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If you drive from the Mediterranean coast of Andalusia in the direction of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada, then you will find at the edge of the small city of Armilla, about 6 km of Granada, the home base of the 78th Wing of the Spanish Air Force.

A long tradition connects the helicopter base of Armilla to the Spanish aviation. Together with the military base in Cuatro Vientos it is one of the of the oldest aerodromes of Spain still in use and its aeronautical activities goes back into the year 1895, when already some balloons started from here. Since then, its aeronautical activity has been practically uninterrupted and the airfield was the home of different aerial units.
Logically the military aviation showed interest in the airfield at the beginning of the 20's, and the aviation base was opened on 21 June 1922. The original equipment contained airplanes of the companies de Havilland and Bristol and starting in 1927 also Breguet 14 and 19. A first connection to the rotary-wing aircraft developed 1934 during the exhibition of a Autogyro, the "CIERVA".
The flying school years
In 1955 the flying school of El Copero (Seville) was transferred to Armilla. The new training centre for Spanish military pilots was established. The training of the cadets took place on the Buecker 131 and above all on the Casa 1,131 (E-3B), a Spanish licence build of the famous German Buecker. The E-3 was supported from 1958 by the Spanish Aisa I-115 Garrapata (E-9); the Spanish designations use an ‘E' which stands for Entrenador/Escuela, trainer/school. Until 1971, the year the school was transferred to the Basa Aérea de Reus, 21 pilots received the pilot licenses in Armilla. Already two years later, in the year 1973, Armilla  became the centre for the selection of future military pilots of the Air Force academy, Centro de Selección de la Academia General del Aire (C.S.A.G.A.). The Spanish cadets of the Air Force academy should be examined after aeronautical yardsticks and trained aeronautically. For these tasks the "Bucker" E-3 returned to Armilla.

The Ala 78
In the year 1980 Ala 78 was formed as an active training unit for helicopter pilots and took over the tasks of the helicopter school from Cuatro Vientos near Madrid that was created there in 1960. In Cuatro Vientos 866 pilots passed the VFR basic instruction course (visual flight rules) and 128 pilots the IFR training course (instrument flight rules), additionally 521 helicopter mechanics were trained in 20 years. In the initial years of the helicopter training two helicopter models were used, the Aerotécnica AC-12 "Pepo" (Z-2), on which altogether only 2500 hours were carried out, and the Sikorsky S-55 (Z-1), which was used only for 1500 hours. The unit flew also fixed-wing aircraft for training, like the old-served school machine Buecker 131 supported by the Do.27 (U-9) that was mainly used for liaison flights. The ‘Z' in the Spanish name stood for the helicopters and the ‘U' for Utilitario, utility.
The old helicopters were soon replaced by the Bell-47 in the versions G-2 (HE-7), OH-13H (HE-7A) and G-3 (HE-7B), as well as the UH 1-H (HE-10B) and Agusta Bell 205 (HE-10A). The year 1978 saw the introduction of the Hughes Schweizer 300C (HE-20) for basic training duties. The ‘Z' in the Spanish naming was replaced in the meantime by ‘HE ' for Helicoptero, helicopter. Already in 1983 100,000 training flight hours could be registered.
At the end of the eighties the unit needed a new helicopter model, that would be used particular for the instrument flight training but also for transportation and SAR - duties. The modern twin-engine American S-76C of the company Sikorsky was chosen to fulfil these tasks. On 08 November 1991 the first Spanish crew flew in the S-76 (HE-24-01) at the West Palm Beach Sikorsky factory. Still in the same month the helicopter was ferried on board a Spanish C-130 Hercules (T-10-01) of Ala 31 from the USA to Spain. It was presented officially on 10 December. 1998 the eight S-76 had already 15,000 flying hours, in the same year the wing celebrated a total number of 145,000 training flight hours.
With the introduction of the S-76 the proven but at this time aged helicopter models Bell 47 and UH-1 could be withdrawn. Already in March 1990 the Bell-47 was retired with than 70,000 flying hours, followed by the UH-1 with a total of more than 50,000 flying hours (35,000 training flying hours), in the year 1993. The Hughes 300 was still in use, in 1997 it looked back on more than 40,000 flying hours and reaches even the 50.000 in 1999. However at that time the end of its career in the Spanish Air Force was reached. On 28 April 2001 the last Hughes finally shut down its turbine. With the Eurocopter EC-120 "Colibrí" (HE-25) a modern successor could be found,. The EC-120 was introduced on 28 July 2000.

