Force's Sraigtasparniu Esk (Helicopter Squadron).
Helicopters of this small Air Force are rarely seen outside their home country, making this
Dauphin a welcome sight.

Helicopter Force


MFG 5 has been in the SAR business since 1958, although it must be said that SAR is not the unit’s sole task. SAR started out in July 1958 on the Bristol Sycamore. These rather small machines gave way to the much larger Sikorsky H-34G from April 1963. The unit's current fleet of 21 Westland Sea King Mk.41 took over from the H-34G's during April 1975.

After the recent move from Kiel to Nordholz, MFG 5 became the operating organization of all the helicopters of the German Navy. It already operated twenty-one Westland Sea Kings (to become the 1st flying Staffel) and the twenty-two Westland Lynxes from MFG 3 (now 3rd flying Staffel of MFG 5) already stationed at Nordholz) were transferred to MFG 5. The fixed wing aircraft of the German Navy (P-3C Orion and Dornier 228) remain with MFG 3.

The Westland Sea King Mk.41 was introduced into service in 1975. The German Sea King Mk. 41 was the blueprint for all SAR Sea Kings used by RNoAF, BAF and even the No. 202 Squadron RAF. In 1987 a modernizing program was started to give the Sea King Mk.41 a limited offensive role.

The latest helicopter serving with MFG-5 is the Sea Lion the Naval Transport Helicopter (NTH) variant of the NH90. It has been in service since 2018, replacing the Mk41 Sea King helicopter, which has been in service for nearly 50 years. Germany is intending to replace both its Westland Sea King Mk 41s and its smaller Westland Lynx Mk 88s with two sub variants of the NH-90 helicopter.

The last of 18 NH-90 Sea Lion naval multi-role transport helicopters to be used by the German Navy was delivered on January 26, 2023. Bringing the immanent phase out the Westland Sea King Mk.41 closer day by day.

The Sea Lion is the Naval Transport Helicopter (NTH) variant of the NH90.
It has been in service since 2018 with MFG-5, replacing the Mk41 Sea King.

Sea Lion

The Sea Lion is a specific German Navy variant of the NH-90 helicopter (by NH Industries) dubbed the “Naval Transport Helicopter (NTH)” variant. It replaced the Sea King in German Navy service from 2018 and is dedicated to search and rescue (SAR) missions. In addition, the Sea Lion, like the Sea King before it, is used to transport cargo or people. Its secondary roles include reconnaissance and situational awareness thanks to its long-range sensors.

When fully operational, the NH90 Sea Lions will take on a wide range of roles including search and rescue (SAR), maritime reconnaissance, Special Forces as well as personnel and material transportation missions. In addition to its land-based use, the Sea Lion will also operate on Type 702 (Berlin class) combat support ships.

Sea Tiger

Besides the Sea Lion, the German Navy has also opted for the naval version of the NH90 to succeed its 22 Sea Lynx Mk 88A on-board helicopters that have been in service since 1981.

The German Navy is expected to receive a total of 31 ASW helicopters starting from 2025. They will be known as the “Sea Tiger” in German Navy service. Its special designation is “multi-role frigate helicopter” (MRFH). It will be the German version of the NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter (NH90 NFH) and closest to the French variant of the NFH (NFRS) known as Caiman



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