RSAF Super Puma helicopters still flying high on missions

Super Pumas continue to play key role despite orders for Airbus H225M

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Live-firing on board an RSAF Super Puma.

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Super Puma helicopters took part in Exercise Wallaby in Australia yesterday, with the crew demonstrating that the workhorses can still perform at a high level.

During the exercise, aircrew specialists practised firing their cabin-door machine guns - used to return fire on enemy forces when the Super Pumas troop-lift military units behind enemy lines.

Live-firing of the door gun is not done in Singapore as there is no appropriate firing range for it.

"I expected it to be easier, but trying to hit the target while the helicopter was moving was more challenging than I thought," said Third Sergeant Aaron Tiong Jun Jie, 21, an aircrew specialist who fired the door gun for the first time during yesterday's exercise.

Even with their replacements - the Airbus H225M - slated to arrive after 2020 and the Ministry of Defence saying the older helicopters are now "facing obsolescence", the exercise showed that the AS332 Super Pumas still can play a critical wartime and peacetime role in the sky.

Those who have flown in them, including Third Warrant Officer Premnath Chandran, 35, an aircrew specialist, said the helicopters are just as capable as they were decades ago.

"You don't really feel that it is an old aircraft. The ageing is very minute because the aircraft are maintained in tip-top condition. If there are issues, they are merely cosmetic, such as the velcros no longer sticking properly," said 3WO Premnath, who has been flying in RSAF helicopters for the past 16 years.

The RSAF first commissioned the Super Puma in 1985, more than three decades ago.

The versatility of the medium-lift helicopters was made all the more evident by their continued use for real missions.

Around the clock, the Super Pumas and their crews have kept watch over the 4,000 SAF military personnel in the Shoalwater Bay Training Areathis year.

It was also a Super Puma that was scrambled to attend to and evacuate Third Sergeant Gavin Chan, the 21-year-old full-time national serviceman who died after a Bionix II infantry fighting vehicle landed on its side last month.

Super Pumas also flew on search-and-locate operations during the recent ship collisions in Singapore waters this year, medically evacuating injured American sailors to the Singapore General Hospital after their warship, the USS John S. McCain, collided with a commercial oil tanker in August.

Mindef has not said when the Super Pumas will be replaced altogether.

When they are eventually replaced, 3WO Premnath will be looking forward to the new aircraft if he is assigned to them.

But the veteran airman, who started his career in the now-decommissioned UH-1H utility helicopter, remains sentimental about older aircraft.

"Yes, there will be a new phase of learning about a new aircraft type. But I'm still holding out for the UH-1H because it was my first," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline RSAF Super Puma helicopters still flying high on missions. Subscribe