In the May issue of AFM, Peter ten Berg reports from Manching, Bavaria on the German Armed Forces’ WTD 61, a unit that conducts a wide range of flight test activities on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Defence.
Flugplatz Manching-Ingolstadt, located around 43 miles (70km) north of Munich, is not a heavily utilised air base. In fact, visitors to the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment – better known as Wehrtechnische Dienststelle 61 (WTD 61, Defence Technical Department 61) – are likely to see only a few flights on any given day. WTD 61, which celebrated 60 years of existence in 2017, is the flight test unit of the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) and it shares the Bavarian air base with the German Eurofighter production line and a handful of factory maintenance facilities. However, Eurofighter company test flying is independent of WTD 61 and is carried out by Airbus test pilots.
WTD 61 has just a few aircraft in its inventory, and these are usually recognisable by their ‘98+’ serials, bright blue WTD 61 badge and/or test markings. In the past the aircraft also wore an overall orange livery, stressing the unit’s separate and unique role. Some of these – now non-flying aircraft – are preserved around the base, including an F-4F Phantom II and a Tornado. Today, most WTD 61 flying assets retain their normal service colour schemes, which is more cost-effective.
Depending on the test projects, additional aircraft can be temporarily assigned to the unit. At the time of AFM’s visit, aircraft in use comprised one Eurofighter, five Tornados, one C-160D Transall, one UH-1D MAT (Mission-Ausrüstungs Träger or mission equipment carrier), one standard UH-1D, two CH-53Gs and a single Tiger. In future the Luftwaffe’s latest flying assets – the A400M transport and NH90 helicopter – are expected to be added to the test fleet. A new-generation replacement for the UH-1 MAT is also awaited, as the venerable Bell is approaching retirement from German military service.
Some of WTD 61’s previous test aircraft are retained at Manching, but are no longer airworthy and are used for technical education purposes with the WTD 61 Berufsausbildung (professional training).