Photo Report – Exercise Jackal Stone 2012 Preparations @ Lučko

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

While our placid little airfield generally deserves the epithet of “the airfield at the edge of town” – despite what has been written here over the years 😀 – it does occasionally have its bright moments. Due to the relatively poor condition of its grass runway – among other issues – precluding the landing of any “serious” fixed wing aircraft, these tend to occur only when something rotary is in town, like the previously photographed US Navy Knighthawk or Bundespolizei Super Puma.

However, while these very welcome one-of visitors do make for a pleasant change of tempo – often becoming major attractions in their own right – they hadn’t really prepared us for the miniature assault fleet that had pitched up camp on the military apron between 8 and 12 September… 🙂

Jackal Stoned

In town to participate in the annual Jackal Stone multinational military exercise – this year starting on 13 September – this fleet had included no less than four transport helicopters (nothing to sneeze at when Lučko is concerned!), and even a supporting Cessna Caravan that had occasionally popped into the field on general transport business. And while their numbers alone were enough the cause widespread interest, their composition – once confirmed by a quick search on the Net – had elevated them to “must photograph at all costs” status :D.

The “less interesting” pair – using the term lightly – were two already familiar US Navy Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawks, pretty much identical to the example that had visited us a couple of months back, save for being equipped with turret IR cameras on their noses.

Laden with soldiers, “Jackhammer 81” is seen lifting off from the military apron for another afternoon mission. Operating mostly during sunset and at night, all four helicopters had spent their time here flying training missions and deployments in advance of the Jackal Stone 2012 exercise
“Jackhammer 81” (left) and “Jackhammer 82” (code 166347) are seen blasting out of the field for an afternoon mission in the hilly Zagorje region north of Zagreb. Operating entirely over Northern Croatia, these flights had caused significant disruption to the normal flow of GA traffic, with exercises held in temporary prohibited zones established right on – or very near to – the most commonly flown cross-country routes

Far more interesting by any measure – objective or otherwise – were the “big guns”, two US Army Boeing MH-47G Chinooks. Significantly more potent than the stock transport CH-47s, the MH-47G is a dedicated special operations model, conceived and designed on the back of lessons learned during special forces deployments and insertions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The rarest – and among the newest – of all Chinooks, these models carry virtually no external markings (apart from faint titles and an incredibly-difficult-to-find serial) and sport a distinctive matte black finish that makes them impossible to photograph effectively in all but early morning light 🙂 (which had presented a slight problem for yours truly, since none of them had actually operated during the early morning).

A very famous silouette air taxiing back to the military apron after a special forces rappelling exercise. In addition to significantly improved avionics – including full night vision gear – the MH-47G also comes equipped with a slightly conspicuous refueling probe. Long by necessity – to prevent the front rotor from slicing through the refueling hose – the probe can most often be seen plugged into the KC-130 dedicated tanker, or on occasion even the MC-130 Combat Shadow, the Herc’s special operations support version
Caught in some fantastic light, “Crazy 21” is seen repositioning itself towards the helicopter start gates for a late afternoon mission with sister ship “Crazy 22”. Brutish looking machines, they’re amazingly quiet and (subjectively) make less of a racket than the CroAF’s own Mi-171s
Forming up at the start gates, “Crazy 21” and “Crazy 22” made for a sight that even my friends in the States wholeheartedly assure me is an incredibly rare sight – two special ops Chinooks at the same place and the same time, rearing to go

Of course, being the hopeless GA enthusiast that I am, both of these incredible – and incredibly rare – machines were overshadowed somewhat by a brief, five-minute visit of one of my favorite prop singles, the Cessna Caravan :D. The first one I’ve ever seen in person – which says much about the traffic at Lučko – this specific example belongs to the military U-27 family, operated in this instance by the US Army. Based on the stock 208B Grand Caravan, the U-27 differs mostly in its more spartan interior fittings – suited to its military transport role – and the absence of the imposing cargo pod seen on many civil versions…

What is probably the first Caravan to ever visit the field, “Army 1276” is seen rolling in along (the very uneven) taxiway A to pick up some foreign journalists covering the pre-exercise maneuvers. In a (fully justified) slap to Lučko’s infamously rough runway, even this off-road, rough-and-ready machine had exercised due care and caution during takeoff and landing
Finally up close – and I must admit the 208 is quite a bit larger than I had imagined! Interestingly though, the aircraft is surprisingly quiet, no louder than a stock 172 or 182 (which had operated out of the field for the whole time). Of note here is the slightly offset propeller (and engine) axis, intended to partially compensate for the prop’s relatively high P factor

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