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PAF not giving up on aged, battered Hueys

BUTUAN CITY, Philippines -- The crash of another Philippine Air Force UH-1H Huey helicopter in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte last Sunday has again revived questions about whether the Vietnam War-era aircraft ought to be retired and replaced.
The PAF currently has 40 Hueys, which have served as the workhorse of the armed forces for transporting troops and supplies, and for search and rescue operations since the late 1970's.
In December 2010, the US turned over five refurbished Hueys to the Air Force.
But the PAF’s Huey fleet has been plagued by deaths and injuries from numerous crashes since the late 1980s, earning the aged choppers the derisive nickname, “flying coffins.”
Last year alone, five personnel were injured in a crash on April 1 and three lives were lost in another mishap in Sulu last October.
The incident in Kitcharao, the first this year, saw seven injuries.
Despite this, Lieutenant Colonel Elpedio Talja, commander of the PAF’s Tactical Operations Group 10 based in Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City, said: “We are still confident that with proper maintenance, the ‘Huey’ is still airworthy and an essential part of our air force. Our existing helicopters are still reliable and perform well. All that is needed are good checkups and spare parts.”
He said the Air Force has no plans yet of retiring the existing UH-1H fleet, which will be working together with the recently arrived PZL Swidnik W-3 Sokols from Poland.
“The purchase of eight Sokol combat utility helicopters is a welcome (development) for the armed forces. Actually there are many modernization projects in the pipeline; a lot of plans are in the works like long range patrol aircraft, light attack helicopters and fighter aircraft,” he said.
Last February, four of the eight Sokols, which are based on the Soviet Hind attack helicopters, were delivered to the Philippine government. The remaining choppers will be delivered in the second half of the year.
As it is, the PAF remains way behind other air forces in the region.
The last of F-5 Freedom fighters, which had been used for decades as interceptors for external defense, were decommissioned in September 2005.
The need for long-range patrol aircraft like the US’ P-3 Orion, has also been in discussion since the late 1990's as part of military’s modernization program.
Erwin Mascarinas | | 15-Mar-12, 10:25 AM | Article Link

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