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Feature Story

The members of the Royal Netherlands Apache Solo Display Team

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The members of the Royal Netherlands Apache Solo Display Team are (from left) Sgt. 1 Benno Vlijm (avionics technician), Capt. Paul “Wokkel”  Webbink (coach), Capt. Roland “Wally” Blankenspoor (co-pilot), Maj. Raymond “Casper” Laporte (pilot in command), Sgt. 1 Joey Boertjes (airframe technician and crew chief), Sgt. Maj. Peter Klootwijk (airframe supervisor and chief of technicians) and Sgt. Maj. Edward Raukema (avionics supervisor).

First biofuel-powered military helicopter takes flight

Royal Netherlands Air Force test pilot Maj. Raymond Laporte takes off in a Boeing-built Apache powered by a biofuel blend

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Royal Netherlands Air Force test pilot Maj. Raymond Laporte takes off in a Boeing-built Apache as he begins the first-ever military helicopter flight powered by a biofuel blend.

Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) test pilot Raymond Laporte made aviation history June 16 in a flight that almost seemed routine.

Laporte, a major in the RNLAF and chief pilot for the RNLAF’s Apache Solo Display Team, had just piloted the first military helicopter flight using a blend of biologically derived, sustainable jet fuel that the aviation industry is working toward approving for use in commercial aviation.

“It was nice to do something that has never been done before,” Laporte said after the public, 20-minute flight in the Boeing-built AH-64D Apache helicopter at Gilze-Rijen Airbase in the Netherlands, home of the RNLAF's combat rotorcraft squadron. “There weren’t any surprises. I didn’t notice a difference on instrumentation or handling, but our crew chief did comment that the exhaust fumes of the engine running on bio-kerosene smelled less of sulfur than the engine running on traditional fuel.”

Even though the pilot and the crew were all business about the accomplishment, it was a historic flight by any measure.

“Boeing's commercial and military customers are pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels, sharing a vision that was demonstrated flawlessly by one of our Apache customers today.”

“This is a tremendous achievement for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Boeing, Honeywell and the engine manufacturer GE Aviation in our efforts to develop sustainable aviation fuel solutions,” said Al Winn, vice president of Apache Programs for Boeing, who attended the demonstration. “Boeing's commercial and military customers are pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels, sharing a vision that was demonstrated flawlessly by one of our Apache customers today.”

The sustainable biofuel used in the flight was produced using algae-based biomass and used cooking oil, and processed by UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, into a Bio-Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (Bio-SPK), which has been used in previous fixed-wing commercial biofuel flights. In a series of preflight tests, the 50/50 blend of aviation biofuel and traditional jet fuel met or exceeded the JP-8 fuel specifications for the Boeing-built Apache. No engine or airframe modifications were made prior to flight.

An RNLAF Apache Solo Display Team pilot performing pyrotechnic aerobatics

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An RNLAF Apache Solo Display Team pilot performing pyrotechnic aerobatics in a Boeing-built Apache – the first military helicopter ever powered by a biofuel blend – completes a mid-air loop and releases flares at the Open Days celebration at Gilze-Rijen Airbase, Netherlands.

Following the flight, which was witnessed by dozens of industry observers and defense journalists at the airbase, Laporte brought the biofuel-powered Apache to the popular Open Days celebration at Gilze-Rijen. There, the team performed several times using the sustainable biofuel for additional flight demonstrations that included the ever-popular pyrotechnic aerobatic performances, complete with loops, flares and a lot of flash.

After completing the seven planned flights, the aircraft was placed back into service, ready for more biofuel flights when asked.

The Apache Solo Display Team performed shows from its inception in 2002 until 2005, when the RNLAF designated the team for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. The display team – two pilots, two coaches and four maintainers – is back in business once again and performing at select air shows around Europe.

Boeing is engaged in sustainable biofuel research around the world and supported the Apache flight and the RNLAF through preflight planning, testing and technical consultation based on a strong body of biofuel experience.

The company supplied technical support to a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines biofuel flight aboard a Boeing 747 in November 2009, and also to the U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet biofuel flight on Earth Day this year. Boeing participated in four previous biofuel flights using Boeing 737 and 747 aircraft with varying engine types and it continues to support U.S. Air Force alternative fuel certification efforts, such as the Aug. 23 C-17 Globemaster III flight using sustainable biofuels.