Cypriot Air Force
Visits on the 3rd and 4th of October 2019
Pafos/Intl (LCPH) Andreas Papandreou Air Base
The Cypriot Air Force (Kypriaki Polemiki Aaeroporia) is the armed air wing of the Cypriot National Guard (Ethnikí Frourá) and is based in modern facilities on the north side of Paphos International Airport on the south coast of Cyprus, 10 km., southeast of Paphos city. The base is named after the former Greek prime-minister who was a strong supporter of the creation of this Airbase back on ’90s.
Commanding unit is 55 Sminarchia Mahis (Combat Group) with 20 helicopters in two squadrons: 450 Mira Elikopteron (ME/P), attack helicopter squadron and 460 Mira Erevnas Diasosis (MED), search and rescue squadron. Each squadron has its own squadron building and ramp. 450 ME/P has two hangars and 460 MED a single hangar. The base has half a dozen hardened aircraft shelters. These are sometimes used during exercises by visiting fighters and occasionally by fighters which divert with an emergency.
450 ME/P Mira Elikopteron.
The squadron was formed on October 15, 2001 at Paphos. The squadron has two Sminos (Platoons), 1 Sminos, named Scorpion with the SA342L1 Gazelle and 2nd Sminos 'Panther' with the Mi-35Ps. The main task is anti-tank.
1 Sminos ‘Scorpion’
During July 2010 four Gazelles (serials 352-355) were transferred to 450 ME/P from 449 MEE, Helicopter Squadron then based at Lakatamia Airbase in Nicosia following its closure. The SA-342L1 is the military version of the SA-342J – L1 denoting the export version. A remarkable feature of the SA342L1 is, that because of the relative low position of the main rotor, the rotor can be stopped during a hot crew change.
Primarily used in the anti-tank role, Cypriot examples can be armed with up to four HOT-3 missiles. With a range of just over 2.5 miles (4km) it is capable of penetrating 1.3mm thick steel. The Gazelle is also utilized for airborne observation and currency training within 450 ME/P. When teamed up with the Mi-35P the Gazelle flies in front in the observation role. Compared to the Mi-35P it is harder to see and to hear.
2 Sminos ‘Panther’
Main mission is anti-tank, and offensive and defensive missions and special operations. The Sminos is equipped with the Mi-35P Hind-F. The Mi-35P, P for Pushka = cannon, is the export version of the Mi-24P Hind-F. External difference from the the Mi-24P is the fixed undercarriage. A feature also found on the current production Mi-35M. The Chaff and flare dispenser rails are mounted to both sides of the forward tail boom-fuselage. On late production Hinds these are housed in aerodynamic fairing. Later in the production the fairing was deleted, and the rails mounted to the fuselage.
The production run of the P version for export started in 1989 with 12 for East-Germany, these were designated Mi-24P, followed by nine for the Russian Forces. From 1995 the production continued as the Mi-35P. The Cypriot Hinds were built in 2001, there is some internal discussion if they are really new built. Aircraft and helicopter production in the Soviet Union and later Russia almost fell to zero after the cold war was over, and unfinished airframes were put in storage. It appears that with their fixed undercarriage they were new but may include earlier manufactured components.
Deliveries began in August 2001 with initial training from both flight and ground personnel being undertaken in Russia at the flight training centre in Torzhok northeast of Moscow.
Serials are 811-822, one Mi-35P was lost, 822 crashing on July 5, 2006 killing the Russian instructor and Cypriot student on board, cause of the accident remains unknown. The Hinds have been sent back to Russia formain overhaul and upgrades-modifications at 419ARZ (Aviatsiotny Romonthny Zavod, aircraft Repair Plant) at Saint Petersburg-Pulkuvo. Helicopters rotating through Russia from late 2014 also had their original dark-grey colour finish replaced with the standard Cyprus Air Force desert type camouflage scheme, which is extremely effective over the Cypriot terrain.
The Hind is well respected by its crew with its high speed, impressive weapons arsenal and protection suite, including RWR, heat shields, flare dispensers an armour plating/protection, and rotor blades able to take up to 12.7 mm rounds. Drawback is that the avionics are of the analogue era.
