The Swiss Air Force on Wednesday 28 September endured it third crash in three months, as a AS532 Super Puma crashed in the Gotthard area. Images on social media show a burning helicopter. Two fatalities were confirmed by the Swiss Ministry of Defense several hours after the accident. The crash follows that of an F-5 Tiger in June and an F-18 Hornet in August.
The cause of today’s crash is not yet clear, but it took place in a relatively flat area in the otherwise mountainous Gotthard region in Switzerland. The Swiss have been operating Puma and Super Puma helicopters for decades.
The crash of an F-5 Tiger on 9 June was the result of an collision with another F-5 of the Patrouille Suisse display team during an airshow over Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. The pilot ejected while his jet came down in a small lake.
The crash of an F-18 Hornet took place near Meiringen air base in central Switzerland. The pilot was unfortunately killed as his jet impacted the side of a mountain. The accident is still being investigated, but preliminary results say the aircraft was flying lower than was required.
It seems very unlikely the recent crashes are in anyway connected. Nevertheless, re-checking safety procedures may be a wise thing to do for the Swiss. The US Navy recently did a similar thing after a quick string of crashes with military aircraft.
The Royal Air Force’s fleet of modernized Puma helicopters reached the 10,000 flight hour mark recently. Under the direction of the Puma Life Extension Programme, a landmark in fleet renewal programs, the helicopters were upgraded to new-generation standards and are now operating in the UK and on overseas deployments.
In 2008, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) was faced with a perfect storm: a financial crisis rocked the world just when budget constraints and the high operational tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan were placing a heavy toll on the U.K.’s military rotary wing fleet. At the same time, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) aging AS330 Puma helicopters were set to go out of service. With few alternatives to replace them, retiring the Puma fleet put the nation’s rotary wing capability into a vulnerable position.
Airbus Helicopters approached the British with a proposal for a Puma upgrade that would cost significantly less than investing in a new fleet and which could be delivered in less time: the Puma Life Extension Programme (LEP). This proposal involved carrying out a major retrofit of the RAF’s Puma AS330 BA helicopters that would equip the aircraft with modern 21st Century capabilities. “The British MoD was one of the first defence organisations to consider the significant upgrade of older aircraft rather than buying new,” says Ian Morris, Head of Defence for Airbus Helicopters U.K. “In terms of providing a cost effective solution, their decision, which had many detractors, could be described as visionary.”
Airbus Helicopters Romania
Out of a total of 24 helicopters, an initial four were sent to Airbus Helicopters’ headquarters in Marignane, France to aid in the design, early upgrade and flight-testing of a prototype. The remaining 20 Pumas were sent to Airbus Helicopters Romania and upgraded according to the French design specifications. “A crucial aspect of this program was that Romania had both built and maintained more AS330s than anyone else in the world,” says Simon Heath, program manager for the Puma LEP. “
The helicopters then returned to Airbus Helicopters U.K. for final completion and installation of U.K. specific avionics. The first deliveries were made to the RAF in 2012; all 24 are now in the Air Force’s hands.
Fight the aircraft
The advantages over the older model are myriad. “When we stripped all the wiring out and put in modern avionics, we saved about 250 kilograms. We replaced that with additional fuel carrying capacity,” says Heath. A fifth fuel tank was coupled with a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption, thanks to two new Makila 1A1 engines, leading to a considerably increased operating range and nearly double the payload. The more powerful engines mean the Puma has an increased maximum all-up mass, offering more disposable mass, which can be delivered in the most demanding of environmental conditions for use in either fuel or troops. Safety is also significantly enhanced with advanced avionics, and the latest 4 axis digital autopilot, which allows for ‘carefree handling’ to free up the pilot’s capacity to ‘fight the aircraft’ more effectively. The on-board systems are effective in allowing operations to continue safely in limited visibility conditions such as ‘brown outs’ during desert landings.
In a relatively short time frame, the Puma 2s began operations, thanks in large part to the partnership between the MoD, the RAF and Airbus Helicopters. Working in close cooperation to cover all operational requirements, the manufacturer was instrumental in helping the Ministry achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the Puma 2 fleet in February 2015. Together with Airbus Helicopters Romania and Vector Aerospace, a team working at RAF Benson completed modifications and maintenance. Three weeks later, ahead of schedule and to cost, the Puma 2s were deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral, NATO’s training and support mission.
