Category Archives: Helicopters

AW101 Merlin Helicopter: a Prospective SAR Platform for the Polish Navy?

The Leonardo (AgustaWestland) HH-101 Caesar has been demonstrated in Warsaw. Leonardo Helicopters company starts a marketing campaign in Poland

Leonardo is trying hard to pitch the AW101 Merlin helicopter as a perfect offer for the Polish Navy following the cancellation of the former multi-role helicopter tendering procedure (during which Airbus Helicopters Caracal was indicated as the winning bid).

This is what the demo that took place at the Bemowo/Babice airfield in Warsaw last week seems to suggest.

Considered that the tender was canceled and that the Polish MoD would be inclined to acquire several types instead of a single platform, the presentation of the HH-101A Caesar (a variant of the baseline AW101 advanced medium lift helicopter used by the Italian Air Force for Personnel Recovery, Special Forces Operations support, SAR, MEDEVAC and Slow Mover Intercept) is a clear symptom that the PR campaign concerning the procurement SAR plaftorm for the Polish Navy has just started.

Enjoying strong support by the current government, which is rejecting anything that was done by the predecessors including the selection of Caracal during the previous tender, PZL Świdnik (the biggest helicopter manufacturer in Poland and part of Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s Helicopter Division since 2015) is quite confident that the AW101 has no competition on the market when it comes to the maritime operational regime.

However, some of the statements made by President Krzysztof Krystowski about the Leonardo helicopter are at least inaccurate, as duly noted by Interia.pl’s Sławomir Zagórski.  For instance, Krystowski said that the Italian helicopter is 20 to 30 years younger than its competitors, even though the AW101, on which the more modern Caesar is based, made its maiden flight on Oct. 9, 1987, about 10 years before the Sikorsky’s S-92, which is considered a competitor of the Merlin in the global market (although S-92 is not offered in the Polish tender as of now, only the SH-60, designed at the end of the 1970s, is being offered according to the reports).

Nonetheless, it cannot be negated that the AW101 is a great, capable and specialized maritime helicopter.

The aircraft is very safe, since it utilizes 3 engines, contrary to its counterparts proposed by other manufacturers, which are equipped with 2 engines. Two engines are running during a normal flight, while the third acts as a reserve.

Moreover, its size allows the AW101 to carry up to 30 persons onboard, making it a perfect platform for SAR operations (and not only…). For this reason, the Merlin is operated by several air arms around the world, including the Italian Navy, the Royal Navy, Royal Danish Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Portuguese Air Force and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. Noteworthy, a Merlin variant, designated VH-71 Kestrel, was developed and manufactured in the US by a consortium headed by Lockheed Martin to serve in the US presidential transport fleet but the program was cancelled.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that the AW101 and its variants, with proven experience over the North Sea, in the Arctic or over the Atlantic certainly has features that make it a perfect solution, in the specific field of applications – maritime SAR ops in adverse weather conditions.

On the other hand, the W-3 Anakonda helicopters operated by the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade  are capable of picking up only 2 casualties at sea and are very sensitive to adverse weather, whereas the Mi-14 Hazes, also used by the Polish Navy, are expected to be withdrawn from service soon, for safety/maintenance reasons.

But pilot shortage could be an ever greater issue for the Polish Navy than the helicopters’ obsolescence.

Back in January, three Mi-14 pilots, including two commanders who had credentials required to fly the helicopter in adverse weather, retired. Along with them, two rescuers, engineer and some other members of specialized personnel – 23 soldiers in total – have left the unit, facing a prospect of cuts in the area of retirement benefits, expected to be introduced by the government. Only one and a half of the Mi-14 crew still serves in the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade, as Zagórski was told by the Navy officials. One should also remember that Mi-14PŁ/R helicopters are also coming near the end of their operational lifetimes, with one expected to be withdrawn by the end of this year, and the other having its service life expectancy one year longer. As we were writing last year, the Mi-14 cannot be replaced with the W-3 Anakonda helicopter, due to weather limitations imposed on the latter.

Anyway, the possible procurement of the Leonardo helicopter praised by the service and supported by the government has also been criticised by some analysts.

There is someone who questioned whether Poland would require such a helicopter, considered the current platforms being flown and the fact that the new chopper may turn out to be barely affordable for Warsaw.

