Why didn't you join the Air Force

Sniff air (weapon)

The best way to watch tornadoes take off is on an Air Force adventure trip. I got this pleasure thanks to my participation in the Bundeswehr quiz. I answered several questions about the Bundeswehr correctly, received a solution word - and was lucky that my name was drawn from the lottery pot.

On the first day, the bus took the bus to the Tactical Air Force Wing 33 in Büchel at 6:45 a.m. The largest German tornado association has existed for over 60 years as the only base that is fully capable of air strikes.

After meals in the troop kitchen, there were interesting lectures that provided visual insights into the work of the flying troops, i.e. the pilots. The main role of the presented weapon systems was played by the tornado. The fighter aircraft has a wing area of ​​around 26.60 square meters and is also affectionately called "folding kites" by some soldiers. This designation makes me smile a little with an empty weight of 14,000 kilograms.

At first, however, I only saw standing tornadoes. Incidentally, a tornado that is not in the air carries red “Remove Before Flight” flags. They were almost inflationary everywhere on the aircraft. In any case, they will not be forgotten.

Flying in a confined space

I also met enthusiastic Air Force instructors in the on-site training workshop. Every year 36 trainees are prepared here for their later employment in the Bundeswehr. No wonder that training to become an aircraft mechanic and electrician takes three and a half years. After all, the PA-200 Tornado weapon system has a ton of levers, switches, and buttons.

Every move has to be perfect to ensure that the crew of the tornado, consisting of the pilot and the weapons system officer, can take off and land safely. It was particularly impressive for me to be able to climb into the cockpit myself. I quickly realized: Being a pilot is not for people with claustrophobia.

It's green and it's moving

Although I did not have the opportunity to gain first flight experience, I was shaken up quite a bit on a fast ride with the "Fox". With an output of 320 hp and a top speed of 95 kilometers per hour, the armored transport vehicle can be used in a variety of ways off-road.

Saving lives from the air

The second station led me to the flight readiness of the Federal Ministry of Defense. At the Cologne-Wahn location, the airfield is prepared for flights at all times. The fleet includes, for example, the Airbus A310-304, the Bombardier Global 5000 and the Airbus A340. First we had to go through the identity check, where soldiers x-rayed our jackets and bags. After all, safety always comes first.

Then our excursion began with a visit to the "flying hospital" of the Bundeswehr. The Airbus A310-304 MRTT (Multi-Role-Transport-Tanker) MedEvac can provide medical care for up to 44 patients. The aircraft is divided into three areas. The slightly injured people are cared for in the front part of the aircraft. The middle area is intended for the moderately injured patients and thus the intensive care patients are cared for in the rear part of the Airbus A310.

The medical technician Sergeant Peter Hüls employed there was particularly proud of the fact that no patient had yet died during a flight that they had picked up and cared for above the clouds. When asked how the sergeant got into the air force, he replied that he was transferred there by chance. But even as a child, Peter Hüls was “airplane-crazy” and liked to be a craftsman himself.

There is no way he regrets his decision to work for the Air Force. His most formative event in the air force was a navy patient. This soldier had been lying in a hospital in Beirut for three weeks with an arterial gastric haemorrhage before being picked up by the "flying hospital". When the soldier was finally picked up by the air force paramedics, he was grateful and relieved. This moment showed the sergeant that he was doing the right thing.

The Chancellor prefers to eat sausages with potato salad

Yes, the Chancellery can fly too. The Airbus A340 not only has comfortable seating, but also a mobile chancellery. This is used for discussions of important matters between the Chancellor and, for example, her ministers. If the Chancellor should feel the need to rest, she has a private room with a fold-out couch and bathroom.

The Airbus A340 is designed for 132 passengers. In addition to the Federal Chancellor and her ministers, numerous journalists and security officers often travel with them.

The press is arguably the least popular passenger on the A340 as it tries to get information through flight attendants, as one flight attendant said. Our Chancellor, on the other hand, is modest. She prefers to eat sausages with potato salad.

Air transport attendant sergeant Jenny-Janett Hammann also agreed to a short interview. The trained nurse worked as a paramedic in Cologne for two years before starting her career as an air transport attendant in the German Armed Forces. She was then poached and her apparently unrealistic childhood dream came true. She has now been working for the Bundeswehr for a total of 13 years and the dream of flying has been a reality for eleven years.