Main weapon is the fixed twin-barrel 30 mm GSh-30-2Kcannon mounted to the side of the starboard forward fuselage. The cannons have a range of 2 Km, while the aircraft has capacity for 250 rounds. In addition a further four 23mm machine guns fitted in pairs under the type’s stub wings can be fitted, transforming it into a formidable six-barrelled gunship. Opposed to the rotating gun turret of other gunships like the Mi-24V, to aim the Mi-35P has to be pointed towards the (in)target direction.
On the stub wings the Mi-35P can carry up to 16 9M120 Ataka supersonic anti-tank missiles capable of penetrating steel when launched over 3.5 miles (5.8km) from the target. Also four pods with each 20 non-guided S-8KOM rockets, with a range of 3.500m, for use against light armoured vehicles and personnel. However, depending on the mission a mixed load of 40 S-8KOM and eight 9M120 can be used. Standard they fly with two pods and four launch rails on each stub wing.
With a range of 3m, a larger warhead and fragmentation radius of around 600m, the non-guided S-24B rocket is by far the most potent option available. Up to four can be carried, however Cypriot Hindsare limited to carrying two examples at a time.
Usually the Hind has a crew of three, a pilot, co-pilot and a technician. The Hind can carry up to eight armed soldiers for support of for special operations and CSAR, Combat Search and Rescue missions.
Squadron badge has 12 stars (representing the 12 Hinds) over a black panther, and the blue and white roundel of the Cypriot Air Force.
460 Mira Erevnas Diasosis
460 has 3 Sminos (Platoons). 460 Search and Rescue Squadron was formed on May 25, 2010 as a dedicated SAR squadron, and was at that time equipped with the Bell 206L3 Long Ranger, PC-9/B and BN-2B Islander. It absorbed the equipment and personnel of the disbanded 449 MEE which was based at Lakatamia,Nicosia. The PC-9/B was withdrawn a few years ago and the BN-2B is grounded but not withdrawn since 2017. Both are now in storage in a shelter at Paphos Air Base. The Combat Group commander Colonel Marios Floridesstill has strong nostalgic feelings for the PC-9, and that the type is grounded. There were plans to refurbish the sole PC-9, over the years this has become increasingly difficult since many parts are by now time expired. A second PC-9/B was lost earlier on 10 September 2005 in a crash near Kolossi, whereby both crew lost their lives.
Squadron badge is the mythological god Triton, it symbolizes the connection with the sea and triton and Triton Call sign of the AW139s.
Also 460 MED has three Sminos, one with the Bell 206L3, one with the AW139 and the other with the BN2B.
Bell 206L3 Sminos ‘Paris’
Current equipment are two Bell 206L3 Long Rangers (110 and 111) and three AW139 (701-703).
Bell 206L3 serial 110 was previously used in the SAR role equipped with a winch and longer skids with inflatable floating bags for over water operations. In the SAR role it has been replaced by the AW139, so the winch and the floating bags were removed.
The Long Rangers are flown by a crew of two. Fitted out with a ‘passenger/VIP’ cabin, the type can carry five passengers – three facing forward, two facing rear. Other tasks include liaison duties, as well as crew currency and training.
A third Bell 206L3, serial 112, was written off in an accident on July 10, 2002 at 04.55 whilst observing a command and control exercise at night. All five on board were killed the pilot, the co-pilot, the commander of the National Guard, his adjutant and the commander of the Air Force. Cause was never found, although a local farmer saw that the helicopter was already on fire in the air
AW139 Sminos ‘Triton’
There was need for a modern better equipped helicopter for SAR to replace the two UH-1H loaned from Greece and grounded under US pressure from 2003 and the Bell 206L3. The Augusta Westland AW139 was selected. Three AW139 were ordered in December 2008. The first two were handed over in December 2010 and February 2011, followed by the third in July 2011. Mainly used for Search and Rescue duties.
Other tasks include VIP transport, para training, aerial photography and fire fighting with an underslung basket. And when required the squadron also assists the Police. Many training missions are also flown to NATO and commercial ships, conducting SAR training winching operations and deck landings.
In addition to standard SAR modifications, the new helicopters are equipped with a four-axis autopilot with SAR modes, Radar and Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) equipped cockpit to enable both day and night SAR training to be undertaken. Standard crew for SAR consists of two pilots, a rescue swimmer and a hoistoperator.
