Afghanistan: mission accomplished

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During just over nine months of deployment, and 680 flight hours, the EC725 helicopters of the French Air Force provided impeccable service in Afghanistan.

In the spring of 2006, a very short time after their entry into service, the EC725s of the EH 01.067 “Pyrénées” helicopter squadron took part in Operation Baliste in Lebanon (see Rotor Journal No. 69). Following the humidity and overwater operations in Lebanon, the time had come to test out the helicopters in the dry cold and oppressive heat of the Central Asia theatre of operations.
The view of the crews on their return from Afghanistan was largely positive: “Despite the very difficult operating conditions, the EC725s worked like a dream. We are extremely satisfied with this aircraft.”
From December 2006, the Regional Command Capital (RCC) of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operated two EC725. Based at Kabul International Airport, the aircraft took on three types of missions: medical evacuations, rescuing “ejected” crews and supporting the ISAF forces in the field.
In reality, this latter assignment involved a wide array of missions: ranging from logistics operations, transporting people, reconnaissance flights and even intelligence operations using the onboard optronics systems, which were used on one particular occasion by the EC725 helicopters during a night-time operation to find out where a Western hostage was being held. “All of these duties could be performed both day and night,” explains Wing Commander Claude Schmitt, the “Pyrénées” Squadron Leader. Because of the potential threat from small-arms fire, the tactical flights were flown at a very low altitude (50 feet or 15 meters above the ground) and at high speed (140 knots or approximately 240 km/h) outside the populated areas. The threat was taken sufficiently seriously for all technical flights to be performed systematically at night.

Hot and cold
The French crews were the only ones sufficiently well equipped to be authorised to fly night missions for the RCC and so consequently 21% of their operations were performed after dusk. “As soon as we left Kabul, we had a true night sky (class 5), which is very dark indeed,” remembers Wing Commander Schmitt. “The equipment proved to be excellent in these conditions: the instrument lighting is well designed and the night vision goggles really matched our needs.” The digital mapping, coupled with a GPS receiver, a radio altimeter and a laser-gyro inertial navigation system allowed the helicopter to fly low-altitude ingress with a complete lack of external lighting. And the general view of the French Air Force crews was, once again, positive: “We made extensive use of all the onboard systems and found them all to be extremely valuable from an operational point of view.”
In April 2007, a cargo plane brought two new EC725s to Kabul before taking off again with the two aircraft that had been in service since December 2006(1). The first two aircraft (and their crews) had experienced intense cold (-20°C under cover on the ground); their two replacements would experience the intense heat (+40°C).
Yet, the report from the squadron’s base in Cazaux is again glowing: “Despite these very tough conditions, and the fine dust that got absolutely everywhere, the reliability of the EC725 and the electronic equipment, in particular, was remarkable. We were especially worried for the aircraft that arrived in April, which Eurocopter had only just delivered to the Air Force. These helicopters had flown very little in France and we were concerned there might be ‘bugs’. Our fears proved groundless: the aircraft performed excellently.” In addition to the extreme temperatures and the dust, the other main difficulty that the EC725s faced was the operating altitude. Despite a very large power reserve, which gives the helicopter a maximum takeoff weight of 11 metric tons at sea level, the EC725 was really put to the test. On 21 August 2007, these exceptional capabilities were brought to the fore when the two aircraft successfully rescued the seven occupants (two of whom were seriously injured) of an Italian AB212, which had crashed into a mountainside, south of Kabul, at an altitude of over 2,500 m. The gruelling five-hour mission took place a matter of days before the crews and helicopters returned to France, brilliantly rounding off an extremely successful deployment.



(1) Approximately six hours of work are required to prepare an aircraft for flight after the transport by Antonov 124. The blades, the dome fairing, the lower fin under the tail boom and the tail skid damper all have to be re-installed.


_AUTHOR: ALEXANDRE MARCHAND



© SIRPA AIR
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© SIRPA AIR
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Despite the very tough conditions and the fine dust that got absolutely everywhere, the reliability of the EC725 and the electronic equipment, in particular, was remarkable.