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by Marinus Dirk Tabak and Jack Bosma

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"Black Sea Wolves"

Is the name of Ecadrila 861, 861 Squadron of the Romanian Air Force and equipped with the MiG-21 Lancer. The MiG-21 looks dated but in terms of equipment a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Mihail Kogălniceanu

Romanian air base Mihail Kogălniceanu (MK) is situated 25 km north-northwest of the port city of Constanta on the Black Sea. The base is, due to its location on the Black Sea, of great strategic importance for NATO given the enhanced relations between NATO and Russia. Besides the Romanian Air Force, the airport is used by US forces. It is also a civilian airport.

History

Regimentului 57 Aviaţie Vânătoare

MK was from 1955 the home of the Regimentului 57 Aviaţie Vânătoare, and was then equipped with the MiG-15. The regiment always had the latest equipment. In 1961 the MiG-17 followed and in 1963 the first of several MiG-21 versions arrived. in 1979  the MiG-23 followed, with finally the MiG-29  in 1989. On May 1, 1995 the 57th was split in Grupul 57 Av. V (Air Group) and Baza Aeriană 57 (Air Base). In 1999 the MiG-23 was phased out, and a number of aircraft were transferred to Timisoara. The MiG-29s were retired in 2003. Romania chose to continue to keep in service the cheaper MiG 21 Lancer. Also important was the company Aerostar in Bacau, which does not have the certification for major repairs and modifications for the MiG-29. Aerostar along with EADS Elbit had upgraded a MiG-29 to MiG-29 Sniper. The prototype made its first flight on April 4, 1999. MiG was not involved in this program, and said the ban on this upgrade. Potential buyers were then lost for further support by MiG. On January 21, 2003 the Ministry of Defense decided to retire the MiG-29 from service. As a result of that decision many MiG-29 pilots left the air force, and a number of pilots went to Fetesti to fly there with the MiG-21. The MiG-29s were put on sale, which was unsuccessful. Still the MiG-29s with some MiG-23MFs are in open storage at MK. In April 2004 Grupel and Baza 57 were disbanded and the base became annex to Baza 86, i other words the basis came under the command of 86 Fetesti Baza.
Since 1999 the base is also used by US forces. During the invasion of Iraq it was  an important transfer point for the Americans.  Since 2009 the Americans have MK as a Standing Forward Operating Site (PFOS). MK was visited in April 2016 by a pair of F-22A Raptors as part of "Operation Atlantic Resolve" These US Air Force unit deployments are mainly for  Eastern Europe. This is a response to the worsening relations with Russia. The Raptors were temporarily based at RAF Lakenheath in the UK. The visit led to some irritation in Russia.

LancerR C 6824 with a wolves head on the fin. The head is designed and put on the aircraft by the commander. On the MiGs the serial is frequently applied. On the nose and on the fin.

After a mission the MiGs return to a spot to refuel at the end of the taxiway. They are parked and the pilot leaves his plane while refueling is going on. After that the aircraft is moved to the flight-line awaiting for a next mission.

MiG-21UM LanceR B 6907. The 861 Esc. has three trainers on strength. The 6907 is veteran and became in service with the Romanian Air Force in September 1972. Remarkable in this LanceR B is that, due to a lack of space, the cabling is located in a cable tray outside the aircraft.

MiG-21UM LanceR B 9541. The pilot was so kindly to stop for a photoshoot. The 9541 was in storage at Campia Turzii and entered service again around 2012.

MiG-21MF LanceR C 6305 returns from a mission and was photographed from to top of a shelter. Remarkable is that they taxiing very fast.

