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
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