The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has inducted into service another EC-135 Helicopter, NAF 549, which was reactivated in-country by NAF personnel in collaboration with some technical partners from within and outside Nigeria.
The induction of NAF 549 today, 24 August 2019, at the NAF 115 Special Operations Group (115 SOG) in Port Harcourt signifies the substantial progress the Service has made in its bid to continually build capacity to cope with technological advancements in the field of military aviation and further prosecute the various ongoing operations in the Country.
It could be recalled that the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, was in Port Harcourt in 2018 to unveil an Mi-35P helicopter, NAF 531, after an in-country Life Extension Programme, which was successfully conducted in Nigeria for the first time since the helicopter was inducted into the NAF in Year 2000.
A statement from the spokesman of the Air Force, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola quoted the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) as saying that the addition of the newly re-activated EC-135 helicopter would be a force multiplier in the effort of the Service to secure the lives and property of Nigerians as well as protect the territorial integrity of the Country.
He added that the successful in-country reactivation of the helicopter has enabled the NAF to save scarce foreign exchange that would have been expended in carrying out the Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) abroad.
In addition, Air Marshal Abubakar explained that the in-country reactivation has enabled the transfer of required skills and expertise to NAF technicians, thereby helping the Service build additional capacity to sustain its operations. According to him, “this is in line with the Service’s projected end state, which is to ensure that in the near future, the NAF would have sufficiently domiciled the technical expertise and technological know-how to conduct the full spectrum of maintenance activities locally using its own engineers, technicians and resources”.
Speaking further, the CAS added that in order to ensure adequate manning and capacity building for crew of its various helicopter fleets, the Service was conducting various initial and advanced training for NAF helicopter pilots both locally and overseas. He stated that the Service recently approved the training of 10 helicopter pilots by Cobham Helicopter in the United Kingdom.
“We have also commenced the tactical training of NAF helicopter pilots at the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group (405 HCTG) Enugu in order to build their capacity to function more effectively in complex air-ground environments. All these efforts are being made to enable the NAF build its core competencies towards the employment of air power in the discharge of our constitutional responsibilities”, he added.
Air Marshal Abubakar restated his commitment to enhancing the welfare of personnel through the provision of conducive work and home environments for personnel and their families to enable them continue to put in their best in support of the various Internal Security operations across the Country. This, he said, would include the provision of additional married accommodation for Officers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) in Port Harcourt as well as the eventual upgrade of Air Force Secondary School Port Harcourt to a boarding school. The CAS also used the opportunity to express the profound gratitude of the Service to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the priority given to NAF’s efforts in maintaining its platforms and equipment as well as the support given to acquire new platforms such as the A-29 Super Tucano, JF-17 fighter aircraft, Mi-35M, Augusta A-109 Power and AW-139 helicopters.
Earlier, while delivering his welcome address, the Air Officer Commanding Tactical Air Command (AOC TAC), Air Vice Marshal Charles Owho, represented by the Chief of Staff, Air Commodore Shehu Bakari, expressed his delight for the enabling environment the current leadership of the NAF has granted the Command to display its ingenuity towards the achievement of the landmark feat. He added that the reactivation would no doubt contribute to the actualization of one of the key drivers of the CAS’ Vision, which is, “robust logistics support and maintenance culture to sustain platforms and equipment serviceability”.
The reactivation programme of NAF 549, which had been unserviceable since June 2013 before its handover to the NAF in 2016, commenced on 10 January 18, with critical assessment of the helicopter, and the entire work was completed in June 2019. The helicopter is one of the three EC -135 helicopters inherited by the NAF from the NNPC. The other 2 EC 135 Helicopters, NAF 547 and NAF 548, have been reactivated in-Country and have since been deployed for operations.
Highlight of the event was the conduct of a Functional Check Flight (FCF) by pilots of the 115 SOG, under the guidance of the Commander, Air Commodore Elijah Ebiowe, to certify the aircraft ready for flight operations. After which the technical documents for the aircraft were handed over to the CAS by the Chief of Aircraft Engineering CAcE, AVM Musa Mukhtar, who subsequently handed these over to the AOC TAC for safekeeping. Also present at the induction ceremony were the Commander Operation DELTA SAFE, Rear Admiral A Akinrinade, as well as other serving and retired military officers and heads of other security agencies in Rivers State.
Before leaving Port Harcourt, the CAS, who was accompanied on the operational visit by other senior officers from Headquarters NAF, also had an interactive session with officers, airmen and airwomen of NAF units in Port Harcourt and other locations in the South South Geo-Political Zone. The session was aimed at keeping the personnel informed about the policy directions of the Service while also receiving feedback as well as suggestions from them on how to move the Service forward for effective and efficient service delivery.