The AW139 receives annually a 600 Flight hour overhaul at Paphos. Every four years they go for a main overhaul to Liege, Belgium for a main overhaul with Agusta Aerospace Services. A long flight via Rhodes, Kalamata, Corfu, Napoli, Bastia, Lyon and then Liege.
There are no flight simulators at Paphos. To train in a simulator the AW139 crew goes annually to Italy.
Initial SAR training was from FBH. FB Heliservices is a joint venture formed by Cobham Air Services FR Aviation Group and Bristow Helicopters at Bournemouth International airport, United Kingdom. FBH conducts specialist helicopter SAR training.
The AW139 is on 24/7 SAR alert, since the introduction of the AW139 22 real rescue missions have been flown with dozens other flights for firefighting, search and/or surveillance missions for abandoned ships (most of them with immigrants), most of them to ships sailing near Cyprus. And training includes many overwater missions to ships, both military and commercial.
The Rescue efforts Int Cyprus Search and Rescue Region are coordinated by the the Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Larnaca.
The Police Aviation Unit at Lanarca Airport is operating simultaneously with us of the SAR system of the Republic of Cyprus. It operates two AB412 helicopters, reinforced recently with two new AW139 helicopters
First the pilots have to follow a 4 years course at the Greek Air Force Academy, than the pilots train full syllabus of the Greek Air Force. Initial training is at Tatoi on the T-41D for 20 hours, which was recently replaced by the Tecnam P2002JF. Then to Kalamata on the T-6A Texan II for 115 hours and finally the T-2C/E Buckeye for 100 hours. annually 5-6 pilots are trained. Upon return they are posted to either 450 or 460 squadron, this depends upon the squadron requirements and the personnel capabilities. In Cyprus they continue their training with 450 squadron on the SA342L Gazelle or 460 squadron on the Bell 206L3, after a minimum of 60 hours they pass on to respectively the Mi-35P or AW139. On the AW139 initially as co-pilot and after 150 hours as a captain pilot.
Instructor pilots for the Mi-35 were trained in Russia, and for the AW139 in Italy.
The Mi-35P and Gazelle co-pilots are also operating the guns.
55 Combat Wing has in total 60 pilots overall. The operational service time in minimal 10 years, if the pilot wants to leave earlier a fine has to be paid. Some pilots live in Nicosia, which is an 1.5 hour drive from Paphos. When they are at Paphos they often fly two missions per day, one in the morning, then take a rest followed by a second mission in the evening. During the summer there are many hot and humid days. In these harsh circumstances there are no training flights. If a real incident occur the crews will instantly take off as usual.
Standard are hot crew changes following the first mission the helicopter returns to platform, and a crew change is made with the engines running. Mostly daily flying takes place between 08:00 and 14:00 hour. Also night flying takes place a few evenings in the week.
Standard scheme is three tone desert camouflage consisting of light sand, dark sand and olive green, with a blue-white Greek style roundel on the boom and a low visibility Cypriot flag on the fin. The Mi-35Ps were up to 2014-2015 painted dark grey overall for night operations This was later changed to include also day operations and when the helicopters went to Russia for main overhaul they came back painted in the standard camouflage.
The AW139 were in sand and light green with broad diagonal orange bands. During overhaul in Belgium they were painted grey with orange bands. Plus CYPRUS AIR FORCE on the boom and SQD 460 on the engine hub.
Over the past years there were insufficient spares especially for the Hind. The situation became critical during the fall of 2018 when to Rosoboronexport, Russia’s defence export agency accounts were temporarily frozen.
The Hinds must have main overhaul within in a few years. Weapon embargoes on Cyprus have recently been lifted, and thoughts are now replacing the Hind and Gazelle with a new helicopter gunship. It remains to be seen if sufficient funds are available for new Attack Helicopters.
With the introduction of the AW139 Cyprus acquired a state of the art SAR helicopter. The Cyprus Air Force is well trained, and a Force to keep in mind.
In the run-up to our visit we thank Lt. Col. Konstantinos Niras from the Air Force Command Cyprus National Guard, Lt. Col. Nicolaos Romanos from the Strategy Defence Department Ministry of Defence Cyprus and the Embassy of The Netherlands in Rome for supporting our request. Special thanks to Lt. Panayiotis Marinou who escorted us during our visit. Everything was possible and all our requests were fulfilled very friendly.
Authors: Marinus Dirk Tabak and Jack Bosma.