"Quick Reaction Alert"

On the penultimate day we visited the Tactical Air Force Squadron 31 “Boelcke”. The oldest jet unit in the Air Force has the task of training soldiers and maintaining operational readiness. In addition, there is the flight operations team, which takes care of securing the airspace and constantly monitors the airspace. The airspace is monitored by radar pilots.

There are also the tower controllers, who are exclusively concerned with what is happening on the airfield. If air traffic controllers in Germany are unable to establish contact with a pilot, for example in a passenger plane, or if an aircraft is in the airspace without a permit, a so-called "Quick Reaction Alert" (QRA) occurs.

In a quarter of an hour at the latest, two Luftwaffe pilots are in the air with their aircraft, clarify the cause of the communication disruption and identify the unknown aircraft. The soldiers from Nörvenich temporarily take on this task when the Tactical Air Force Squadron 74 in Neuburg an der Donau has its own runway repaired, for example.

Delete once, please!

None of the aircraft take off without the fire brigade at the airfield. Tim Gieretz had been with the voluntary fire brigade for ten years before applying for the middle technical service in the fire brigade of the German armed forces. For a year now he has been working for the Tactical Air Force Wing 31 "Boelcke" to fight fires.

He even reveals to me the motto of his previous basic training: “It'll pass.” Tim Gieretz really appreciated the camaraderie in the Bundeswehr. Four women also work for the fire brigade at the base and have completed an 18-month training course including six weeks for the truck driver's license.

The Eurofighter connects nations

Suddenly two Eurofighters thundered over our heads. The second Eurofighter was a two-seater. A pilot sat in front, his flight instructor behind him. The two-man formation was on the way to Kaiserslautern. There is a military training area for air operations there. An exercise in the one-on-one aerial combat between the German and the Belgian machines took place at lofty heights. The Eurofighter is not completely "Made in Germany". Only the hull and the fin are produced in Germany. The wings are made in Italy and Spain. Great Britain is also involved in the weapons system. Thus the fighter is a European project.

Since the pressure in the cockpit can increase up to nine times their own body weight, the pilots wear special "anti-g suits". The "inflatable boats", as the suits are also called, can be printed on, which means that they are airtight. You would sweat extremely in it, as one pilot described, but be sure to be safe.

In addition, straps are attached to the sleeves, which are intended to hold the arms together in extreme cases. Otherwise the pilot would break both arms. There is also a swim collar attached to the vest, and an emergency radio and signal ammunition are in the pocket.

The Bundeswehr has "a great diversity"

In addition to the conversations with soldiers, two participants on the adventure trip were ready to answer my question about a career in the Bundeswehr. Friso Schütte considers the German Armed Forces to be an attractive employer because it "has a great many facets".

He “would like to fly with the Transall again because it's a really cool and big transport plane” and he used to fly with it a lot. His highlight of the adventure trip with the Air Force was the visit to the flight readiness. He particularly enjoyed the first-class tours of the many luxurious aircraft there.

The 18-year-old Michelle Hudjetz "has always had an interest in the military and technical". At community meetings at various Bundeswehr bases, she was able to make sure that the aerospace engineering course was “just right” for her. Michelle has already been awarded the officer qualification and she will start her basic training in a few weeks. She is already "totally excited", but is very much looking forward to the new challenge. She brings a lot of motivation to do this.

Punctuality, order and English

The training workshop was also open for us that day. There, as in Büchel, aircraft mechanics and electricians are trained in three and a half years. Civilian vocational training is recognized by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

An average of 360 applicants appear for the recruitment test, who have to prove, for example, manual skills as well as mathematical and physical understanding. A good grade in English is also an advantage in order to get one of the twelve available positions. A trainer tells me about his expectations of future trainees.

“In addition to punctuality and order, the trainees also have to be able to subordinate themselves, be flexible and able to work in a team. Ultimately, the prospective aircraft mechanics or electricians may be transferred to a different location. ”However, these principles are actually a matter of course for the trainer and, in his opinion, are also required by other employers.

