MH 86. Szolnok Helikopter Bázis
Szolnok, also known as Szolnok-Rákóczifalva, was the more important of the two airfields during World War II compared to the Szolnok-Szandai airfield, which is closer to the city and was only used by the German Air Force as an alternative airfield during the Balkan campaign. Szolnok-Rákóczifalva, north of Rákóczifalva, was an operational base for Hungarian fighter pilots during the war. The 1st Group of the 1st Fighter Regiment was located here from 1940 to around May 1944 and, for a shorter period of time, the 1st Independent Hunting Group “Horthy István” was added in the spring of 1942. In 1944 the German Air Force only used the airfield as a base for flying reserve units. From February to August 1944 this included the V group of Kampfgeschwaders 53 (V./KG 53) and in August of that year the IV. Group of Kampfgeschwader 55 (IV./KG 55). The He 111 stationed here were the target of an American B-24 bomber attack by the Fifteenth Air Force on August 20, 1944. The Russian Army captured the base from the Germans and Szolnok became a Russian medical base for injured soldiers in 1944.
Until 1973, there was no Hungarian Army Aviation Command. The Hungarian tactical reconnaissance, cargo, and currier air units were a subordinate of the Air Defense Command in peacetime. At Szolnok airport, the pilot school received 18 new L-29 Delfin trainer aircraft from 1964 to 1965. The other two squadrons of the school used MiG-15bis ‘Fagot-B’ for advanced training. In the early seventies 101st Reconnaissance Air Regiment was formed at Szolnok. All aircraft of the pilot school remained in the squadrons, the task of the squadrons changed. In the late seventies the Migs left Szolnok and only the L-29 Delfins stayed at the base. In 1984, they scrapped the old L-29 Delfin reconnaissance aircraft.
As the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, Hungary declared itself independent.: In the early 90-s at Szolnok the 89. Vegyes Szállító Repülő Ezred was based and it was a mixed transport regiment with one squadron equipped with the An-26 Curl transport aircraft and two squadrons with Mi-8S and Mi-8T helicopters. At Szentkiralyszabadja the 87. ‘Bakony’ Herchihelikopter Ezred was based with two squadrons Mi-24D and Mi-24Vs, one squadron with Mi-8T helicopters and one squadron with Mi-17 transport and a small number of special mission equipped Mi-17PP helicopters. At Börgönd was the ‘Asboth Oszkár’ helikopter regiment based with the Mi-2 helicopters.
During the 90’s a lot changed within the Hungarian Air Force and Börgönd was the first base that closed and the Mi-2s transferred to Szolnok. Followed by Szentkiralyszabadja a few years later and all the Mi-8s, Mi-17s and Mi-24s also transferred to Szolnok. The An-26 Curl transport aircraft transferred from Szolnok to Kecskemet Air Base. From that moment the unit was renamed to MH 86. ‘Szolnok’ Helicopter Ezred. During the years the Mi-2s were withdrawn from use and also a lot, but luckily not all, Mi-8s, Mi-17s and Mi-24s were withdrawn from use. Also an Air Academy was established within the Hungarian Air Force and for that twelve Yak-52s were bought from Romania and based at Szolnok, but on paper they were based at Kecskemet Air Base. Those Yaks were replaced by Zlin training aicraft not too long ago. Next to the Yaks there were also twenty L-39ZO’s bought from former East Germany and they were based at Kecskemét. In 2018 Szolnok helicopter base was completely renewed due to the delivery of new helicopters and more training aircraft.
At this moment MH 86. ‘Szolnok’ Helicopter Ezred is based at Solnok and this Wing consits of two flying battalions and a squadron. The first is 1. Szállitó Helikopter Zászlóalj which are flying with the Mi-17s and H145s. The other squadron is Phoenix Attack Helicopter Battalion and they are flying with the Mi-24P/Vs.
A third squadron is also operating at Szolnok as a „trainer” squadron. They are flying with the AS350s, Zlin 143s and Zlin 242s. The main difference between the Zlin 143 and Zlin 242 is that Z143 has place for 4 persons and Z242 has place for 2 persons,
At this moment only a handfull Mi-17s are still operational for Search and Rescue (SAR) tasks and because of the purchase of new helicopters it won’t last many years before these ageing Russian made helicopters are also withdrawn from use like the Mi-8s have been early this year. The other Russian made helicopters, the Mi-24P and V, are still operational after they received big maintenance in Russia during 2017 and 2019. Six Mi-24s, which are former (East) German Air Force helicopters, have been stored for many years at Szentkiralyszabadja are still operational as Mi-24Ps. Next to those six attack helicopters another two Mi-24Vs are still operational. All eight Mi-24’s where completely overhauled and received some upgrades in Russia.
