The Spanish Army Disaster Response Unit: The EC135: More Spanish than Ever

On November 26, 2008, the Spanish Army Disaster Response Unit (UME) took delivery of its third EC135. This is no ordinary helicopter: It is the first EC135 to be entirely assembled in Spain. This “Made in Spain” aircraft is now ready to serve the Spanish people.

© La Mancha Press / Luis Vizcaino
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Political and military authorities attended a special ceremony on November 26, 2008, to commemorate the delivery to the UME of the first EC135 to be built in Spain. The unit’s EC135s proudly display the same colors as the Spanish flag.
The UME was created by royal decree in 2006 and is tasked with providing a response during natural disasters–such as fires, earthquakes, heavy snowfalls and floods–anywhere within the Spanish territory, including the Balearic Islands and the Canaries. For more tricky operations, the Spanish authorities have created the Emergency Helicopter Battalion (Bheleme), which comes under the functional command of the Spanish Army Airmobile Force (FAMET), and the operational command of the UME. By 2013, this battalion will have 15 Cougar helicopters, based in Bétera, Valencia. “We are currently operating four EC135s(1) out of Colmenar, near Madrid,” explains Lieutenant-Colonel Vicente León Zafra of the Spanish Army’s Emergency Helicopter Battalion. “We use these aircraft to perform emergency medical services (EMS) and reconnaissance missions, and to provide support to the army’s high command. We will receive our first three Cougars in the second half of 2010. The three Cougars we currently operate have been lent to us by the FAMET.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Zafra continues: “Other countries already have emergency helicopter battalions, such as France’s Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness Organization. These units play an essential role flying rescue and evacuation missions during natural disasters. Since 2006, Spain has also had air units for managing emergency situations. We now operate water bombers and aerial cranes fitted with helibuckets and tanks for transporting water, and our helicopters can be equipped with cargo hooks to carry heavy loads. The EC135s are flexible, multipurpose helicopters that can fly under instrument flight rules–an absolute must in difficult weather conditions. The EC135 also has a good carrying capacity and a spacious cabin, which can quickly and easily be fitted out with EMS equipment.”

(1) The fourth EC135 was delivered in early 2009.