Escadrila 861 Aviatie Lupta

Literally translated Squadron 861 Air Hunter. Is equipped with about 10 MiG-21MF LanceR Cs and three MiG-21UM LanceR B trainers. Escadrila 861 is temporarily based at MK, the actual home base of the MiG-21s is Baza 86 Aeriană Borcea-Feteşti. In 2013 Romania bought the F-16. The first Vipers have been delivered since October 2016 and stationed at Fetesti. Fetesti was temporarily closed in 2013 for a major renovation and Esc 861 moved temporarily to MK in April 2003.
In Full Stop 2016 the LanceR has been discussed extensively. The MiG-21MF LanceR C is equipped for air defense. There are 26 conversions, 25 of the MiG-21MF-75, plus one added in 1974, a MiG-21MF (correction to the previous article). The MiG-21MF-75 is a version of the -21MF built in 1975 in Gorki built. It already had some MiG-21bis avionics. Romania received 35, they came in service on November 26, 1975. With the LanceR you can compare the cockpit with that of a modern fighter. The main LanceR C improvements are:
  • A modular multi-role computer. Marconi ADC (Air Data Computer), DTS, flight data recorder;
  • Two MFDs (Multifunctional Cockpit Display screens) in the cockpit. The left-hand MFD is colour and used for navigation and pylon management; the right side is monochrome and displays the radar search volume;
  • Elbit DASH helmet-mounted display, with an air-to-ground and air-to-air navigation mode. It provides the pilot with an advantage in close manoeuvre engagements;
  • HOTAS, Hands On Throttle And Stick controls;
  • VHF/UHF radios, a data transfer system, LISA-4000EB hybrid navigation system, the Marconi air data computer., a flight data recorder and a NATO-compatible IFF transponder;
  • Self-protection of the aircraft hostile electromagnetic environments is provided by an Elta EL/L8222R electronic warfare jamming pod with autonomously defects enemy radar and missiles and emits electronic signals to counter threat. In addition to the jamming pod, further self-protection is provided by two MPMN-60 chaff and flare dispensers fitted on the sides of the aft fuselage;
  • Improved weapons including Israeli Python 3, the French R-550 Magic 2, and besides several Russian missiles like the R-60 and R-73. Developed by Aerostar and Elbit, both Russian and Western missiles, can be hung on a multirole suspension point. An exception is the Magic 2 missile for which an adapter is required between the pylon and the rail. For close combat, the LanceR C uses the reliable Soviet-made 23mm GSh-23L twin-barrel cannon, while the LanceR B carries a 12,7mm calibre external machine gun pod;
  • Israel Aerospace Industries Elta EL / M-2032M multi-mode pulse doppler radar with look-down / shoot down capacitate. The radar would be capable to defect fighters at 50-60 km away, can follow eight goals at once, while it can search and look for another 10. For example, this radar is also in the Israeli F-16s, Turkish F-4E 2020s and F-5, the South Korean F / A-50 and Kfir C10. Due to the long pitot tube of the MiG-21, the radar has a blind angle. By flying in a zig-zag pattern, the pilot has again a full picture. An advantage in an aerial combat is that the MiG-21 from the front has a small radar profile.
In equipment the LanceR C become a modern and capable aircraft. The disadvantage of the MiG-21 remains his short flying range, and the small number of suspension points.
Nickname of 861 Escadrila is the "Black Sea Wolves". in 2016 application of wolfs head to the tail of the Lancers was started. The emblem on the nose is a yellow shield containing the Ciolin, a tough plant that does it well for a long time in dry conditions. The emblem has two versions, left blue and right yellow on the IAR330 Puma, and the yellow version on the MiG-21s. The Lancers are currently undergoing major maintenance at Aerostar in Bacau. In 2015 they started with those from 711 Esc at Campia Turzii, and in 2016 followed by 861 Esc. The service life is thereby extended by 500 hours of flight.
The main task of Esc. 861 is air policing, whereby the aircraft can stay in the air for a maximum of 1.5 hours. At MK there are two aircraft on 24/7 alert. In a scramble it usually involves the interception of  Russian aircraft. The Russian forces are more active over the Black Sea since they took over the Crimea. From early 2016 until mid-June 44 interceptions took place. Initially, the MiG-21s were allowed to approach the intercepted aircraft up to 5 km. Recently this has been reduced to 100 meters. Thereby the pilots take a camera with them so that they can photograph the planes, in particular is interesting the configuration and the number. Therefore the pilots followed a course of photography. The Romans will receive assistance from temporary based aircraft in Romania of NATO partners. At Campia Turzii a detachment is based. In mid-2015 Portuguese F-16s were present. Also the Air National Guard F-15s, participating during 2015 and 2016 in Frisian Flag, were stationed at Campia Turzii. In summer 2017, a detachment of RAF Typhoons from the 3sq is expected at MK.

Routine training

The training flights are 90% air defense and 10% ground attack. After phasing out the Lancer A ground attack version, the certificates have expired on part of the arms package of the LanceR, an example are the Sniper pods. In principle there is flying every day. Whether that continues depends on the headquarters. On the morning of our first day they were waiting for the decision. Around 11 o'clock it was announced that there was no flying. On that day they expected  thunderstorms in the area and therefore they cancelled flying. Two days later there was flying. They started wit a mass briefing of both Lancer and Puma crews. Meanwhile the ground crew made the aircraft ready to fly. The flight line is located near the squadron building. The pilots walk straight from the squadron building to their aircraft on the flight line. After the aircraft has been checked by the pilot it is started up and taxies out.  A process that goes smoothly. It is striking that on the flight line little equipment is present. Once the planes have left the line is empty. Not like in other former Soviet bloc countries where a lot of equipment and other supplies will remain. After the flight the MiGs taxiing to a test up point to refuel at the end of the taxiway. Here they are parked, the pilot leaves his plane, and refueling starts. After which they are dragged back to the flight line waiting for the next mission.
861 Esc. also attended demonstrations in 2016 with their MiG-21 at various air shows. In June 2016 two Lancers and a supporting   C-27J visited on 18 and 19 June the Tour de Sky air show  on Kupio-Rissala in Finland, where a Lancer gave a demonstration. It was a long flight for the MiG pilots, with stopovers in Timisoara and in the Baltic States.

The future

Nothing is known about the future plans for 861 Esc. The Lancers life has been extended, and the squadron stays up for the time being at MK. The expectation was that 861 Esc. first would be equipped with the F-16. On October 7, 2016 the first six F-16s arrived in Fetesti. The Vipers, however, are assigned to a newly formed squadron, Escadrila 53. For the time being the Lancers will stay at MK, maybe until the F-16s are fully operational .

Mi-17-1V 108 from the Unitatea Speciala de Aviatie (Politia), the Special Aviation Unit (Police) part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The heli was a visitor at MK, practicing the Bambi-bucket.

IAR-330L 48 van 862 Esc. The badge on the Puma is yellow-blue. On the MiG-21s only yellow.

Escadrila 862 Elicoptere

In 2001 the Tuzla Grupul 59 Elicoptere was disbanded. The Pumas were based at MK where they became part of Grupul 57. After the dissolution of the 57th in 2004 the IAR330L Puma helicopters became part of Escadrila 863 Elicoptere. After phasing out the LanceR As of the 862ᵉ at Fetesti the squadron was renumbered to Escadrila 862 Elicoptere. in addition to a transport task the squadron has a Puma equipped for MEDEVAC and SAR. The Air Force takes care of the transportation of patients in emergency and/or severe cases.

Photo gallery

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Text and photos Marinus Dirk Tabak and Jack Bosma, thanks to the Romanian Air Force.

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