It quickly became the backbone of the UK’s Afghan operations; to date, shortly after achieving Full Operating Capability in January 2016, the RAF now has flown over 10,000 flight hours in the upgraded Pumas. “The abiding comment you get about the Puma 2 from the crews is that it’s ‘awesome’,” says Heath.
UPDATED 28 APRIL 2015 | The strong earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, with 7.8 on the Richter scale the country’s strongest in 80 years, has had nations scramble their resources to come to the rescue of the Himalayan state. Several countries have put part of their air forces on alert to dispatch aid and rescue / recovery teams to the areas hit.
As expected other Asian nations have responded fairly fast. According to sources in New Delhi the Indian Air Force have directed a pair of its ten Boeing C-17A Globemaster IIIs strategic airlifters to the rescue / recovery / repatriation effort, as well as a Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, an Ilyushin IL-76 and a pair of Mil Mi-17 helicopters. The Republic of Singapore Air Force is sending three of its ten Hercules aircraft; the Pakistan Air Force sent four of its 18 C-130s and the Royal Thai Air Force committed Hercs as well. Qatar dispatched two civilian Qatar Airways Cargo Airbus A330 to Kathmandu. China sent its rescue team on an Air China Airbus A330.
Sweden initially committed a team of 72 men and women plus 12 dogs to help Nepalese authorities in the search for survivors and recovery efforts, but later decided to send 30 people and no dogs on board a civilian freighter. The team has enough supplies and essentials to be self-sufficient for two weeks and left Örebro Airport in the centre of the country at around 21:20 local time on Monday 27 April. Earlier it was thought that the bigger team would go on one of the EU/NATO’s three C-17A Globmasters based at Papa Airbase in Hungary. Sweden is one of the main users of this small pool of European airlift.
The Netherlands sent a Urban Search and Rescue team of 62 men/women and 8 dogs to the area, using a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10. The team will depart the Netherlands on Sunday evening. Five tonnes of aid accompanies the team on board the RNLAF aircraft. The UK is sending a C-17 Globemaster and C-130 Hercules, while the US has ordered a C-17 with 70 disaster assistance personnel and 45 square tonnes of cargo to the region.
Nepal Army Air Wing
The resources of Nepal itself are spread thin. The Nepal Army Air Wing only has a few air assets available. The fixed wing fleet consists of two Antonov AN-28 light transport aircraft, a Britten Norman BN-2 Islander utility aircraft and a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 transport aircraft.
A quartet of Indian-made HAL Dhruv, four Alouette IIIs and five Mil Mi-17 “Hip” make up the mainstay of the rotary wing. It is complemented by a Eurocopter (Airbus Helicotpers) AS350 Écureuil and two Aérospatiale SA315 Alouette IIs/Lamas. A bigger Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Puma is configured for VIP flights. The Nepal Army has only one main base of operations, part of Kathmandu Airport, but there are at least 36 airfields spread across the country that can be used for air operations.
It is not known if and how many aircraft in Nepal have been damaged by the earthquake. Private rotary wing is available as well, but we have no numbers at this time.
Airbus Helicopters safeguarded the ongoing upgrade of the Royal Air Force fleet of 24 Puma helicopters by Romanian IAR Brașov. The European helicopter manufacturer signed a working deal with the Romanian government on 3 September 2014 for future cooperation.
Brasov is home to 170 employees working on repairs of Pumas and Super Pumas plus other contracts. In 2012 the RAF received the first of its Puma HC2 – upgraded by the Brasov plant from an SA330 Mk1 (HC1) chopper. The upgrade includes service life extension, performance enhancement, increased mission capability and operational safety improvements. The underlying deal was already signed in 2009, for 24 RAF machines.
The RAF Pumas are designed by Sud Aviation and that’s why the type designations starts with SA. The French company later became part Aérospatiale, which turned into Eurocopter and recently into Airbus Helicopters.
Romania’s IAR Brașov builds its own licensed version of the Super Puma, with more than 160 of these IAR-330 in various versions rolling of the line since it opened in 1975.
Source: Airbus Helicopters with additional reporting by Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
LATEST UPDATE 13 AUGUST 2014 | The three French and two Italian aircraft that joined up to 17 helicopters on Wednesday 6 August in fighting the largest forest fire of Sweden in 40 years are leaving. The preliminary departure date is set for Monday 11 August. After several days of intense “water bombing” the Swedish rescue and firefighting authorities feel that what is left of the fire can be best fought on the ground, possible assisted by Swedish helicopters only. Like the Protezione Civile and Sécurité Civile crews, Norwegian helicopter crews have been thanked for their work as well.
