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AFM to donate 1950s helicopter to Aviation Museum

Colonel (now Brigadier) Carmel Vassallo (left) inspects the blades of an Agusta Bell helicopter in this file photo.

Colonel (now Brigadier) Carmel Vassallo (left) inspects the blades of an Agusta Bell helicopter in this file photo.

The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) will be donating their first acquired aircraft to the Aviation Museum at Ta' Qali this afternoon.

The Agusta Bell 47G2 Helicopter ER AS7201 was assembled in the 1950s and delivered to a fledgling reborn Luftwaffe for basic pilot training. In turn, the West Germans donated the helicopter, Echo, along with three others, to the Malta Land Force (MLF) in the 1970s.

The MLF's helicopter flight started operations from St Patrick's Barracks in Pembroke. It later moved to Ħal Far and then to Luqa.

In the early 1990s, the helicopter flight was renamed Air Squadron and then Air Wing.

The helicopter was used for coastal patrols, the shooting of photos, transport, the delivery of mail and on some occasions, water operations such as search and rescue.

The three other helicopters were registered in the civil register as 9H-AAE, 9H-AAF, 9H-AAG and 9H-AAH.

Foxtrot and Golf were sold but Hotel is still on the AFM books. Echo had adopted the registration AS7201, with Alpha Sierra standing for Air Squadron, the first two digits indicating the date the helicopter entered into service and the last two digits being the asset number.

The flight to the museum will mark the helicopter's last coastal patrol, during which Brigadier Carmel Vassallo, the senior-most qualified pilot, and Bombardier Mark Cassar, the last junior-most qualified pilot, will be piloting the helicopter.

When contacted, Brigadier Vassallo said that today's simple yet most symbolic ceremony will revive fondest memories of his flying career which, purely due to the exigencies of the service and not of his own accord, was cut short.

"My first flight on the venerable 47 G2 helicopter dates back to 1982 when I boarded the helicopter with an Italian flight instructor next to me who was there to test my potential for flying. That first flight is called orientation test, and the only result for the poor student-pilot is that, after a 10-minute struggle and sweating all over, he/she comes out of the helicopter more disoriented than ever!

"Flying a helicopter is also a thrilling experience and I consider myself lucky to have flown five different types of helicopters in my short six-year operational flying career.

"Today's handing over ceremony is the result of hard work done some years ago by Headquarters AFM, which work found the support of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance."

Meanwhile, a UH-72A Light Helicopter is on order from Europcopter's manufacturing arm in the US, for which the American government is footing half the €6 million (Lm2.58 million) bill.

Versatile and reliable, its most notable advantages are its twin engines enabling open water operation, its speed, range and rescue capabilities, and a cabin with wide aft doors for stretcher operations.

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