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PAF to train new Sokol chopper pilots

AIR FORCE CITY, Clark, Pampanga, March 10 (PNA) – Six helicopter pilots of the Philippines Air Force (PAF) who underwent a two-month training in Poland to fly the newly- acquired W-3A Sokol combat utility helicopters, will form the core group of pilot-instructors who will train incoming PAF Sokol pilots.

Maj. Irvin D. Tanap, one of the six PAF helicopter pilots who went to Poland, told the Philippines News Agency Friday that new Sokol chopper pilots will be trained in the coming months.

The PZL-Swidnik, the Polish manufacturer of the Sokol helicopters, delivered on Friday the first batch of four of the eight helicopters ordered by the government for the Air Force to boost its firepower and lift capability.

The Polish company is represented in the Philippines by AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company based in Italy.

The other five pilots who underwent training in Poland were Maj. Randy G. Buena, Maj. Nomar Alinsangan, Capt. Joseph Alexander Marquez, Capt. Roderick Reyes and Capt. Mark Anthony Fernandez.

The training was provided by PZL-Swidnik, the manufacturer of the W-3A Sokol combat utility helicopter, a six-ton class twin-engine helicopter capable of carrying up to 12 passengers and two pilots.

The helicopter has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its outstanding operational capability, effectiveness, rugged and reliable in all conditions.

The W-3A Sokol helicopter can perform in a long range of operations, making it an excellent utility aircraft with a low maintenance cost.

According to Major Tanap, who had flown many combat sorties in Mindanao, particularly the all-out war between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2000, the newly-acquired Sokol choppers will be mainly used to transport troops and supplies.

He said the helicopter can carry a load of 2,100 kilograms and fly 300 nautical miles (480 kilometers), non-stop which is the distance from Manila to Cebu.

The eight brand-new choppers acquired at a cost of US$ 66 million are armed with two M60 machine guns and air-to-ground rockets, although the helicopters can be equipped with air-to-air heat-seeking missiles.

As a multi-role aircraft, the Sokol helicopters can be fitted with firefighting equipment called expendable belly tank that can be dropped where a fire is raging, and can also be used in medical evacuation and rescue missions at sea or in the mountain, transport combat casualties and disaster victims as the case may be.

Another feature of the chopper is its non-retractable landing gear designed to withstand landings on unprepared and rough ground. It has a cruise speed of 235 kilometers per hour with a maximum endurance of more than four hours flying.

It can climb up to 4,520 meters or 14,829 feet and can hover at 2,550 meters or 8,364 feet.

The delivery of the Sokol helicopters comes at a time when the PAF most needed them for quick transport of troops in the event of an emergency -- man-made or natural.

Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin, who formally received the four choppers during a turnover ceremony here Friday, said that “our acquisition of these brand-new air assets shall certainly bolster the fire fighting capabilities of our Air Force in accordance with our modernization goals.”

“The placement of these aircraft in our Air Force inventory shall surely boost its development of mission-essential capabilities - mobility, firepower and accuracy, communications survivality and the ability to detect threat elements,” Gazmin said.

The helicopters are also fitted with night vision equipment to enable the pilots to see during night flying missions.

Journalists who covered the turnover ceremony were taken for 30-minute flight aboard the W-3A Sokol helicopters that went around Pampanga, including a view from the air of the areas hit by lahar during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1990.

Maj. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz, PAF commanding general, said the new helicopters will boost the PAF’s ability to transport troops during combat operations and conduct rescue missions.

Dela Cruz jokingly said that “sometimes the joke hurts that we only have air but no force, but eventually this will be a thing of the past.”

The PAF waited for over two decades before they got the brand new W-3A Sokol helicopters from Poland.

The last time the Air Force acquired new helicopters was in 1989 when the government bought a fleet of MG-520 attack helicopters, although the PAF got some second-hand aircraft in the 1990s and in the first decade of 2000.

Lt. Col. Mike Okol, PAF spokesman, said the PAF has welcomed the delivery of the Sokol helicopters and is looking forward to get more air assets in the near future.

Ben Cal | Philippine News Agency | March 11,2012 | Article Link

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