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… 🙂
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… 🙂
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… 🙂
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.
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 :).
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.
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.
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 :).