Search And Rescue Meet 2021, Koksijde AB

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde
Czech Air Force PZL W-3A Sokol during a SAR activity.

From September 27th until October 1st, the Galileo Search-And-Rescue (SAR) Meet 2021 will take place. This training event will be held at Koksijde Air Base (ICAO code EBFN), home base of 40 Squadron, which is responsible for helicopter rescue operations off the Belgian coast. With the participation of six helicopters and more than 100 crew members from multiple European countries, this exercise will be one of the larger versions of the meeting ever held. This year’s edition is organized in close cooperation with Galileo, the Global Positioning System of the European Union. 

The International Search and Rescue Meet is an exercise in which search and rescue teams demonstrate their missions, assets, skills and procedures to one another. The aim of the exercise is to share experiences in order to learn lessons to make rescue operations even more efficient, safer and faster. The event has three main pillars. A symposium in which each nation presents its assets and procedures. A flight of a challenging nature where skills such as precision, speed and agility of the entire crew are put to the test. Finally, a sports event will test the cohesion of the crew, an important factor in rescue operations. At the end of the exercise, the best team receives the prestigious SAR meet Trophy.

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

Galileo is the Global Positioning System of the European Union, aiming to ensure independence and autonomy in the field of navigation and timing solutions from space. Since the declaration of initial services in 2016, Galileo has been providing positioning and timing services to almost 3 billion users. By supporting the Galileo SAR Meet 2021, the EU renews and confirms its commitment to include operational Search and Rescue crews in the definition of the service evolutions, in order to deliver the features they need to carry out their missions in the safest and most efficient way.

The Belgian 40 Squadron has a tradition of organizing this SAR event. Nevertheless, the last edition dates back to October 2016. The transition of the Sea King rescue helicopter to the high-performance and ultra-modern NH90 NFH, as well as the covid-19 pandemic, were the reasons for this break. The 2021 edition can count on a very diversified and significant international presence of rescue squads. For example, the "40th" will welcome teams from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Norway, Finland, Great Britain, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Sweden, France and Slovenia. The Belgian Air Force 40th SAR squadron worked very hard to organize a unique international search-and-rescue meeting. This week, Koksijde Airbase, will host 13 lifesaving teams and 9 rescue helicopters out of 12 European countries making the event the largest SAR meet in history. We are proud to present you the main organizers behind the international Galileo SAR meet 2021.

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

The Organization of the SAR Meet 2021

Team Commander: Major Aviator Ken De Feu

Ken is the newest member of the team and participates for the first time. He joined the 40th Sqn this summer, fulfils the function of the executive officer (EXO), and is the direct assistant to the squadron’s commanding officer. Before, Ken was an operational pilot in the 17th squadron A109 at Beauvechain airbase and gained experience as helicopter operations officer during the European Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali. As a pilot, Ken totalises 1600 flying hours on the Agusta A109BAi and will soon start his transition to NH90 NFH.

Overall Leader 1: Senior Captain Aviator Valerie Verkeyn

Senior Captain Aviator Valerie Verkeyn, better known as “Val” is an experienced SAR meet member of the team. The 2021 edition is the third SAR meet in Belgium being organised by Val. As a pilot, she participated already into the international SAR meet in Nordholz and in Leeuwarden where she won the SAR award. As an NH90 NFH instructor pilot and SAR captain, Valerie totalises 3100 flying hours of which 950 hours on Sea King and 850 hours on the ultramodern NH90 NFH.

Overall Leader 2: Warrant Officer Brecht Vandecasteele

Brecht joined the 40th Squadron in 2002 as a Sea King flight engineer and participated already in 7 SAR meet exercises of which 3 in the international environment. The 2021 edition is the third Belgian SAR meet where Brecht is part of the organizational team and his first edition as an overall leader. This makes Brecht the most experienced member of the team. Today Brecht is Chief instructor Cabin Operator on the NH90 NFH and totalises 3360 flying hours of which 2200hrs on Sea King and 1160hrs on NH90 NFH.


Galileo is the Global Positioning System of the European Union, aiming to ensure in-dependency and autonomy in the field of navigation and timing solutions from space. Since the declaration of initial services in 2016, Galileo has been providing positioning and timing services to almost 3 billion users. From the very first days, Galileo has been providing a Search And Rescue (SAR) service, based on transponders installed on the satellites. The SAR service has been integrated in the Cospas-Sarsat Programme, the satellite-based distress alert detection and information distribution system, best known for detecting and locating emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships or backcountry hikers in distress.

Galileo is to provide a new global search and rescue (SAR) function as part of the MEOSAR system. Satellites will be equipped with a transponder which will relay distress signals from emergency beacons to the Rescue coordination center, which will then initiate a rescue operation. At the same time, the system is projected to provide a signal, the Return Link Message (RLM), to the emergency beacon, informing them that their situation has been detected and help is on the way. This latter feature is new and is considered a major upgrade compared to the existing Cospas-Sarsat system, which does not provide feedback to the user. This gives the person in distress the mental boost to survive as the person in question knows that help is on its way. This system is a revolution for SAR. People who work at sea or go out for a hike can buy a small personal device which they can carry with them. The device is not larger than a cell phone and is for everybody affordable to pay.