On Monday 11 August the air assets will be reduced to two or three Swedish Armed Forces AS332 Super Pumas (HKP10s), eight smaller civilian helicopters and two Swedish Armed Forces UH-60M Black Hawks (HKP16s). Their focus will be mainly transporting firefighters/military personnel to various areas in the 32,000 acres (13,000 hectares) or 6 by 9 miles (10 by 15 km) area affected by the wildfire, to put out the flames on different locations from the ground mainly.
“We are talking about puting out th fire per metre, about 50 kilometres in total”, reads a statement from the provincial authorities. “A third of that area is well situated, but other areas are more difficult to reach. The weather is helping, since rain is predicted over entire area effected by the wildfire. The winds are changing, without causing much worry.”
All CL-415s were in the area since 10:30 on 6 August, but low-visibility was preventing the fire-fighting flights until 17:00. Since 7 August all air assets could deploy fully, with even some luck in weather conditions for the firefighters on 8 and 9 August.
The Italian disaster response authority Protezione Civile has scrambled two of its fire-fighting aircraft, believed to be a pair of its 19 Bombardier CL-415s, to Sweden, upon a special request of Sweden through the European Union’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) on 3 August at 22:50. However, the planes – ready to go on 4 August – stayed on the ground in Italy a long time due to bad weather blocking the route over the Alps.
The Italian CL-415s left Trieste on 5 August at 13:00 local time, landed at Copenhagen IAP (Kastrup) around 22:00 on Tuesday night and arrived at Västerås (Hässlö) around 10:30 on 6 August.
The Swedes also were offered help from the French. Two CL-415s of the Sécurité Civile landed around 20:30 at Västerås airport around 20:30 on 5 August 2014. They are accompanied by a Beechcraft 200 King Air of the same emergency response authority that can be used for surveillance, aerial command and logistics. The French have a dozen CL-415s.
All planes were to start fire-fighting operations on Wednesday morning, but a cold front with low clouds and smoke from the fire on Wednesday kept the planes at Västerås Airport up till 17:00 due to low-visibility of about 650 to 1600 feet (200 to 500 metres) in the fire stricken area. The work by the up to 17 helicopters was somewhat hampered as well. The French Beechcraft King Air made a recon flight just after 16:00 local time, with the authorities giving the green light for the CL-415s to get airborne around 17:00. They concluded their daily mission at around 20:00, like we at Airheadsfly.com predicted, due to the falling darkness. Some Swedish media report the planes were able to drop almost 185,000 gal (700,000 litres) of water, but we could not get this information confirmed at this time. If the number is correct it means that each of the four CL-415s were able to make 29 to 30 fully loaded runs. The first flights of 7 August went airborne around 06:30, with a total of 10 to 14 flight hours per day per aircraft planned with flight crew changes during the day. According to Swedish authorities it will be the first time the large fixed-wing “water bombers” will be deployed in the biggest Scandinavian nation.
All planes are needed to stop what is already called the biggest forest fire of Sweden in 40 years. The area of concern grew from about 24,700 acres (10,000 hectares) or roughly 6 by 6 miles (10 by 10 kilometres) on 4 August to more than 32,000 acres (13,000 hectares) or 6 by 9 miles (10 by 15 km) on 5 August. On 9 August at around 20:00 the area effected by the fire was roughly unchanged (still 150 km2 and an even larger area cordoned off), but less strong winds than predicted gave the firefighters a sort of brake. Meaning: anticipated spreading didn’t take place.
The Bombardier aircraft can scoop up to 1,620 gal (6,140 litres) of water at a time, but need a 1,350 feet (410 metres) long run at 70 knots (130 kmh) of water surface in order to due so. Apart from those 12 seconds at the water, the aircraft need a safe descend and climb to the lake. During shorter runs the aircraft can still scoop up several hundreds of gals (thousands of litres) that will by far still outmatch the much smaller “bags” that helicopters use which only hold 132 to 475 gals (500 to 1,800 litres).
The regional authorities of Västmanland together with the nation-wide MSB decided to have the CL-415s use lake Åmanningen west of the fire zone anyway, where the CL-415s might have a landing surface of 1.5 to 2.4 miles (2.4 to 3.8 km) at best. Åmanningen has been blocked for boat traffic, as well as the lakes of Hörendesjön, Virsbosjön, Fläcksjön, Långsjön and Snyten. Lake Norra Barken near Smedjebacken, with up to 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of landing surface depending on the wind conditions, could be an alternative, but so far is not included in the plans.