The size also has raised some concern, since 14,600 kilograms of maximum take-off weight make would make the AW101 unable to operate from landing pads of the ships of the Polish Navy. This would also limit the ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) capabilities of the new asset: for this reason the MTOW (Maximum Take Off Weight) requirement within the former tender was limited down to 10.5 tonnes. What is more, the high MTOW of the AW101 does not translate into higher payload carrying capacity, which is comparable with the helicopters of the 10 tonnes-class. This is caused by additional load imposed by the third engine and a larger main gearbox.

Furthermore, there is the issue of cooperation between the Polish MoD and the Leonardo-owned PZL Świdnik facility. The sailors of the Naval Aviation Brigade doubt whether the facility could cope with delivering the AW101, seeing it struggle with maintaining the W-3WA Anakonda rescue helicopters. The first of the aircraft which underwent maintenance and overhaul works at Świdnik has been returned with one year of delay. This contributes to a prospect of a crisis in the Polish SAR units – as Mi-14s are being withdrawn, and W-3s are still in Świdnik, the equipment available would be simply insufficient to maintain proper capabilities along the coast, as we reported last year.

Anyway, since the procurement is defined by the Polish MoD as being of principal importance for the national security, it has been made confidential. Hence the bidding information remains unavailable publicly. This issue has been criticized by General Waldemar Skrzypczak one of the generals who were dismissed from the Army back in December – Polish General Command has suffered from a “purge”, with most of the top officers resigning from service, following the dismissal of General Miroslaw Rózański, General Commander of the Armed Forces.

The claims suggest that confidentiality would make it easier for the government to hide the per unit cost of both the AW101 and any other contender making it impossible to compare the chosen SAR helicopter with those selected in former tender, where 50 Caracals were to be acquired for a gross amount of PLN 13.3 billion, along with proper offset arrangements (training, maintenance and logistical capabilities established in Poland).

Leonardo said that the helicopters could be delivered in two years from the signing the potential procurement agreement.

Update: reportedly the Italian HH-101A Caesar helicopter presented in Warsaw was forced to perform an emergency landing at Dubnica airport in Slovakia on its way back to Italy, after two out engines lost power/suffered an unspecified failure. The aircraft landed safely on the third engine and the crew is waiting in Slovakia for the spares to be delivered. A photo of the aircraft on the ground was published on the Airplane-Pictures network.

Images: Foto Poork’s Wojciech Mazurkiewicz and Filip Modrzejewski

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Marine One and HMX-1 MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft land on USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier for President Trump’s visit

Watch Marine One And three HMX-1 Ospreys Land On Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford.

On Mar. 2, U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Virginia’s Newport News Shipbuilding facility to visit pre-commissioning unit USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN78) the U.S. Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier.

The following video shows the Presidential VH-3D “Marine One” operated by the U.S. Marine Corps HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One) along with the grey-painted MV-22 Ospreys (also referred to as “Green Tops”) that fly the White House Staff during the President’s travels, land on USS Ford and take off after the speech during which Trump vowed to launch a “great rebuilding” of American military power.

Interestingly, the Bell-Boeing tilt-rotor aircraft fly also the Secret Service agents that follow “Marine One” (when President of the U.S. travels aboard the VH-3D or any other chopper operated by HMX-1 the helicopter uses the radio callsign “Marine One” by which the aircraft is known) and take care of him or her in case the helicopter goes down due to a failure.

Both the “White Tops” (12x VH-3Ds and 8x VH-60Ns), that usually fly the POTUS and accompanying VIPs at home and abroad as part of the Executive Flight Detachment, and the “Green Tops” (12x MV-22 Ospreys) that fly the supporting staff, are based at Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington DC.

The Executive Flight Detachment actually operates extensively out of an alert facility at Naval Support Facility Anacostia in Washington DC, much closer to the White House than Quantico.

H/T to @juanmab for the heads-up

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Watch this Impressive Video of Midair Refueling With a Three-Ton Sling Load in a Marine CH-53E helicopter

One of the most difficult aviation evolutions made more difficult: incredible aerial refueling footage showing the extended refueling probe of the CH-53E move significantly from vibration and the boundary layer passing over it at speed…

Pilots will tell you midair refueling is a challenge. Add midair refueling a rotary wing aircraft like this U.S. Marine CH-53E Super Stallion carrying a 5,200-pound sling loaded HUMVEE vehicle while using a flexible drogue system and you have a very difficult refueling exercise.

This video shows a CH-53E from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 464, the “Condors” of Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina operating as part of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 29. The helicopter is taking on fuel from a U.S. Marine KC-130J from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 234 on Feb. 23, 2017.

