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PART ONE: WERELDHAVENDAGEN 2023 ROTTERDAM

Starting this madness of aviation magnificence was heading out to the city centre of Rotterdam on Sunday September 3rd 2023 along with friends Mariska, Mike and Sabrina. Part of the festivities of the ‘Wereldhavendagen’ (World Port Days) 2023 were three aerial displays of the brand new Dutch Search And Rescue AW-139 helicopter and twice of the Royal Navy NH-90 marine helicopter over the Maas river.

The annual three-day event in the first September weekend called Wereldhavendagen (World Port Days) is smack in the middle of Rotterdam city along the Maas river. The aim is to show to the public the activities that happen in the port of Rotterdam. It also gives a chance to show off elements of the Royal Netherlands Navy and bid recruitment opportunities, just like the Dutch Coast Guard. Also demonstrations on the water were conducted like those by powerboats, tug boats and a huge ferry boat of PNO Ferries was tugged and shortly docked before going back just to show it off. On the key-sides there where many displays, info stands, thing to experience and food & drinks vendors…

The aim for me was to go shoot the Royal Netherlands Navy NH-90NFH and the brand new Dutch Coast Guard AW189 helicopter displays over the water and with a stunning backdrop of the Rotterdam skyline. Everything else considering other activities was just a bonus or something I actively ignored. The weather played ball with sunny spells all day and two different displays of the NH-90, one at the end of the morning and the second in the afternoon. The first was focussed on displaying the dipping of a sonar buoy from a hover where the afternoon display saw a bright day-glow red practice torpedo drop. Other than that the crew dressed up the display with many beautiful passes with the high-rise buildings and the famous Erasmus bridge as a backdrop. The Coast Guard chopper stayed away from the backdrop a bit more but showed off an injured person from a boat.

FROM MY PERSPECTIVE

Me and three friends opted to go on the Sunday of the event only for a day trip. The trip itself was quite the adventure in and on itself. I could ride along with them from a few towns over for a car ride from there, so I had to first cycle to the train station to then go there by rail. After arriving at a carpark close to Rotterdam-The Hague Airport that proved very convenient to pay for parking and just walk to the metro station and ride to exactly where we needed to be.

Normally I’m used to shoot aircraft in a desolate place with grass fields, trees and concrete runways and whatnot. How surreal this was it to ride an escalator from underground to head to the front desk of the NH Hotel (which is a huge high-rise building, by the way). Now it was up to me as I had a plan to go shoot from the balcony of the hotel but with no prior permission (!)… So we just tried to do so, asked for somebody, explaining our intentions and… we got in!

The Floor Manager of the restaurant directed us through breakfast being served for the hotel guests to the balcony on the 7th floor for a magnificent view of the Maas and skyline! Not too long after the NH-90 came to do a few passes at the moored Navy frigate, at quite a distance away. But then she came in close with perfect light on it! We weren’t the only photographers with access on this location. Eventually another handful came to join in on the action. Also the Coast Guard helicopter was great to shoot from there.

With that wrapped up the other flying displays were scheduled several hours later, so we left the hotel after thanking them and got some fries just around the corner. My friends wanted to go onto the frigate which meant to walk across the Erasmus Bridge and along a very crowded key-side. I opted out because of the crowds everywhere and eventually missing the next display, time-wise. So I headed back on my own and found a spot on the temporary erected grand stand below of the NH Hotel. It would make for different shots, so why not?

Waiting for the NH-90 to come in again the Powerboat display was interesting to shoot, just like when the river was opened again for all boats thereafter. Traffic queued up massively and the Maas was just covered with boats for a while! Shooting the NH-90 with the practice torpedo I missed capturing the moment of the torpedo drop. My camera buffer was full and couldn’t record any more shots during the short moment… Oh well! Good excuse to go there again for it next year, I say!

Me and my friends met up again to go back to the car. As we were so close to Rotterdam-The Hague Airport we just had to go visit the ramp there before heading back. We saw the EC-135 Lifeliner 2 medical helicopter parked up and ready to go, the Stichting Hoogvliegers aircraft returning from an event at Eindhoven Airport and some other aircraft there. Not long after the Lifeliner went up for a call and we shot that before heading back home again.

The next two days saw me working my day job with post-editing and posting content before heading out to “my back garden” Twente Airport to cover some action of exercise Falcon Leap 2023 on several days before heading to Belgium for a big airshow…

More about that and what came thereafter in the second week of the “FULL-ON FORTNIGHT!” is soon to come!

Sources: Stichting Wereldhavendagen Rotterdam (WHF)
860 Squadron
Dutch Coast Guard
Koninklijke Nederlandse Reddings Maatschappij
Scramble
Yours truly, René Vink