The recent crash of another Philippine Air Force (PAF) UH-1H Huey helicopter in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte last Sunday has lead to questions whether the aging refurbished aircraft is still air worthy or needs to be replaced and retired.
“We are still confident that with proper maintenance, the Huey is still air worthy and a huge essential part of our Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Elpedio B. Talja, commander of the PAF Tactical Operations Group 10 based in Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City. “Our existing helicopters are still reliable and perform well. All that is needed is good check-ups and spare parts,” he added.
Talja pointed out that the Air Force has no plans yet of retiring the existing UH-1H fleet and it will be working hand in hand with the recent arrival of the PZL Swidnik W-3 Sokol from Poland.
PAF currently has 40 Bell UH-1H Huey helicopters in service, which has served as the workhorse of the Armed Forces in transporting troops and supplies, as well as for search and rescue (SAR) operations since the late 1970s. Back in December 2010, five newly refurbished Hueys were turned over by the United States government to the Air Force to augment the aging force.
Unfortunately, there had been numerous crashes involving the Hueys since the 1980s that led to injuries and fatalities. Last year alone PAF suffered two Huey crashes – one on April 1 in Antipolo, Rizal that injured five, and another in October in Sulu, killing three Air Force personnel.
The incident in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte last Sunday, where seven were injured, was the first incident this year.
“The purchase of eight Sokol combat utility helicopters is a welcome sight for the Armed Forces,” Talja said.
Last February, four of the eight Sokols were delivered to the Philippine government. The final four helicopters will be delivered later this year.
The aircraft’s ancestry can be traced to the concept of the Soviet’s Hind attack helicopters.
“Actually, there are many modernization projects in the pipeline, a lot of plans are in the works, like long range patrol aircraft, light attack helicopters and fighter aircraft,” Talja added.
The need for long range patrol aircraft, like the US P-3 Orion, was in discussion since the late 1990s as part of AFP modernization program under the Capability Upgrade Program (CUP).
The last 10 Northtrop F-5 Freedom used by PAF as air superiority fighters were decommissioned back in September 2005. Since then, Philippines does not have any fighters to intercept any aircraft entering its air space.