One of the four new AS532AL Cougar helicopters of the Albanian Air Force (Image © FAj / Forcat e Amatosura)

Albanian Air Force at full strength in 2015

The Albanian Air Force enters 2015 with fresh blood and is destined to be at its full strength at the end of the year. The last of four new Airbus Helicopters AS532AL Cougar entered the Balkan country’s air weapon’s service just before Christmas, while a pair of EC145s is scheduled to arrive fairly soon.

The final AS532AL of the Forca Ajrore was delivered in November 2014. Two months after delivery it is now a full integral part of the air units at Färke Airbase south of the centre of the capital of Tirana. The choppers have different tasks, one is configured for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), one for VIP flights and two for regular transport tasks. Still coming are a pair or Eurocopter EC145s, for rescue and disaster relief operations with planned entry into service in 2015.

Originally Albania ordered five Cougars, but one crashed before it ever arrived. A pair of EC145s will now come instead, to perform utility tasks and to deploy for disaster relief operations.

With many new choppers the Albanian Air Force can call itself finally relatively modern, although its size is small. At the end of the year no more than 24 helicopters are planned to be operational, divided over only two airbases: Färke and Kuçovë. Former airbases have been left to decay or have been destroyed, including the ones in Lezha and Vlora. The latter was once home to the Air Force Academy.

Jet Fighter Force
Kuçovë is most famous for its open air storage of tens of dozens of the old glory of the Albanian jet fighter force. The spearhead – a dozen Chengdu F-7s that are Chinese-made copies of the MiG-21 – were already last flown in 2002. In 2005 the entire remaining fighting force was put to rest and the Forca Ajrore became a shadow of itself – about 30 years ago it could field more than 140 aircraft.

Dozens of the old fighter force are parked at Kuçovë, where they get visited every once in a while (Image © FAj / Forcat e Amatosura)
Dozens of the old fighter force are parked at Kuçovë, where they get visited every once in a while (Image © FAj / Forcat e Amatosura)

Some of that old glory remains at Kuçovë Airbase, where the old fighter jets are line up like that could be called back to duty at any given time. They even get visited every once in a while by some members of the country’s leadership. At Kuçovë they see some of the at least 80 Shenyang F-5 and 20 FT-5s, equivalents to Russian-made MiG-17s, that Albania received in the former century. More than 70 Shenyang F-6/FT-6s (MiG-19 copies) were flown by the Albanians as well. Some of the 60 or so MiG-15s are also still present at Kuçovë. They will probably never return to active duty, although some aviation enthousiasts still have hope hope for some of the Nanchang CJ-6 training aircraft and the Harbin Y-5 copies of the legendary Antonov AN-2.

Modern
Stripped from all fixed-wing aircraft the renewed Albanian Air Force does take its current tasks very seriously, although one does not need much imagination to picture the Forca Ajrore being able to defend its airspace in a way that NATO really would have like, after Albania became a full member of the alliance in 2009. But it is a fact that the Albanian Air Force has never before has been so modern as it is today, and in a cash-stripped country with no substantial economic improvements visible soon that is an achievement as well.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Check out the full Overview: Albanian Air Force

One of the four new AS532AL Cougar helicopters of the Albanian Air Force (Image © FAj / Forcat e Amatosura)
One of the four new AS532AL Cougar helicopters of the Albanian Air Force (Image © FAj / Forcat e Amatosura)