Marinefliegerhorst Nordholz

"Fliegen wo die Flotte fährt"



Situated to the north of Bremen, Marinefliegerhorst (Naval Air Station) Nordholz is the home of the German Navy's Marinefliegergeschwader 3 "Graf Zeppelin". Named in honour of Germany's pioneer of lighter than air airships, the MFG 3 operates both the service's long range maritime patrol and shipborne helicopter fleets. Additionally, MFG 3 also flies the Dornier Do.228 environmental patrol aircraft which belong to the Department of Transport. The slogan "fliegen wo die Flotte fährt (to fly where the fleet sails) is taken seriously by this unit.

Since 1966, the Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic has been the German Navy's anti submarine warfare and long range maritime patrol asset. The type replaced the British supplied Fairey Gannets used for a few years during the 1960's. The Atlantic is unique in that it has been designed specifically from scratch. The other western types with the same mission, the American P-3 Orion and the British Nimrod, found their origins in respectively the Electra and Comet civil transports. A total of 20, exluding a non-flying prototype, were deliverd to MFG 3 during 1966 and 1967.

Out of the 20 Atlantics, five were converted during 1969 and 1970 into SIGINT (SIGnals INTelligence) aircraft, speciallized in electronic reconnaissance of hostile radar systems and communications of what used to be the Eastern Bloc. Under the code name of Peace Peek, the conversions were done by E-systems in the United States. Today, three of these machines survive, among them 61+06 depicted left. One of these has already been scrapped, the other has been broken up for spares. They can easily be distinguished by their differing radome under the fuselage. The SIGINT machines proved especially useful during the NATO operations around Kosovo during 1999. It may be that the SIGINT Atlantics will be replaced with a variant of the Northrop-Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, if funds can be found.
Out of the 15 standard Atlantics, only eight survive today. One was lost in a crash in April of 1978, the others have already been scrapped or relegated to ground instructional duties. Nevertheless, the type is being kept busy. 61+04 to the right displays a badge on it's fin which commemorates service during Operation Enduring Freedom. From early 2002 a detachment of Atlantics flew  lengthy patrol missions from Mombasa, Kenya over the Indian Ocean looking for suspected shipping in the war on terror. In September 2003, the detachment, than known as 15. Einsatzgruppe der Marinefliegerflottille (EinsGrpMFlgFltl) or 15th Operations Group Naval Air Forces moved north to Djibouti. The detachment was terminated in March of 2005. 

The second fixed wing type wearing naval marks is the Dornier Do.228. A total of four of this type entered service during the 1990's. Two of these are Do.228-212(LT) transports like the one shown here. The other two are Do.228-212(LM) subvariants, known as "Öl-Do" by it's personnel. They can be distinguished by a tube shaped SLAR antenna below the fuselage. They are a.o. used to track oil slicks back to their origin. 
Apart from the fixed wing types Atlantic and Do.228, MFG 3 also operates the frigate borne helicopters of the German Navy. Initially, 19 helicopters designated Westland Sea Lynx Mk.88 were ordered. The first were delivered during 1981. A further seven were ordered for delivery from 1999 onwards. These, like 83+22 to the right, are of the improved Super Lynx Mk.88A type. Surviving Sea Lynx Mk.88 helicopters were converted to this standard. 


Nordholz is perhaps one of the few bases with a bright future. To start with, the Atlantics are to be replaced by eight Lockheed P-3C Orion aircraft to be taken over from the Dutch Navy. The Dutch government are quite happy to part with a maritime patrol capability, despite the Netherlands being an ocean faring nation. Fortunately for MFG 3, the neccessity of having maritime patrol aircraft is not lost on the German government, however. After 2010, the Super Lynx is to be replaced with the European NH.90 helicopter.

Thanks go to the CO of Marinefliegerhorst Nordholz and his staff, who enabled this visit on 12 May 2005.

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink