Border Patrol

Electronic Intelligence
Mi-8TV
Mi-8TV

A handful of helicopters of the 239.GvOVP from Oranienburg, a unit which was directly subordinated to the Soviet general headquarter in Germany, had been made available for the Ministeriums fur Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security, better known as Stasi) for electronic and photographic intelligence missions code named RELAIS II, between 1983 and 1989. These helicopters were carrying multiband receivers, of which the antennas were located on the right side of the forward fuselage. Whereas the crew was Soviet, the personnel in the cargo hold was German. The latter was composed of an interpreter, a photographer and two radio operators. Spy flights took off from Oranienburg, a base situated a few kilometers north of the French occupation zone, and followed the West Berlin borders in a clockwise direction. Data about the allied communications systems were collected and various military communication and listening equiments were photographed as well from the rear cabin window. A video camera mounted on a stabilised platform, was sometimes used to identify more easily the places where photographs had been taken. It was also a good means to estimate the position of the antennas observed during the flight. A typical flight lasted 100 minutes at an altitude of 100 meters and a flying speed of 110 km/h on average. When necessary, the helicopter could climb to 200-300 meters and fly at a lower speed to photograph some targets. Some electronic intelligence gathering could require a climb up to 1,600 meters. The informations collected by the German agents were of course shared with their soviet counterparts, the KGB. The Mi-8 were sometimes 'escorted' by allied aircraft or helicopters based at Tempelhof (Bell UH-1H and possibly Fairchild UV-20A - Berlin Avn. Det.) or at Gatow (Gazelle AH.1 - 7 Flight AAC, DHC Chipmunk T.10 - RAF Gatow Station Flight). We ignore if Alouette III, Cessna L19E (DETALAT) or the MH-1521M Broussard or the single DHC-6 Twin Otter (Armee de l'Air) of the French forces based at Tegel made such encounters.

Spy games
UH-1H
UH-1H

Chipmunk
Chipmunk

The Berlin Control Zone (BCZ) was established by the four occupying powers after the end of WWII. The BCZ was a transit area for the aircraft flying throught the three air Berlin Air Corridors (north-A, center-B and south-C) linking West Berlin to the so-called free world. Any American, British, French, or Soviet aircraft could theorically fly through that area. West Berlin was however off limits for the Soviet aircraft and helicopters (at least under 3000 meters) because it was considered as a sovereign entity like the RFA. That is the reason why the ELINT/PHOTINT Mi-8 were flying along its borders rather than directly over the different targets. In case of an emergency landing on the wrong side of the border and in order to try to avoid any diplomatic incident, the German agents did not carry any official document with them and they had been briefed to remain aboard the helicopter. Notes taken during the flight, were written on water dissolvable paper and a water container was carried onboard for that purpose. However, documents like flight plans couldn't be destroyed as well as the electronic equipement and consequently, it would have been difficult to deny the real nature of the mission.

The Berlin Control Zone was a circular area with a radius of 20 miles and a ceiling of 3000 meters. Its center was situated at Kleistpark, north of Tempelhof, in the former building of the Allied Control Authorities. As mentioned earlier, the BCZ was connected to three air corridors of West Berlin. Soviet and East German aircraft could cross freely these corridors. The allied aircraft could fly through them and inside the BCZ itself. The helicopters however couldn't fly outside the limits of West Berlin itself. Quite a lot of East German and Soviet military installations were stationed inside the BCZ, which covered East Berlin and its surroundings - including Oranienburg and Werneuchen airbases - and the three Berlin Air Corridors. Largely unknown during the cold war and almost unbelievable, the allied aircraft based in Berlin flying with agents of the Military Liaison Missions to the Soviet Supreme High Command in Germany aboard, could therefore overfly and photograph these targets. They were sometimes disturbed during their "work" by lighting rockets or fighters crossing their path. Moreover, discreet allied electronic and photographic intelligence aircraft could fly through the Berlin air corridors. The French flew regularly with Nord N2501 Gabriel - replaced by Transall C160G at the end of 1988 - of the EE.54 based at Metz to Tegel. From there, they regularly joined the Baltic Sea through the north air corridor (with a stop over at Hohn) and flew up to the Polish borders before flying back home to Metz. The Americans were flying specially equipped C-130Es of the 7405th OS from Rhein-Main during the eighties (radio call signs 'Ask' and 'Herky'). Beside the intelligence flights inside the Berlin Air Corridors themselves, they were the only one to venture above the BCZ with such aircraft. According to ATC controllers, they even overflew the international civil airport of Berlin-Schonefeld and its traffic at 1500 feet. Moreover, these flights had priority over the western civilian traffic. If military liaison missions were disbanded in 1991, the collection of information about the new Russian army continued through by other services in Germany. Flying rules changed also after the German reunification. The allied aircraft could now fly through the BCZ and inside the area located between the north and the south Berlin air corridors, whereas the helicopter flights were authorised inside the whole area. However, the new official limits seemed much harder to respect by the allied pilots who made quite a lot of "navigational errors" and overflew off-limits military installations! But the Russians did not seem to complain, unless the new control authority, the LUKO (Luftraumkoordinierungsstelle - Airspace coordination section), which succeeded to the Berlin Air Safety Center, was reluctant to make follow. In reality, the true new limits were those of the range of the aircrafts and helicopters, which were not allowed to land on a German base to refuel.

Berlin Air Corridors
Berlin Air Corridors


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