In the first year of training, basic knowledge in the field of metal technology is imparted. After all, the trainees are allowed to tinker with old aircraft for the first time and after two years the helicopter and the tornado are on the schedule.

The operational command area has everything in view in German airspace

The last station here in Cologne led me to operational command area 2 in Erndtebrück. First we received a short “briefing” from a youth officer about the location and the special features of the training. I learned the following about the base in Erndtebrück: Operations control area 2 includes the air traffic control service, which is colloquially made up of military tower controllers. Now there is still an area for close air support and the operational command service. The latter ensures security in the airspace and monitoring using the latest technology. Air defense is also organized there. The specialty of Erndtebrück is that it is the central training facility for the operational command service and is even trained internationally here.

The airspace is monitored by a total of 18 military radar devices, whereby civilian radar devices can also be used if necessary. If necessary, the Eurofighters from Wittmund, Neuburg an der Donau or temporarily Nörvenich and Rostock Laage are also “ordered” from Operations Control Area 2 in order to act as so-called “alarm rotters”. The soldiers, who have been specially trained to identify the aircraft, check, for example, which aircraft it is, where it is coming from and where it is going. Then the pilots of the Eurofighters try to establish visual contact with the pilots and to shadow or push away the pilot of the now cleared aircraft if the pilot does not change his course. In the worst case, it comes to fighting.

The amount of around 75,000 euros per flight hour with the Eurofighter tells us that “Quick Reaction Alert” can be quite expensive in the long run. The air traffic controllers of the Bundeswehr have to be very sure that something is wrong with the aircraft before they call the Eurofighters. In 2018 there were 221 cases of lack of radio contact between pilots and controllers in Germany. Compared to 2014, the “Com Loss” has decreased by around half. The most common reason for a communication disruption is errors by the pilots in the respective aircraft. These occur if, for example, the new radio frequency is entered incorrectly when changing an airspace. I found the fact that on 07.09.2018 there were the most flight movements of the year with 11,024 flights particularly astonishing.

Multitasking is everything and a lot is secret in Erndtebrück

It was very impressive for me to see how the soldiers kept everything under control on their screens and communicated over the radio. In order to be able to work as an air traffic controller in the Air Force, it must not be a problem for one or the other to do a few things at the same time. Multitasking is compulsory in operational management area 2.

In Erndtebrück, too, we enjoyed an interesting insight into the structure of the Air Force, even if unfortunately some questions could not be answered here for safety reasons. After all, everything should remain top secret.

We participants were very enthusiastic about a fast-paced kart race in the center of Cologne and it was a successful end to the day. We spent the evenings together in the Cologne restaurants. Before that, we escaped from an "Escape Room" or jumped around the height in the "Jump House". The Luftwaffe's adventure trip thus turned into a cultural event that brought us all closer to the Bundeswehr and the city. We participants were also able to get to know each other better and better.

The slightly different guided tour through Cologne

On the day of departure, the faces of the participants were of course disappointed. After all, the week had passed so quickly and the winners of the trip got on well together.

However, our expectations were exceeded when we were given a guided tour of “sinful Cologne” in the Middle Ages on the last day. For me, it was a relaxing way to compensate for the morning workout that some of the participants of the trip had wished for the last day.

Farewell: The world is small

Now we had arrived at the train station. I couldn't believe it yet. I feel like I just arrived yesterday. Crowds pushed past our group. Everyone looked spellbound at the electronic timetable information to find the right track. Then the time had come: the big farewell. Somehow I took one or the other participant into my heart. Be it because his cruel taste in music annoyed me on the bus ride or simply because the evenings together were always very funny.

We were together for almost a whole week: we freed ourselves from the "Escape Room" together, sat side by side in the "Fuchs" and sang karaoke to the delight of the bus driver. Cell phone numbers were quickly exchanged and the last few words were exchanged until the train pulled in and our group broke up bit by bit.

I waved to the others one last time, then I got on the train too. Maybe one or the other will see each other again. It is well known that you always see each other twice in life.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone involved for these great insights into the second largest armed force in the Bundeswehr, the Air Force. I hope that, despite the changes in the Federal Ministry of Defense, there will continue to be such adventure trips. For me personally it was a great opportunity to get closer to my career aspirations.