“So, what would you like us to do?”, say two Agusta Bell AB212 helicopter pilots, the badges on their flying suits identifying them as ‘Bundesheer’ pilots. “Err, just fly around a bit”, comes the unrehearsed answer of two Airheadsfly.com editors. The pilots take off, turn around and have decided on what they will really do. They position their five tonnes chopper almost on top of two totally unprepared Airheadsfly.com editors, ensuring camera bags, lens caps, sunglasses, note pads and lost ego’s fly everywhere. The noise is deafening, the wind is blinding and for a moment, peaceful Austria seems far, far away.
But still, we are in Linz, Austria, where two Staffels (squadrons) fly the 23 Agusta Bell AB212 helicopters in service with the Austrian Air Force. “But, I have to say, we are experiencing quiet times now”, says ‘Staffelkommandant’ Andreas Buchmayr as he enters one the hangers that usually house flocks of AB212s, but now only shelter two. “A lot of them are in maintenance or are being given an update – and new life – in Italy by Agusta Westland. Here at Linz, we currently have to make ends meet with only a few available helicopters.”
The AB212 has been a mainstay of Austria’s helicopter transport capability since entry into service in 1980. As the fleet amassed over 115,000 flight hours in 2010, an 85 million USD update program was ordered. The goal is to get another 25 years or 100,000 hours out of the helicopters. Modifications bring the 212’s avionics up to par with the latests aviation technology. Self defense suites are also being built into the AB212. The first two modernized choppers were handed over to Kommando Luftunterstützung (Air Support Command) in November 2013.
“It’s actually pretty impressive”, says Buchmayr, who has 3,200 flight hours behind his name and helped develop the AB212 update. “We have a unique set of MFDs in the cockpit, designed exactly to our specifications and making full use of digital technology. Cockpit managment is now completely paperless, as all maps are available on the MFDs, along with complete systems management. It greatly reduces crew workload and makes for easier navigation and communication. The cockpit is now also adapted for use with Helmet Mounted Displays. Flight safety during bad weather and during night time, is greatly improved. Actually, our AB212 helicopters are now at the very top worldwide as far as cockpit technology goes.”
New cockpits or not, the AB212 mission in Austria remains the same; transporting troops, performing search and rescue operations, fighting fires with bambi buckets and alpine flying in the mountains. The AB212 is a very versatile utility helicopter, which is no wonder considering its Bell UH-1 Huey heritage.
So, it’s also no wonder the Austrians want to keep in service for a lot longer. The update program is planned to by complete by 2016, at which time the hangers at Linz will be filled with choppers once again. Pilots will be fully trained on the new cockpit, and when they ask “so, what would you like us to do?”, two totally prepared Airheadsfly.com editors will know what to answer.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest