Portuguese Air Force Merlin helicopters enter service

Saturday, February 4, 2006

A PoAF Puma helicopter in support of a Space Shuttle Recovery Exercise at Lajes Field, Azores.

On Friday the 3rd, the Portuguese Air Force started to operate eight EH101 Merlin helicopters, replacing the old French made Puma helicopters; which have had more than 30 years of service, first used during the Portuguese Colonial War.

After the war, the Puma were used in missions of search and rescue,transport of patients and evacuation missions, and also assisted the USAF in recovery of NASA's Space Shuttles.

Twelve Merlin have been purchased; in three different models: six SAR (for use with Search & Rescue), four in CSAR (for deployment of troops to zones out of the country) and two in SIFICAP (for Fisheries Control).

The Merlin is capable of carrying more than 3 tons, its maximum speed is 309 km/h and it has a range of 1390 km. The Merlin is the helicopter used for the transportation of the president of the United States George W. Bush and other VIP's.

Four Puma operating in the Azores and in Madeira will continue in service, for the next few months, until the last four Merlin CSAR helicopters are delivered. The air force is currently considering using these four onboard a future logistic support ship. (LPD)

A ceremony was held at the Air Base of Montijo, attending was Portuguese minister of National Defence, Luís Amado. He said during the ceremony that the old Puma might be converted for civilian protection missions, such as fire fighting.

"The Government will decide the future of the Puma helicopters on the board of appreciation that is being done with other sectors of the Government, namely the Ministry of Internal Administration, in the possibility of the Puma being adapted for other missions, for example on the scope of the civilian protection".

Portuguese Air Force AgustaWestland EH101

The Merlin, was purchased in 2001 by the Government of António Guterres. The two first helicopters arrived in February 11 of last year, being held in February 24 an official ceremony in the Montijo Air Base, attending both the president of the Portuguese Republic, Jorge Sampaio, and the then minister of National Defense, Paulo Portas.

They have cost the Portuguese Government 446 million, (approximately US$536 million). This deal has given €60 million in counterparts, relatively in orders of production in the workshops of OGMA. It's expected that this sum will grow to almost a total of €315 million.

Most recent mission

The PoAF has four Puma helicopters in service at the Lajes Air Base.

At dawn on Thursday, a Puma took off from the Lajes Air Base to the Hekabe, a ship that was 250 km from the cost of the Terceira Island, in Azores, evacuate a Russian sailor with the symptoms of a appendicitis. After refuelling in Faial the helicopter reached the ship at 0825 UTC. Seventy minutes later the Puma landed on the Faial Island Airport and the patient went to the Horta Hospital.

Removal of dangerous cargo

During December 21 and 22 an SA330 Puma helicopter, from the Lajes Air Base, was called to aid in the transportation of dangerous substances from the Russian ship "CP Valour" to land. The ship wrecked on December 9, 2005, near the Faial Island, due to bad weather conditions, and had in its manifest some containers considered dangerous.