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Greece to acquire New Leonardo AW139 Helicopters for Combat Search and Rescue Missions.

On 23 May 2024, Greece announced the acquisition of three Leonardo AW139 helicopters. These intermediate twin-engine helicopters, scheduled for delivery in 2026, will enhance disaster relief operations and medical evacuation missions.

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Leonardo Combat Search and Rescue Missions AW139 Helicopter (Picture source: Leonardo)

The funding for this emergency response helicopter program comes from the European Union – NextGenerationEU, under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan "Greece 2.0". The introduction of the AW139 is seen as a crucial step in improving the efficiency of disaster response interventions across Greece, a country faced with unique operational challenges due to its complex topography and varied environmental conditions.

In December 2023, at a first meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Council (SAGE), the Hellenic Air Force had proposed the acquisition of 14 new AW139 SAR helicopters from Leonardo, marking a shift in preference from the Army and Navy Aviation's choices for Black Hawks.

Indeed, three of the 14 helicopters planned for acquisition are now designated for Combat Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. They will be specially equipped with cabin and system armor, armaments, a self-protection system with countermeasures such as flares and decoys, missile warning systems, and the Link-16 data exchange system. The operational requirements for these helicopters include a minimum action range of 180 miles with a four-member SAR crew, an on-scene endurance of at least 30 minutes, and capabilities to reach speeds over 145 knots.

The Hellenic Air Force's helicopter fleet currently includes 12 AS332C Super Puma helicopters, primarily used for medium transport, which will be replaced by the 14 Leonardo AW139 helicopters. The fleet also includes 12 Bell 205A (AB-205A) helicopters, designated for light transport and search and rescue (SAR) missions, as well as 4 Bell 212 (AB-212) helicopters primarily used for VIP and light transport roles. The Air Force also maintains 3 Leonardo AW109 helicopters, used in various operational capacities.

The Leonardo AW139, initially developed by Agusta and Bell Helicopters and later solely by AgustaWestland, is a medium-sized, twin-engine helicopter. Since its first flight in 2001 and its introduction in 2003, it has seen more than 1,100 units sold. The AW139 has been employed in various roles, including VIP transport, military operations, offshore transport, firefighting, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and disaster relief.

In terms of design, the AW139 features a five-blade main rotor, retractable landing gear, and two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C turboshaft engines controlled by a Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) system. The cockpit includes a Honeywell Primus EPIC avionics system with four LCD screens and a four-axis autopilot. It is designed for single-pilot instrument flight rules (SPIFR) operations and is compatible with night vision goggles.

The AW139 has a maximum speed of 310 km/h (193 mph), a cruise speed of 306 km/h, and a range of 1,061 km. Its service ceiling is 6,096 meters (20,000 feet), and it has a rate of climb of 10.9 meters per second (2,140 feet per minute). The aircraft's capacity varies based on configuration, with the ability to accommodate up to 15 passengers.

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