ROME, (BM) – 15 ° Stormo (wing) of the Italian Air Force received the first Leonardo HH-139B search and rescue helicopters, learned BulgarianMilitary.com, citing Defence24. This delivery is also the first of a batch of 17 machines ordered last year. Deliveries should end in 2021. The new helicopters should replace the withdrawn HH-3F Pelikan in SAR tasks and fill the gap resulting from the declining availability of HH-212 helicopters.
The HH-139B helicopter was delivered on November 30, 2020, to Cervia Air Base, where the 15 ° Stormo (wings) Aeronautica Militare rescue helicopter squadron is located and trained. According to Italian media, at least five more machines of this type are currently undergoing flight tests at the Leonardo Helicopter plant in Vergiate.
The entire second batch of 17 machines should be delivered by the end of next year. Italian authorities decided last year to procure more machines to supplement the 13 HH139A, which are already in service in Italian aviation, along with the heavy H-101A Caesar and the gradually shrinking fleet of the HH-212, the military version produced in Italy under license for more than 40 years Augusta-Bell 212 machines.
The HH-139B is a helicopter adapted to perform search and rescue and evacuation tasks. In connection with the version HH-139A, many modifications and changes related to the operational experience have been applied, and new production methods. Its specialized equipment includes, among other things, a searchlight, an optoelectronic head, radar, and a double winch, but also an anti-collision leader and an automatic identification system (AIS), which facilitates cooperation with surface units.
The machine can be reconfigured from a 5-seater layout with stretcher space and medical equipment to a 10-seater transport option for fully equipped soldiers or 14 regular passengers in less than 30 minutes.
The helicopter is equipped with advanced digital avionics with four-axis autopilot and multiple safety-enhancing systems. HH-139-B reaches a speed of 306 km / h and, using additional tanks, can stay in the air for more than five hours. Composites are widely used in construction, which provides a good power/weight ratio. The drive consists of two digitally controlled Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C engines with 1,531 HP each.
Europe begins developing a next-generation medium-lift helicopter
In the coming years, five European countries will develop and produce a next-generation helicopter for their needs as members of the Atlantic Alliance [NATO-ed.], as we reported on 25 November.
France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Greece will work to develop the new helicopter, which is expected to begin phasing out the current air helicopter fleets in 2035 at the earliest, according to published information. We are talking about a next generation helicopter, which is a type of helicopter with a medium lift. The information was also confirmed by a press release from the NATO press secretariat.
According to military analysts, this action is necessary because within a period of ten years [2030-2040 – ed.] The current fleets of these countries, as well as other NATO member states, are expected to begin the gradual retirement of existing helicopters. According to NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana, the new next-generation helicopter will aim to provide new functionality to the system and improve the defense capabilities of NATO member states or countries that wish to purchase it. The idea, according to NATO’s deputy secretary general, is to maintain or increase the alliance’s advantage.
So far, this agreement between the five European countries is non-binding, as it is possible that other willing parties will join the project, but only if the current five countries agree and give their permission.
What the five NATO member states have to do is draw up action plans, share responsibilities for the production of next-generation helicopters, and draw up a legal framework for cooperation. There is no information at the moment about the financial framework of the project and which country will have a share in it. Military analysts say perhaps the most difficult task for the five countries will be to agree together on the meaning of the term “next-generation helicopter” and what features it will need to fall into that category.
A new next-generation helicopter would significantly support European members of the Atlantic Alliance in future military missions, experts say. It is not just about actual combat operations, but about special forces operations, various logistics and other types of transport operations, the transport of medium-weight cargo, soldiers and certain operational weapons units.
Military analysts also say that it is no coincidence that the time when European NATO members decided to launch such a project. It is exactly the same as that of the US Air Force, which is also starting to develop a next-generation helicopter. It is quite possible that at some point the two sides will compare work or join forces that can lead to highly functional and effective solutions.
However, the difference comes from the progress of the United States – Bell and Sikorski already have a technological framework and a demonstrator for next-generation helicopters. The United States is even on the verge of awarding the contract in question, which should provide the new helicopters to the US Air Force sometime in 2030 – five years earlier than the European project.
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