The first HH-101A in NATO grey color was handed over to the 23° Gruppo (Squadron) based at Cervia Air Base.
On Jan. 29, 2020, the 23° Gruppo of the 15° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force – ItAF) took delivery of the first HH-101A in overall grey livery at Cervia Air Base. The new paint scheme sported by HH-101A MM81873/15-12 (that flew to its new Italian base from Leonardo Helicopters Division assembly in Yeovil, UK) replaces the Black Helo Drab used on all the previous “Caesar” already in service with the Italian Air Force: a dark color that was replaced with a lighter one in order to prevent cabin and cockpit overheating especially during daylight missions in the summer season.
The new color scheme should also be applied to the remaining four examples yet to be delivered, even if it looks like at least a part of the “dark” HH-101As will also be repainted during future revision works. According to the first reports, as opposed to the “dark” HH-101As, that are destined to CSAR (Combat SAR), Personnel Recovery and Special Operation Support tasks, the new grey Caesars will be mainly used for “standard” Search And Rescue missions.
As the images in this post (taken by aviation photographer and friend Claudio Toselli) show, the first grey “Caesar” delivered to the 23° Gruppo was not equipped with the IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe nor carried the nose-mounted Star Safire electro-optical (EO)/infrared (IR) turret.
The Italian Air Force has ordered 12 HH-101As with an option for 3 more examples. The first example was delivered in 2015 and the type was declared operational in 2016.
The HH-101 is a military variant of the civilian AW.101. They ItAF use it to perform a wide variety of tasks, including CSAR, Personnel Recovery, medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) as well as Slow Mover Intercept (SMI).
The HH-101A is able to accommodate up to five crew members plus twenty fully equipped troops or six crew members plus 8 troops for special operations, ensuring maximum mission flexibility.
It features three M134 7.62 mm pintle mounted Gatling-type machine guns installed on right and left sides and on the rear ramp provided by Finmeccanica Defence Systems Division, armoured cockpit seats, ballistic protection for machine gun operators as well as for critical systems and an Integrated Electronic Warfare System.
The chopper is also equipped with some cutting-edge avionics, sensors and self-protection systems including radios, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), crypto, Link 16, intercommunications system, Gabbiano radar system, Laser Warning Receiver (LWR) and a Missile Launch Detection System (MILDS).
By means of a kit the HH-101A can extend its operating range performing HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) ops.