005 Escuadrilla SH-3G Sea King prepares for a morning mission on 26th March 2009
Escuadrilla 006 Hughes 369HM (H.500) departing Rota on an engine test 26th March 2009
One of the more unusual elements at Naval Air Station Rota is Escuadrilla 006 operating the diminutive Hughes 369HM (or Hughes 500). This small helicopter provides primary flight training for the Armada, although many pilots experience their first flight with Ala.78 at Granada with the Spanish Air Force using the Eurocopter EC.120 Colibri. This then progresses to the Sikorsky S-76 at Granada or at NAS Pensacola in Florida with the U.S. Navy and their Bell TH-57's.
Esc.006 Hughes 369HM's are readied for a mission having just been moved from one of the squadrons hanger.
006 Escuadrilla Hughes 500 prepares for a check-mission after completing an engine change
The Hughes were first delivered way back in 1972 and the six still remaining in service provide a reliable and easily maintained training platform. However, spares are now becoming an issue as the Armada struggle to access new spare parts, resulting in other airframes being canibalised to maintain sufficient flight hours.
As with some of the other helicopters in the fleet the Hughes first saw service as an ASW platform, capable of carrying a Metal Anomoly Detector (MAD) and MK-44/46 torpedoes before moving on to its primary flight training mission of today. With the ASW equipment having long been removed, Escuadrilla 006 continues to fly a helicopter rarely seen in military service in the 21st Century, particularly in European skies and long may it continue. With no replacement airframe in sight it may yet continue for many years and achieve forty years of service with the Armada.
HS.23-06 undergoing maintenance in Escuadrilla 010's hanger at Rota on 26th March 2009
The final helicopter unit at Rota is Escuadrilla 010 operating twelve Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawks. Delivered from 1988 onwards all twelve remain in service today as the Armada's primary ASW platform. The aircraft carry the same Light Airborne Multipurpose System (LAMPS) used by the United States Navy to provide an effective Anti-Submarine Warfare capability which utilises a Data Link Receiver between the helo' and the ship to provide 'real time' data from the sensors.
Normally operating from the Armada's 'Santa Maria' and 'Alvara de Bazan' class frigates the SH-60's are fitted with the APS-124 radar, up to twenty-five 'active' or 'passive' sonor-bouys and three MK-46 torpedoes. A Magnetic Anomoly Detector (MAD) is carried on the rear starboard of the airframe for submarine detection with a Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) providing night vision capability. A laser designator for the AGM-114 Hellfire missile (short-range semi-guided laser with 8kg warhead) is provided, together with the AGM-119 Penguin (infra red search & acquisition missile with a 50kg warhead). To complete its mission suite, self protection is provided by a 12.7mm machine gun, IFF, optical & IR missile detection, plus chaff and flare dispensors.
The Armada's primary strike aircraft is the McDonnell-Douglas EAV-8B+ Harrier II as seen above
The McDonnell-Douglas EAV-8B+ Harrier II provides a state of the art front-line aircraft for todays Spanish Navy and has been in use by the Armada since its introduction in 1996. The Spanish aircraft manufacturer EADS/CASA had a major part to play in introducing the Harrier II to the Armada, having assembled the first eight aircraft between 1996 and 1997. There is a long history of Harrier operations within the Spanish Navy going as far back as 1976 when it operated the original AV-8S Harrier (known as the Matador in Spanish service). These were supplemented in 1987 when the EAV-8B version was introduced, going on to subsequently replace the AV-8S completely when they were retired in 1996. When on operational duty the Harrier's operate from the Armada's sole aircraft carrier, the 'Principe de Asturias' (R11), which was commissioned in 1989.
VA.1A-19/01-907 is one of the original EAV-8B's delivered to the Spanish Navy.
Only two of the original EAV-8B Harrier's remain in service as of March 2009, these being VA.1A-19/01-907 and VA.1A-22/01-911. These two aircraft differ from the EAV-8B+ in having the older Rolls Royce F402-RR-406 engine, which provides around ten percent less thrust, plus of course it lacks most noticeably the radar of the EAV-8B+ and its associated weapons systems. A number of the earlier EAV-8B's were re-manufactured to EAV-8B+ standard by EADS/CASA at Seville and plans are that at least one more will be upgraded in the future (but possibly to a Night Attack Version). All the Harrier's serve with Escuadrilla 009.
VA.1B-37/01-925 sits on the Rota ramp awaiting its second morning mission
The EAV-8B+ incorporates the Hughes APG-65 radar providing day and night operations using Night Vision Goggles (the EAV-8B lacks a radar), and is powered by a Rolls-Royce 408 Pegasus II engine, providing more power and reliabilty than its predecessors. A multi-mission capabilty is provided enabling Combat Air Patrol (CAP) in defence of the fleet whilst assigned to the carrier 'Principe de Asturias', close air support, reconnaissance and helicopter escort duties. As of March 2009 Escuadrilla 009 comprised twelve EAV-8B+, two EAV-8B and one TAV-8B two-seater.
The AV-8B+ also has the capability to carry an external Northrop-Grumman AN/AAQ-28 LANTIRN pod as seen above (left) with its protective cover removed and showing the camera/sensor lenses. Also visible at the bottom of the left hand photograph is the data-link sensor used by ground forces which links to a laptop (out of picture) so as to provide a 'real time' view of what the pilot can see (visible on the cockpit screen on the left of the right-hand photograph).
EAV-8B+ Harrier VA.1B-30/01-920 inside the 009 Escuadrilla hanger at Rota
VAE.1A-33 is the sole TAV-8B in service with the Arma Aerea de la Armada
EAV-8B+ Harrier II returns to the ramp at Rota after a solo mission
Another tough day at the office. Clear blue skies and a fast jet, it's hard being a fighter-jock!!
Thanks go to the following for assisting us with and during our visit to Rota NAS
Fransisco Artieda (MOD Madrid)
J.F De Los Rios
and a particular thanks to the Base Commander Capitan de Corbeta Angel Fernandez Lahera