On 18 November 2019 a new era began with the delivery of the first two Airbus Helicopters H145Ms to MH 86. Helicopter Base. A total of twenty helicopters were ordered and the last two were delivered at the end of 2021, so all twenty helicopters have been delivered. Those H145Ms can be equipped with attack capabilities, called the “HForce” Modular Weapon System. This system offers the option to arm the helicopter with 70 mm rockets, a 12.7mm machine gun or a 20mm gun. A total of five H145Ms can be equipped with the above at the same time and all the equipment fits on all twenty helicopters. Besides armament the helicopters also received a missile protection package, a fast roping system, an electronic countermeasures system and an electro-optical targeting camera. The H145Ms are used for HForce, Transport and VIP tasks.
The basic military training is in Budapest and lasts two years. After passing the basic military training the basic flying training starts at Szolnok Air Base. The first part of the basic flying training is on the single engined Zlin propellor aircraft. When enough flying hours have been made and the student is suitable for the next step they will pass to the Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil. After passing this part the following step is to fly with the Airbus Helicopters H145. In this last part of the flying training the decision has to been made for which helicopter the student is capable enough to fly with. During the basic flying training a total of 200 flight hours have to been made on these three types and this training also lasts two years. So from the beginning of the basic military training until the gradution to fly a helicopter lasts in total around four years.
„Operational” and „Intermediate” level of H145M maintenance is been done at Szolnok Air Base itself. For the „Russian” helicopters: all the maintenance issues are done at the Base until 1000 hours – regarding on Mi-24 and until 2000 hours – regarding on MI-17-s. In the H145M maintenance system, a „CAMO” organisation was established at Szolnok.
For the bigger maintenance the helicopters go to different places. The Airbus Helicopters H145M go to the Airbus Helicopters factory at Donauwörth, Germany. The Mi-24s got their big maintenance in Russia between 2017 and 2019 but also Ukraine is an option. These options are also the same for the Mi-17s. The only problem with these Russian made helicopters is to get spare parts from Russia. That’s why the Mi-8s aren’t flying anymore because they need spare parts. LOM Praha in Czechia can also deliver spare parts but then the guarantees from Russia will expire.
Search and Rescue (SAR) duty:
The Hungarian Air Force is using the Mi-17s for SAR tasks and 24/7 there is one Mi-17 at Szolnok Air Base and one Mi-17 at Papá Air Base on stand-by for those tasks. When an Mi-17 needs to go on a SAR mission the crew exists of seven people; pilot, co-pilot, mechanic, flight engineer, medic and two paratroopers, depending on the mission.
At the end of 2016 the Hungarian Government launched the ambitious “Zrinyi 2026” modernisation programme and since then a lot has changed within the Hungarian Air Force. Six Mi-24Ps and two Mi-24Vs have been overhauled in Russia. Twenty H145Ms, two Zlin Z 143s and six Zlin 242Ls have been delivered in the past few years. Also sixteen Airbus Helicopters H225Ms with “HForce” modular weapon system have been ordered. The first H225M should be delivered in 2023 to MH 86. Szolnok Helicopter Base. The tasks of the H225Ms are Special operations, transport and Search and Rescue (SAR) tasks. With the delivery of all these helicopters the end is near for the Mi-17s and Mi-24s unfortenately. There is also the need of extra hangar space or modernisation of the excisting hangars. For advanced training the Hungarian Governement is considering the L-39NG or the Embraer EMB314 Super Tucano but it is unknown if they will be based at Szolnok Air Base or Kecskemet Air Base.
Exercise Break Through 2021:
In the week upon our visit the first tests with shooting the 20mm gun by the H145Ms have been done. The first tests with rocket firing by the H145Ms are planned for 2022. During our visit Exercise Break Through 2021 was taken place at the Bakony range just north of former Hungarian Air Force Air Base Szentkiralyszabadja. This range is 200 square kilometers in size. It is also used by the JAS39 Gripens for live bombing. Participating in this exercise were four Mi-24s, eight H145Ms and one Mi-17. Next to these participating helicopters there was also one Mi-17 on SAR alert in case something went wrong. At the Bakony range is a Forward Air Refuelling Point (FARP). At this FARP the helicopters will land, receive fuel and fly from there the mission at the range and after the mission they land at the FARP to discuss the mission. The helicopters remained overnight at Pápa Air Base. This exercise was a real life training and live firing exercise to improve the cooperation with the Hungarian Land Forces. It was also the first time that the H145M participated in such an exercise, and this allowed the Hungarian Air Force to get to know the H145M better.
The authors of Lowpass Aviation.com would like to thank the personnel of the Hungarian Air Force for their hospitality and help during our visits at Szolnok Air Base and the Bakony Range!