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PAF gets 2 new helicopters

One of the Sokol helicopters that arrived in Clark, Pampanga last Monday  - Air Force photo

MANILA, Philippines - Two brand-new combat utility helicopters acquired from a Polish firm have arrived in the country, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said Friday.

PAF spokesman Col. Miguel Okol said the Sokol helicopters arrived last Monday via an Antonov cargo plane in Clark Airbase, Pampanga.

The helicopters were airlifted from a factory in Poland and were delivered to the 410th Maintenance Wing for assembly and final maintenance checks.

The two helicopters constitute the second batch of Sokols acquired from Polish manufacturer PZL-Świdnik S.A.

The first batch, which consisted of four helicopters, arrived last February while the final two Sokols are expected to be delivered early next year.

“These helicopters will be used for search and rescue missions. It has enough space for two pilots, two crewmen, three medical attendants and six rescued survivors,” Okol said.

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The acquisition of the eight combat utility helicopters costs P2.8 billion, including ground support equipment, spare parts, support services and training for aircrew and maintainers.

The helicopters will be turned over to the 505th Search and Rescue Group where it will augment the first four Sokols delivered last February.

PZL-Świdnik said the delivery marked “an important program milestone” for both the Air Force and the Polish firm.

“The outstanding capabilities of the Sokol helicopter and its ability to perform a wide range of roles will further enhance the capabilities of the Philippine Air Force” said Nicola Bianco, managing director of PZL-Świdnik S.A. in a statement.

Officials earlier said that the Sokol (Polish for “falcon”) helicopter is an ideal air asset since it can be fitted with equipment depending on its mission.

In its website, PZL Swidnik S.A. described itself as “a major industrial partner in the aerospace market, supplying aero structures to many of the world’s leading helicopter and aircraft manufacturers.”

Recent air mishaps have depleted the capabilities of the Air Force, which critics have jokingly described as “all air but no force.”

Last October, a newly-refurbished C-130 cargo plane arrived at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay from the United States (US).

The C-130 with tail number 4704 was sent to a British Aerospace facility at Mojave, California last August 8 for periodic depot maintenance. The maintenance works cost P190 million and was funded through foreign military sales.

At present, there are only two C-130 planes in the PAF inventory.

Earlier, PAF said it is looking forward to the planned acquisition of key aerial assets in the next two to three years.

These assets are three radar systems, 21 utility helicopters, 10 attack helicopters, four search and rescue helicopters, two long-range patrol aircraft, a special mission aircraft, three medium lift aircraft and 12 lead-in fighters. – Alexis Romero

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