All photos me too, copyrighted
Even though the Croatian Police’s drive to re-equip its air wing is pretty much old news here – with the first two additions, EC-135s 9A-HBA and HBB, having been flying their Fenestrons off for two years now – announcements of the impending arrival of a third machine had once again considerably piqued interest here at Achtung, Skyhawk!. The excitement was all the greater since the whirlybird in question was of a somewhat higher caliber than all the others, taking the form of the imposing (and loud!) AgustaWestland AW139 – in short, the largest and most powerful Western-built helicopter ever operated by a Croatian law enforcement agency.
Predictably enough, the magnitude of its arrival was not lost on me – so it was a given that I would be there to greet it when it alighted at Zagreb Airport (ZAG/LDZA) on 20 January for its formal handover ceremony… 🙂
Looking impressive and powerful in front of the Croatian Gov’t hangar following the formal end of the ceremony. Though this was I-EASM’s first visit to Zagreb, it was not its first time in country, having spent the previous night at Pula Airport (PUY/LDPL) halfway into its delivery flight from Varese in Italy.
Completed in December 2015 with the serial 31715, I-EASM will eventually carry the identity 9A-HRP, thus becoming the sixth distinct helicopter type operated by the Police since Croatia’s independence in 1991 (and the seventh overall since the formation of the air wing in the 60s). Unlike the aforementioned EC-135s, the AW139’s raison d’être is solely border surveillance, being part of an extensive assistance package from the EU to help reduce the porosity of what is now the Union’s second largest land border with non-EU lands (at 1198 km/745 miles, just 115 km/71 miles short of Finland’s border with Russia). Interestingly, current plans also call for a second example, which is intended to join the fleet likely in July 2016… 🙂
Rolling in slowly for the benefit of the press while the morning haze does its best to spoil the lighting. Despite being intended primarily for patrolling the country’s long land border, I-EASM is also equipped with a powerful winch on the right side of the fuselage, enabling it to provide a secondary sea rescue capability (which also falls under the header of border security).
While the AW139 may not have the most elegant fuselage cross-section around, its boxy shape makes it a good practical hauler, with lots of space, easy entry and egress and the ability to haul bulky cargo – or, in HEMS/SAR ops, a lot of vital equipment.
In addition to a nose-mounted EO/IR (Electro Optical/Infra Red) turret cam – a must-have item for any serious patrol duty – I-EASM is also fitted with a Trakka A800 IR spotlight, which greatly increases the precision and quality of both IR cameras and night vision systems (and can even “illuminate” underwater areas up to a depth of 5 meters).
Up front, business is as usual for a machine of this size and sophistication, with advanced digital avionics and automation prevalent throughout. Despite this, the machine’s controls are still a handful, with the collective (out of shot) particularly notable for its number of switches and pushbuttons.
A peek inside the voluminous cabin, rivaling – or even exceeding – that of the AB.212 9A-HBM which had so far held the title of the Police’s largest whirlybird. Of particular interest is the surveillance system operator’s station, which controls and integrates the turret cam, IR spotlight – and a very powerful surface search radar housed in the nose that boasts an effective range in excess of 200 NM. Despite its small size, it has been described as a very powerful system – which is pretty much the heart of the AW139 in this configuration.
Whatever the mission, entry and egress are made quite easy by large sliding doors that remain flush with the fuselage – and bear a resemblance to those of the legendary Huey. Another detail – though impossible to see here – is a integral flotation system for over-water operation, charged by two (very large!) nitrogen bottles located right behind the doors.
Brothers in… rotors. With the ceremony long over, I-EASM prepares to be pushed into the gov’t hangar, while HBB – preceded a few seconds earlier by HBA – hovertaxis out for its return to Lučko. The participation of both new Police helicopter types may have been somewhat of a “marketing gimmick” – but it nevertheless made for a smashing photo op!
Current Police fleet strength:
- Agusta AW139: AW139 (9A-HRP)
- Bell 206 JetRanger: 206B-3 (9A-HDB, 9A-HBZ) & AB.206B (9A-HBC)
- Bell 212: AB.212 (9A-HBM)
- Eurocopter EC-135: EC-135P-2+ (9A-HBA, 9A-HBB)
Update – 25 March:
As of mid-March, 9A-HRP has officially entered active duty, operating out of both Zagreb and the standard Police squadron base at Lučko Airfield (LDZL). Even though it had spent most of the subsequent days flying up and down the country on familiarization and training flights, some persistent camping at the field had nevertheless provided me with the opportunity to snap it in the act… 🙂
Approaching its helipad on a crisp spring afternoon following a two-hour flight from Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU) in the extreme south of the country.