‘Baliste’ Operation

Just six weeks after entering service in the field, the EC725s of the French Air Force were successfully deployed in Lebanon.

Late on the morning of 14 July 2006, just after the traditional military parade in Paris, three EC725 “Harfang” of the 1/67 “Pyrénées” helicopter squadron returned from their proud trip down the Champs Élysées to their home base in Cazaux (Landes region).
When they arrived that afternoon, the flight crews had a surprise waiting for them: “At about 4:30 pm, we were told that we were immediately to be sent to Lebanon as part of the ‘Baliste’ operation to evacuate French nationals,” said Lieutenant Colonel Hugues Pichevin, commander of the squadron. “We would be sending three of our four EC725s to the British base in Akrotiri, Cyprus. From there, we would be flying missions to Beirut.”

The following day, Lieutenant Colonel Pichevin and his technical deputy Commander Jean-Claude Quimerch traveled by plane to Akrotiri in advance of the squadron to prepare for the arrival of the helicopters.
Meanwhile in Cazaux, the flight crews and mechanics were getting the technical kits ready. On 16 July, at 2 pm, three helicopters took off for Corsica, the first stop on their journey.
“The great range and navigational capabilities of the EC725 mean that it can be deployed autonomously, without having to disassemble it and ship it in a cargo plane,” pointed out Lt. Col. Pichevin.

It certainly is a time-saver: after fifteen hours of flights broken down into four legs, the helicopters landed in Cyprus and were immediately operational. They arrived on the morning of 17 July, and the first helicopter took off on a mission that same afternoon at 4 pm. During the 69 days that the three helicopters were in the region, the EC725s transported approximately 1 000 people in 93 missions.
The helicopter’s great range, its optronic capabilities and its electronic countermeasure systems insured that the flight crews could perform their missions with utter confidence.

“We gained a lot of experience during the mission,” added Commander Quimerch. “During the deployment, we were able to perform the scheduled major inspections on the aircraft with no particular problems. The support we received via telephone and internet from the Eurocopter tech rep in Cazaux was first rate.”

The successful operation had encouraging results: the helicopters flying for the detached unit achieved nearly 100% availability (not including scheduled maintenance) during the mission.

Alexandre Marchand

© Image SIRPA Air
In 69 days, the three EC725s of the “1/67 Pyrénées” helicopter squadron performed 93 missions and transported approximately 1000 passengers.