CLARK FIELD, Pampanga—If the old Huey helicopters being used by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) for nearly half a century are comparable to Army jeeps, then the country’s newly acquired Polish-made helicopters are our equivalent to modern cars.
This was the analogy given by Maj. Randy Buena, a helicopter pilot, when he described the speed, comfort and reduced flight vibrations of a W-3A Sokol helicopter manufactured by Poland-based PZL-Swidnik SA.
The PAF formally received four of the eight Polish-made combat utility helicopters at a turnover ceremony at the Air Force City on Friday.
The eight W-3A Sokol helicopters are part of the P2.8-billion acquisition contract between the PAF and PZL-Swidnik SA, which became a subsidiary of the Anglo-Italian company Agusta Westland in 2010. The contract obliges the supplier to provide training and support for pilots who will fly these new aircraft.
“If the Huey is an owner-type jeep, the Sokol is a car. What the Huey can do, the Sokol can also do. But the Huey cannot do all what the Sokol can do. This helicopter has more advantage than the Huey. It has two engines, unlike the Huey … So if one engine fails in the air, we can still fly and safely land it with the second engine,” said Buena, a pilot assigned to the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing.
PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol said the helicopters help fulfill the first phase of the PAF upgrade as prescribed by Republic Act No. 7898, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act of 1995.
The first phase of the PAF modernization program obliges the government to acquire eight combat utility helicopters, seven attack helicopters, a C-130 cargo aircraft, a long-range patrol aircraft, and 18 basic trainer airplanes.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the helicopters “will bolster the capability and firepower of the Air Force.” He described the Polish-made helicopters as a good choice for the Armed Forces due to their “proven effectiveness and ruggedness under any condition.”
“We must be contented with what we can afford with our limited resources,” he said.
The first batch of the helicopters was delivered here on Feb. 14 via a Ukraine-made Antonov An-124 Ruslan, one of the biggest transport aircrafts in the world. For the last two months, PAF pilots have been flying this massive aircraft.
The four remaining W-3A Sokol helicopters are expected to be received by the PAF by October or November.
In September 2010, the PAF tapped PZL-Swidnik SA to supply the country with seven W-3 Sokol “Falcon” attack helicopters at P3.2 billion, but the purchase deal was suspended by President Aquino due to some irregularities.
When asked, Okol said the Falcon supply program is ongoing, although the contract issues raised by Malacañang are still with the Department of National Defense.
The twin-engine helicopter has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration. Each helicopter can carry two pilots and 12 passengers and up to 2,100 kilograms of cargo. It may be used in sea and mountain rescue operations. Jun Malig, Inquirer Central Luzon