Thanks to its Medium-Earth Orbit and the large number of satellites in the constellation, Galileo immediately provided an unprecedented boost in speed and accuracy of the location of distress signals. While with the former system, finding the location of a beacon could take up to 4 hours, with an accuracy of +/- 10 kms, Galileo reduced this to a mere 10 minutes with a precision of 2 km. Today, Galileo/SAR is continuing to develop new life-saving functionalities. By supporting the Galileo SAR Meet 2021, the EU renews and confirms its commitment to include operational Search and Rescue crews in the definition of the service evolution's, in order to deliver the features they need to carry out their missions in the safest and most efficient way.

From the European Union, two representatives: Tom Vandenkendelaere and Evi Papantoniou, were present at Koksijde Air Base to emphasize the importance of the new Galileo SAR functionality.

Participants SAR Meet 2021

Belgian Air Force - NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

Koksijde Airbase is homebase of the 40th squadron responsible for both search-and-rescue and maritime operations. The squadron is equipped with 4 state-of-the-art and versatile NH90 NFH helicopters. The NH90 NFH took over the SAR role of the good old Sea King MK48 in March 2019. In July 2021, the Alouette III retired as well and the squadron assumed the maritime operations with the NH90 NFH.Recently the 40th squadron participated for the first time into the SNMCG1 stand-by period of NATO's maritime fleet on board of our frigates. On October 9th, the helicopter and his crew will join our Belgian Navy frigate for the second time.

Royal Norwegian Air Force - Leonardo AW101 SAR Queen

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

The first team arriving at Koksijde Airbase was the AW101 “SAR Queen” is transforming the All-Weather Search and Rescue (SAR) capability of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. In Norway, since early 2021 the AW101 is taking over the search-and-rescue duties from the famous Sea King rescue helicopters. At this moment the airbases of Sola and Orland are already equipped and operational with the brand new and ultramodern Leonardo AW101 helicopters. A third base, and the most northern one, Banak will be equipped with this versatile rescue helicopter by the end of 2021. We're really looking forward to see our Norwegian friends performing during the flying contest on

Wednesday! Stay tuned! Operating in some of the most demanding conditions anywhere in the world, the helicopters cover thousands of miles of coastline, fly inside the Arctic Circle and are often faced with rough seas and extreme low temperatures. The 330 Squadron, based at Sola, has been operating the first six SAR Queen aircraft since September 2020. One member of the Squadron with vast experience on the Sea King provides first-hand insight into how the AW101 is taking SAR capability to a new level.

German Luftwaffe - Airbus Helicopters H145 LUH SAR

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

The H145M is a military version of the EC145 helicopter, a twin-engine multipurpose helicopter manufactured by Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters). To replace the aging Bell UH-1D, a total of seven machines were put into service with the SAR Service in Germany. Among other features, the H145 LUH SAR (Light Utility Helicopter Search and Rescue) helicopters are equipped with high-performance cameras, searchlights, emergency beacon locator systems, a full suite of medical equipment, rescue winches and load hooks that can be used for fire-extinguishing tanks for example.

German Marine - Westland Sea King Mk41

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

The second team from the German Bundeswehr is coming from "Marinefliegergeschwader 5" or Naval Air Squadron 5 at Nordholz in German. The team is flying the Sea King MK41 and has a long history and friendship with our 40 squadron of Koksijde airbase. Technically, the Sea King is predestined for this task. It has a long range of over 1,500 kilometers, has radar and an infrared camera, is very robust and can fly even in the worst weather conditions. Another plus is its special design as an amphibious helicopter: the shape of the fuselage and the outrigger make it possible that it could land in calm seas. However, the crew usually uses the built-in rescue winch. If the Sea King had to make an emergency landing at sea in bad weather, floating bodies would give it the additional buoyancy it needs to stay afloat. In the near future the NH90 NFH "Sea Lion'' will take over the duty of the Sea King MK41 within the German Navy. MFG 5 is responsible for the operations of all German Navy helicopters and especially the SAR service 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Czech Air Force - PZL W-3A Sokol

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

This is a two-engine, turbo-shaft multipurpose helicopter, whose design is based on the Mil Mi-2 "HOPLITE". The helicopter is designed for transport of up to 12 personnel or material up to the weight of 2,200 kg, and for air search and rescue operations. The helicopter is equipped with a new four-bladed main rotor with a vibration damper. The inner fuel tanks can take up to 1,700 litres of fuel. It is possible to attach additional fuel tanks with a total capacity of 1,100 litres. The seats are arranged per three at four rows. The cabine is accessible by two side doors. The W-3A SOKOL helicopter features sophisticated avionics that enables its day and night use under any weather condition. It has proved its capabilities during flood disasters in the Czech Republic in 1997 and again in 2002.

Northsea Helicopters Vlaanderen - Airbus Helicopters AS365N3 Dauphin

SAR Meet 2021 Koksijde

NHV Netherlands who is in charge of the SAR in the Netherlands will join us with their well-known yellow Dauphin.The powerful AS365 N3 is designed for operations in 'hot and high' climates, and introduces 635 kW (851 shp) Arriel 2C turboshafts equipped with a single channel DECU (Digital Engine Control Unit) with manual override, coupled with an upgraded main transmission for better single engine performance. The AS365 N3 also features a redesigned ten blade composite Fenestron anti-torsion device with asymmetrical blade distribution, which offers further reduction in noise signature. The gross weight of the AS365 N3 is 4,300 kg (9,500 lb). Production began in December 1998.

SAR challenge

The winner of the 2021 Galileo SAR meet was the German Navy team flying the SeaKing. And they will organize the next SAR meet in 2023 at Nordholz naval airbase in Germany.

Report by Joris van Boven and Alex van Noije

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