Midair refueling with a large vehicle sling load could be a necessity for small U.S. Marine teams conducting special operations in a denied environment. This is especially important for the Marine’s own reconnaissance units, who provide tactical and strategic level intelligence in support of larger Marine operations as seen in the Gulf wars. Additionally, this type of unusual aviation operation would support the newest Marine Corps special operations asset, the Marine Special Operations Command or “MARSOC”.

Finally, a more mundane application of this type of midair refueling may simply be recovering a vehicle that broke down in normal operations.

Regardless of the reason for an operation like this, it is a difficult bit of flying. The KC-130J Hercules, assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 234, has a published stall speed of 100 knots (115 MPH, 185 KPH) while the top speed of the MH-53 helicopter is about 170 MPH without the sling load, and probably almost 30-40 MPH slower with the added drag of the big HUMMV hanging below the aircraft. This gives the two flight crews only about 25-40 MPH of airspeed variance between the aircraft in this configuration to work with. Add some unfavorable winds and this can be a difficult bit of flying.

When you watch the above video carefully you see a number of the risks inherent to midair refueling helicopters. Watch both the refueling basket or “drogue” oscillate in the boundary layer of air at speed and the extended refueling probe of the CH-53E also move significantly from vibration and the boundary layer passing over it at speed. In the instant prior to contact you may notice a bright spark of static electricity discharged into the refueling drogue. The charge is created by the rotation of the rotors. Finally, when the refueling drogue disconnects from the probe on the helicopter a significant mist of vaporized fuel is released. The entire inside of the MH-53E helicopter may smell like aviation fuel after the release of the drogue, making flight crews particularly concerned about any sparks igniting remaining fuel vapor.

This video certainly isn’t the first time this technique has been practiced, and Marine aviators will tell you it isn’t an unusual capability for them, just part of their mission set. Here are some even more remarkable photos taken over a year before this video of a Marine CH-53E with multiple sling-loaded vehicles, an extremely unusual mission requirement.

These photos and video support the Marine claims that they are among the very best and most versatile rotary wing, and fixed wing, aircrews in any air force in the world.

An Mi-8 gunship helicopter lands on a highway in Kazakhstan to ask for directions

A Soviet-era helicopter landed on a highway and blocked a truck convoy…to ask for directions to the closest village.

An Mi-8 helicopter makes a surprise landing on a highway and blocking a truck convoy somewhere in Kazakhstan. A crew member gets out of the gunship and runs towards the first truck.

He shakes the hand of the driver, and then starts pointing his arms animatedly in different directions, before returning to his place aboard the aircraft. Shortly thereafter, the helicopter takes off again, continuing its mission as if nothing had happened.

This is not a hilarious story but was shown by the video below that spread through the social media.

According to the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense the helicopter (carrying four rocket pods) was involved in a “planned visual orienteering exercise,” in which trainee pilots were told to determine their location “including by means of human survey.” According to the statement, cited by the local media, the exercise was a “success.”

In other words, the crew member was asking for directions to the closest city after getting lost in poor weather.

“The helicopter has now returned to the airfield where it is based,” the statement concludes according to RT.

This is not the first time helicopters got lost in bad weather and were forced to land before continuing their mission.

On Sept. 10, 2014, six U.S. Army choppers (consisting of Chinook and Black Hawk utility helicopters) landed in the middle of a rapeseed field in Poland in foggy weather. The American pilots received information leaflets on the municipality, in English, and departed again to their destination about 2 hours later, after the weather improved.

Check Out This Mind-Blowing Photo Of A CV-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor aircraft at Night

This photo is really awesome. And here’s what makes it so spectacular.

The photo above shows a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft performing a routine formation flight while en route to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 9, 2017.

The 1st Special Operations Wing conducted a flyover for the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game featuring the Clemson Tigers versus Alabama Crimson Tide.

The photograph is made particularly awesome by the Osprey’s typical glowing rotor tips.

Indeed, to help at night during formation flights as well as on the ground to show personnel the position of the blades and guide them to the safe areas and to the ramp, the tilt-rotor aircraft have two NVG (Night Vision Goggle) compatible dual-mode LED “tip lights” on the end of each rotor blade whose brightness can be controlled by the aircrew.

Once the rotor is working, such tip lights create a virtual disk, that make the tilt-rotor aircraft visible in the darkness.

Impressive isn’t it?

Image credit: U.S. Air Force