From the 18th until the 22nd of May, 2015, the 1st Wing stationed at Beauvechain Air Base in Belgium hosted the Tactical Helicopter Procedures Update (THPU). This exercise is a spin off from the flying challenge which started in 2007, where all A-109 pilots where challenged in basic and advanced navigation skills during a two hour flight. Traditionally the challenge was only meant for those pilots, but since 2014 several NATO-partners are invited to take place in the exercise. This year France, Germany, the Czech Republic, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom accepted the invitation.

Challenge Coppy

Initially the flying challenge consisted out of aspects as time management, time and heading flying, flying on oro-hydro maps and object plotting. Every year new exercises were implemented to maintain the difficulty level. In 2010, the name was changed to "Challenge Coppy", in remembrance of Lieutenant Tim Coppenholle. This Belgian helicopter pilot died in a crash with a Piper Cub at Goetsenhoven airfield.

From challenge to international exercise

The 1st Wing participates annually in several exercises which are organized by the European Defence Agency (EDA), the European Air Group (EAG) or NATO. EDA is an intergovernmental agency of the European Council. Together with its 27 European member states EDA works to improve European defence capabilities in the field of crisis management and sustains European security and defence policy as it stands now and develops in the future. The EAG operates independently to compromise the air forces of seven European nations. Amongst them Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and France. Since the 1 Wing participates in a lot of international exercises organized by EDA, EAG and NATO, the unit decided to implement other NATO-partners as from 2014. The first year only France participated in the THPU. Due to the lessons learned and results booked, the other earlier mentioned nations decided to participate in this year's edition. The big difference with other years is that to increase training value, two days of Composite Air Operations (COMAO) exercises were implemented. During these COMAOs the helicopter crews and ground personnel are trained in standard tactical procedures and interoperability. This year's THPU also serves another purpose; to prepare the crews for their participation in the exercise Italian Blaze which will be held at Viterbo Army Air Base, Italy, later this year.

Nine different types

With the participation of five other nations in the THPU 2015 no less than nine different types of helicopters were flown in the daily missions. Besides the aircraft operated by the Belgian Air Component (A.109BA and NH-90TTH) and Belgian Navy (NH-90NFH), Seaking Mk. 48A and SA-316B), two German UH-1Ds, two French Army SA.342Ms, two French Army SA.330Bs, two Czech Air Force Mi-24V and one Mi-171Sh also operated by the Czech Air Force participated in this year's procedures update. Because the Netherlands and the United Kingdom participated as technical observers only, no helicopters of their air forces participated.