Tuesday evening the big lake Mälaren was designated to “water up” in an “water air strip” about 7 miles (11 km) southeast of Västerås Airport. This Granfjärden area in Mälaren is still a reserve location.
The fire started raging on Thursday 31 July, 13 miles (13 km) southwest of the town of Sala around the small lake Öjesjön. The area concerned runs from the settlement of Seglingsberg north or Ramnäs to Ängelsberg, from there eastwards along road 256 to Västerfärnebo and from there roughly in a straight line south. According to a statement by a spokesperson of the the Västmanland regional police on Tuesday afternoon 5 August the start of the fire was likely caused by “sparks from a machine used in some kind of ground work in the forest”.
Ten civilian and 5 military helicopters are engaged in the fire-fighting operations. Amongst them three of Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten; FVM) Helicopter Command’s HKP10s (Super Pumas) that use the Bambi Buckets attached to the belly, and one Sikorsky HKP16 (UH-60M) Black Hawk as flying command post and evacuation asset. A second HKP10 was added on Tuesday 5 August. Sweden has no fixed-wing fire-fighting capacity.
On the ground up 60 firefighters, 30 military personnel of the regional National Guard (Hemvärnet) and 100 volunteers were engaged on Monday 4 August. Due to risk to the volunteers – 9 of them were hoisted out by helicopter on Monday when they got surrounded by the flames, the tactics were changed. On Tuesday 5 August 110 people were actively engaged in combating the flames, while 30 more were creating firewalls and providing fire fighters with food, another 50 support the helicopter operations. At the end of the day about 350 people were involved. During 8 August 150 firefighters and 100 military personnel were engaged in combating the flames. More military personnel is coming in all the way from Luleå-Kallax Airbase (F21), including an additional four firetrucks and other materiel, in the north of the country.
The area struck by fire – approximately 60 miles (97 km) northwest of Stockholm Arlanda IAP – has been divided into three sectors, with the Swedish Coast Guard (Kustbevakningen) providing one of its Dash-8 Q300 surveillance aircraft based at Skavsta Airport near Stockholm/Nyköping to get an overview of the extend of the fire by using its infrared and video imaging cameras.
On Tuesday 5 August rescue services reported a 30 year old man was found dead in the disaster area, with the cause of death likely the fire. Several homes have gone up in smoke, but the rescue services have no clear overview of that yet. On Monday afternoon 4 August the 80 inhabitants of the Gammelby neighbourhood of Virsbo – west of the fire – were evacuated as flames started to threaten their houses. Around 18:00 local time the rescue services ordered the evacuation of Ängelsberg (140 inhabitants) and the smaller settlements of Västervåla, Sörhörende, Stenbroviken and Hörnsjöfors. In total about 1,000 people have been displaced, with the evacuations concluded around 20:00 hours local time. Slightly northwest of Ängelsberg is Engelsbergs Bruk, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the most modern iron works of 1681. The 80 villagers of Gammelby were allowed to return to their homes on 6 August, but were requested to stand-by for a re-evacuation.
Since Monday evening rescue services have made plans for the possible evacuation of the entire municipality of Norberg: 4,500 people including 600 in the village centre. Together with smaller settlements the total number of people that might have to move in a second wave of evacuations can run up to more than 5,000. On 6 August those evacuation plans were put on hold due to slightly better conditions for the fire-fighters.
Due to changing winds black smoke has reached the northern parts of Västerås on 5 August 2014, with about 100,000 inhabitants population-wise the fifth largest city of Sweden. Smoke is hampering fire-fighting efforts by the 14 to 17 helicopters deployed. The core of the smoke cloud has covered a distance of more than 100 miles (165 km), reaching all the way from Västerås to Rättvik at lake Siljan north of the fire. The burning smell from the forest fire even reached Uppsala, Sweden’s fourth largest city (150,000 inhabitants) on 6 August – about 50 miles (80 km) east of the burning zone.
The area around Öjesjön has only a few roads, making it difficult for ground based personnel to reach the hazard. With temperatures on Monday souring to a summer high of more than 33 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), a dry air and nature areas screaming for rain the conditions have been excellent for the fire to spread.