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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Exercise Set to Begin In Hungary

SZOLNOK AIR BASE, Hungary -- Can an aging, Soviet-built Mi-8 helicopter with a radio compass as its only electronic navigation aid hold its own with the computerized, high-tech West?

Military planners will find out how strong -- and compatible -- the former East Bloc's Soviet-built fleet is when a week-long NATO/ Partnership for Peace air exercise, Cooperative Chance '96, the first joint NATO/ former East Bloc air games to be held in Eastern Europe, gets off the ground in Hungary this weekend.

Under the exercise scenario the fictitious country of "Bigland" has been hit by a severe earthquake. NATO, which is trying increasingly to gear itself to a humanitarian role, has been called in to help.

But air crews ferrying food or airlifting out the "wounded" have to be careful where they fly because "Bigland" -- true to form in Eastern Europe -- has tense relations with its neighbors, "Rockland" and "Waterland."

Sixteen countries -- eight from NATO and eight mostly East European states associated with NATO in the partnership program -- will take part. Nine more countries, including Russia, are expected to send observers.

Hungary will host some 540 foreign officers and soldiers who will work with 600 Hungarian soldiers from this air base in eastern Hungary and at other venues.

They will use about 50 aircraft, ranging from helicopters to air transports to Soviet-built MiG-29 and U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets.

"This is the only helicopter that can fly in absolutely extreme conditions," said Second Lieutenant Geza Boros, a helicopter-maintenance engineer, as he sat in the cockpit of an Mi-8 being overhauled at this Hungarian air base for the first joint NATO/former East Bloc air games to be held in Eastern Europe.

"In Africa they use these for humanitarian aid because the American ones went wrong. These are strong and simple."