Low-level flights

Why low-level flying is conducted in Germany

Why low-level flying is conducted in Germany

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Air Force aircraft conduct low-level flights above the mainland on a regular basis. Low-level flights are necessary to avoid being detected by enemy forces in an emergency. In light of an increased threat situation, it is all the more important to successfully protect our own territory and the territories of our allies.

A combat aircraft flies past the photographer in a diagonal low-level flight.

The Tornado aircraft has sweep wings to fly even faster

Bundeswehr/Volker Muth

A cold and calm winter day in Germany. Gentle humming breaks the idyllic silence. The noise rapidly becomes louder and evolves into a muffled flutter until suddenly a formation of transport helicopters appears, thundering low over the edge of the forest. As rapidly as the noise came, it fades again.

“We attempt to fly at very low levels so that we are detected late and quickly disappear from the visual range of potential enemies,” explains Lieutenant Colonel H., a former transport helicopter pilot. 

The Air Force is procuring new helicopters, which is why the number of low-level flights is increasing significantly. Less frequented routes are flown again more often, mothballed ones are withdrawn from retirement. “The routes must be checked on a regular basis so that risks that may arise during exercise operations are minimized,” explains H. The airmen regularly enter obstacles, such as new power lines, into the maps so that the pilots will not get a nasty surprise when flying at night.

When pilots need to fly over large obstacles and bigger cities, they ascend to a safety altitude. Germany's dense population and the increasing number of wind turbines narrow down the low-level flying corridors more and more and thus make exercise operations more difficult. Therefore, the remaining routes for the helicopter squadrons must be kept clear for exercise purposes.

Train as you fight and fight as you train

Due to their size and load, transport aircraft such as the A400M or the C130J Hercules are preferred targets of enemy forces in the event of a crisis. Low-level flying also prevents these aircraft types from being detected early by enemy defensive actions. Therefore, transport pilots must also practice low-level flying on a regular basis.

The same applies to combat aircraft pilots and jet pilots. Lieutenant Colonel S., Squadron Commander of 1 Flying Squadron, 51 Tactical Air Wing, explains in detail how low-level flights are practiced and why this is also necessary above the German mainland:

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by Marvin Pflug

Air Defender 23

Multinational air operation exercise in Europe