The education phase
The tasks of the Ala 78 for over twenty years now is to train helicopter pilots and mechanics, who are called by name "Molinillos" in the Spanish Air Force. For these tasks the 78 Ala operate today two helicopter types, 15 EC-120 and 8 S-76. The courses that are distributed by the Unit are:

o    Basic Course of Helicopters in the EC-120 Colibrí.
o    Course of Instrumental Flight in helicopters Sikorsky S-76.
o    Course of Maintenance of Helicopters for the Air Force, Navy, Army and the Guardia Civil.

Additionally the unit takes over the support of parachutist units, accomplishes SAR of employments, also over sea, and supports the civil services. The S-76 is also used for the transport of VIPs.
The courses
The aeronautical training begins in the 2. squadron, the Escuadrón 782 on the 15 EC-120 "Colibrí". The Squadron is responsible for the three-month basic training course for visual flight rules. During the whole course the cadet will carry out about 50 flying hours and will spend innumerable hours with learning. The lessons are divided in four phases, first the pilot candidate has to learn the basic control of the helicopter, the take off and landing, the turn around of the machine, as well as hovering the aircraft on a place in constant height. During the second phase airfield circuits are flown, autorotation exercises are to accomplished and emergency situations will be simulated. After 20 days of theoretical training in the subjects navigation, aerodynamics and meteorology, as well as 20 flying hours on the "Colibri", a theoretical and a practical examination will be the goal, which enables the pilot student for his first solo flight. The learned is deepened in the third phase with low level and mountains flights. The last phase contains then additional theoretical and practical navigation training.
After the cadet went trough the basis course in the 782. squadron, he is allowed to practice the slogan of the 1. Squadron, the Escuadrón 781 "lo que bien se aprende ..." (mal se olvida),  "which was once correctly learned..." (cannot be forgotten) during the three-month instrument flight training. This training course on the 5 Sikorsky S-76C of the 1. squadron, which is conducted 3 times in the year, is divided into three phases. The first part is the instrumental flying, the second the flights with the help of ILS (Instrument Landing System), VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Radio Beacon), GPS (Global Positioning System) und ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) and finally the third phase with the practical  navigating during various cross-country flights on blind flight conditions. A theory part accompanies the entire training. The 781. squadron accomplishes still another large training course for graduates of the AGA, Academia general del Aire, the military academy. This nine months course contains beside the basic instruction course also the training for formation flights, landing on outposts, mountain flying and the low-level flight, as well as the bases for the SAR duties over sea and land including the handling of the rescue hoist. The theoretical part, which contain also SAR regulations, English lessons and the handling of the helicopters during a combat mission, as well as the practical navigation lessons, are part of the course.

The ASPA aerobatic team
Patrulla ASPA is the helicopter aerobatic team, which is to represent the Spanish Air Force in Spain and abroad. The Ala 78 received green light from the Spanish Air Force Headquarter at the end of September 2003 for the build up of an aerobatic team. The Patrulla ASPA was introduced to the public on the old airfield of Tablada in Sevilla in May 2004 and since that time it attends almost all aerial meetings and days of the open door of the Spanish Air Force and is flying its display as well on meetings abroad. Each of the special painted 5 HE-25 "Colibri is flown by two pilots, all experienced instructors at Armilla, In the time between those events the helicopter pilots and their machines take part in the daily training of the Ala 78.

We would like to thank Major "Pépe" De Los Rios and Major Jose Isidro Pinteño Gijon for the friendly support during my visit at Armilla. By Jens Schymura / www.hat-home.de

1- S76C at Armilla
S76C at Armilla
2- S76 during training
S76 during training
4- S76 for ILS training
S76 for ILS training
18 - EC-120 during training sortie
EC-120 during training sortie
5- EC-120 from 782 Squadron
EC-120 from 782 Squadron
6- EC-120 during basic training
EC-120 during basic training
7- EC-120 from Patrulla ASPA
EC-120 from Patrulla ASPA
14 - Training day at Armilla
Training day at Armilla
8- Patrulla ASPA helicopter at everyday training
9- EC-120 flying training circuits
19 - Training
15 - EC-120 with ASPO coloures
EC-120 with ASPO coloures
17 - The Bucker served as trainer
The Bucker served as trainer
10- Bell47 monument
Bell47 monument
11- CIERVA model
CIERVA model
12-UH-1H preserved at Armilla
UH-1H preserved at Armilla
13- Hughes300 Photo by Lutz Tonne
16 - Spanish Navy Helicopter Pilot
Spanish Navy Helicopter Pilot

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