In the right place at the right time

An important task for helicopters operated by both the Army and Navy is troop transport. Even though the HKP 2 could not carry more than 2 or 3 fully equipped soldiers, an Army Aviation helicopter platoon could as a group take a complete infantry unit of 8–10 men, which itself would be a small but important reinforcement while battle was raging.

A small force put down at the right place at the right time can be decisive, where a larger force arriving later could fail.

Helicopters can also fly reconnaissance patrols into areas that are controlled by the enemy, and extract them without being noticed. But whether it is an infantry group put into place to reinforce defenders of a strategic bridge that is under enemy threat, or a small attack patrol secretly landing behind enemy lines, the landing must must be rapid. On the one hand helicopters are the most vulnerable during landing or hovering above ground, on the other the sound itself can give away the presence of the helicopter or patrol to any enemy withing audible range.

Being able to quickly and efficiently leave the helicopter, and in some cases to rapidly board it to depart from the location are thus very important. At the same time one must take care when arriving at or departing from the helicopter to not risk being struck by the rotors. Over time a number of different techniques have been tried, some successful, others being less satisfactory. Sweden has not been an exception.

The right place but the wrong method

Retired Swedish Navy Commander Roger Eliasson remembers when a marine ranger team was was landed, or rather put to sea, from an HKP 2.

”The Alouette could carry two fully equipped marine rangers or attack divers. They travelled in the rear seats. Instead of setting the soldiers down on land, they could be put down into the water close to the target. If they were divers, they were always dropped into the water. However these marines were always impatient and some thought that it took too long to get out of the helicopter cabin and into the water.  We tried flying with the doors open, but even this seemed to them not to allow a quick enough exit.”

”One day a couple of marine rangers wanted to simply try climbing out on to the floats in advance and from there jump straight into the water. This should after all be the quickest way to get off the helicopter and get to the target. We helicopter pilots agreed to try their suggestion with some doubt, and only on condition that they followed our instructions on when to climb out and that under no circumstances were they to jump off the floats before we were standing still and hovering! No sooner said than done, the marines accepted our terms and off we went.”

”We approached the target at at low height and high speed. A few minutes before we arrived, the soldiers got out on to the pontoons at the agreed signal. Now they only had to wait for us to begin hovering so that they could jump into the water. We began to reduce speed to prepare for their jump. However patience is not a virtue held by marine rangers. We both suddenly realised that the pontoons were empty and the two soldiers were bouncing along on the water just as if they had been thrown as flat stones. Hitting water at high speed is very painful. Fortunately both men survived, although covered in bruises.”

The fastest descent is not always the best.

One machine, many jobs

The HKP 2 showed itself to be an extremely successful helicopter, serving from Kiruna in the north to Smygehuk in the south. It could carry a real load, whether a light anti-tank gun or heavily equipped marine rangers. It could handle severe weather or freezing mountain conditions, and was instrumental in saving many lives.

One of the Alouettes on display here in the Aeroseum once also flew Ingemar Johansson to meet his home town Gothenburg admirers at the Ullevi stadium when he returned from his historic victory in the USA to become heavyweight champion in professional boxing, in 1959.

Sweden also began at an early stage to study the possibility of arming light helicopters with armour-piercing missiles, just like France did, and the first tests were performed with a civil Alouette II in 1961. It would however be a long time before Sweden finally had its own first anti-armour helicopter, and this is another story.

Swedish Army Avisation changed to another type of helicopter in 1969 and the Swedish Air Force took over some Alouettes. They were mainsly used for rescue and were not completely withdrawn until 1988. The Navy’s HKP 2s kept going until 1985.

Laying the groundwork

One of the basic tasks fir the Swedish Navy HKP 2s was basic training for Navy helicopter pilots. This was needed before the pilots could get behind the controls of the much heavier HKP 1 and HKP 4 which above all were the Navy Aviation workhorses. The prospective pilots came from various backgrounds and had extremely varied flying experience. It was however not necessarily those who had flown aircraft the most who had the best background for learning the basics of flying a helicopter. Roger Eliasson can verify this as follows:

”I personally began my military career as a clearance diver, which could be seen as the precise opposite of an aviator. Those of us who were not previously trained as pilots therefore had to learn to fly in the little SK 61 Bulldog propeller aircraft. When it came time to fly a helicopter, it was the HKP 2.

Apart from us beginners, there was a group of fighter pilots who were becoming too old to fly the Draken and Viggen, and thus had to be retrained to fly helicopters.These were men with thousands of hours of flying jets behind them. They knew everything about aviation and were obviously self-assured. Not like us beginners, who climbed in and strapped up with pounding hearts and fumbling fingers.”

Things are not always as they seem. It turned out that the inexperienced pupils who had only flown propeller aircraft could handle the task better than the grizzled fighter pilots. The reason for this was the way the foot pedals were used differs between modern fighter jets, propeller aircraft and helicopters.

”Flying a helicopter, especially an older type such as the Alouette II, is like balancing a ping-pong ball on a fountain of water. You have to use both your hands and your feet. There is much more foot movement than in an aircraft. We beginners managed this quite well, whereas the fighter jocks found it very difficult to keep the helicopter stable in the air. They swung from side to side and swore at the pedals.”

In propeller aircraft the pedals are used to control the vertical rudder at the tail, to be able steer while on the ground. In the air they are not used very much and the control stick is used to steer with, although the pedals do need to be used occasionally, for example to meet and oppose side winds, during aerobatics and so on. Pupils coming directly from learning on the SK 61 Bulldog were quite used to being fairly active on the pedals. However fighter pilots who had come straight from flying high performance fast jets were only familiar with using the pedals while on the ground. In the air they used only the control column (stick). It took several practice flying sessions for them to get back to basic flying procedures.

Still going strong

Despite the Alouette II now being of an old design, many are still flying in various parts of the world, even though production ceased in 1975. Altogether almost 1,600 were built, a very large number when it comes to helicopters. Some have been built under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in a special extreme height version for use by the Indian Air Force in the Himalayas. The Alouette II also formed the basis for the somewhat larger and spacious Alouette III, that also became a very successful helicopter.

Alouette 2

Photo: Swedish Air Force museum in Linköping