Photo File – From Europe With Love: Croatian Police’s First AW139

By me
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.

Photo Report – Helicopters!

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

With the winter clampdown at the field proceeding as planned despite the unusually warm weather – leading to some serious photo-deprivation – I thought I’d dig through my database and cobble together a short post to keep this blog going until something new happens :). And noticing that they’re strangely under-represented in my previous posts, I’ve decided to concentrate a bit on helicopters.

Despite Lučko being somewhat of a hub for general aviation in this part of Croatia, we don’t often see many civil helicopters. Apart from one local Robinson R-44 – and the five-strong Police squadron – we don’t have much of a choice here, the limiting factor being fuel availability. A vast majority of civil-registered helicopters in the country are turbine-powered, and the lack of Jet A at Lučko (except for military and police use) means we’re not all that interesting :). Nevertheless, I’ve given it my best shot and this is what I’ve come up with…

1. Sud SE.3130 Alouette III, 9A-HAT:

First on the list is a very rare 1961. Alouette III, by far and away the oldest helicopter in Croatia. Operated by Eudora Let Vodice based at Zemunik airbase (LDZD) near Zadar, this fascinating whirlybird is a rare visitor to Lučko, having last been here almost two years ago. Unfortunately, it was damaged about a week ago, when a drunk police officer crashed his car through the Zemunik perimeter fence (a public road crosses one of the taxiways) and caused significant damage among the aircraft on the apron – including totaling AK Zadar‘s C172.

Wearing a simple, all-over army green scheme, HAT looks like something that came out of M*A*S*H 🙂

Almost like being serviced out in the field in 'Nam...

To conserve the helicopter's limited service life remaining, non essential trips to various airfields are flown on the back of a low trailer :). Assembly/disassembly is relatively quick and painless, as you only need to detach the main rotor blades and you're done

2. Bell 206B JetRanger II, 9A-HBC:

Second up is – what are the odds – the second oldest helicopter in the country, manufactured in 1973 :). A nowadays rather rare JetRanger II, 9A-HBC is operated by the Croatian Police, mostly used for training, personnel and liaison flights. One of my favorite helicopters here, it’s always a joy to catch it flying. It’s a very photogenic thing :).

Sporting a catchy 70s aquamarine scheme, HBC is seen sliding away from the Police helipad. Out back is the Ecos apron, as well as one of the now-sold Air Tractors previously featured here

Plugged in and almost ready to fly after a prolonged period in the hangar

How not to get hit by a helicopter... While externally identical to the later JetRanger III, HBC is still somehow more interesting 🙂

3. Agusta-Bell AB.212, 9A-HBM:

The “heavy” of the non-military helicopter world here, 9A-HBM is and remains the largest helicopter flying in the country, as well as one of only two twins. Produced by Agusta in Italy, HBM is also operated by the Police and is an active participant in SAR, EMS and firefighting missions down at the coast. The only helicopter with some hauling capacity, it is also used by special forces during rappelling missions.

Looking imposing on approach :). A big Huey, but still a Huey, its lines are instantly recognizable

Off for some rappelling practice with the Alfas, the Police special unit team. The crew would lower two lines on either side of the helicopter, down which two men could descend at the same time (to maintain balance). In this photo, the Alfas are still not on board and would be picked up at the "drop zone" away from the main runway

4. Bell 206B-3 JetRanger III, 9A-HBZ and 9A-HDB:

Representing the Police some more are 9A-HBZ and HDB, both JetRanger IIIs. Filling pretty much the same roles as HBC, they’re the most often seen Police helicopters, bearing the brunt of the squadron’s work.

HBZ approaching its pad in lighting I have been hoping for for ages :). Almost looks like there's no crew on board

Despite being cheap to operate (relatively), JetRangers are pretty much confined to transport, training and some utility roles. Lacking a second engine, they're not really suited for very much else

HBZ departing as aerial support and surveillance during a much-publicized local police action in March 2008

HDB repositioning from Pleso during the afternoon. Before being finally supplied with their own bowser at Lučko, Police helicopters had to fly the 15 minutes to Pleso to refuel

High speed low altitude departure after the fixed-wing traffic had quieted down

HDB descending vertically down. I'm told that with a full load on a hot day this exercise isn't really fun in a JetRanger...

6. Robinson R-44, 9A-HDM and HWA:

And to finish it all off, some piston power! 🙂 Alphabetically leading is our resident R-44 Clipper II owned by MD Heliko, these last few days happily flying aerial photography missions all afternoon. HWA, a Raven II, is a visitor from Varaždin owned by WinAir, a machine you’ve already had the chance to see in my CIAV airshow report :).

Pretty buttons and dials :). A closeup of HDM's clean and basic panel. Not visible here is a moving map GPS (I think a Bendix unit) mounted on top of the panel

Revving up for a late-afternoon thermal imaging mission. Caught the rotor, caught the nav light, caught the crew... caught a cold in the downwash...

Face to face on liftoff. The most produced helicopter of all time, the R-44 is becoming an increasingly common sight in Croatia. At one time there were three of them on the register, though one - 9A-HAS, Clipper - had been sold some time ago

Caught on a rare visit to Lučko, parked next to HDM. Very nice paint scheme too 🙂

Swooping in down RWY 28 for approach to the main apron :). Unlike fixedwings, helicopters normally approach the apron directly, as to avoid interfering with other traffic