Finmeccanica and the Italian Air Force (AMI) held a welcoming ceremony at Cervia-San Giorgio Air Base on February 25 to mark the entry into operational service of the HH-101A Caesar, a variant of the AgustaWestland AW101 developed for the AMI, which will use the helicopter personnel recovery, Special Forces missions and a range of other tasks, including search and rescue, medical evacuation (medevac) and slow-mover intercept (SMI) operations, countering small aircraft threats. The event also saw the HH-101A reach initial operational capability in the medevac, SMI and tactical utility transport roles.
The AMI has taken delivery of four HH-101As to date out of a total requirement for 15. The helicopters are being built on Finmeccanica Helicopter Division’s UK assembly line in Yeovil, Somerset. Service entry also marked completion of training of the first cadre of pilots and instructors on the type, carried out jointly by the AMI and Finmeccanica. Henceforth, training will be carried out by the AMI’s 81° Centro Addestramento Equipaggi (CAE – Main Training Centre), part of 15° Stormo (Wing) at Cervia, as the type moves on towards achieving full operational capability. Collaboation with the manufacturer will, however, continue, particularly with regards to training of technicians and maintenance personnel.
Speaking at the ceremony, Col Giuseppe Massimetti, commander of 15° Stormo, noted that the HH-101A was the first rotary-wing aircraft in Europe to be able to undertake air-to-air refuelling at night unsing night vision goggles. The HH-101A is able to accommodate up to five crew members plus 20 fully equipped troops or six crew members plus eight troops for special operations, ensuring maximum mission flexibility. The helicopters also feature three M134 7.62mm pintle-mounted Gatling-type machine guns provided by Finmeccanica Defence Systems Division and installed on right and left sides and on the rear ramp. Other equipment includes armoured cockpit seats, ballistic protection for machine gun operators and critical systems, plus an Integrated Electronic Warfare System. Through its Airborne & Space Systems Divisions, Finmeccanica has supplied a number of sensors, communication and self-protection systems for the HH-101As, including radios, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), crypto, Link 16, intercommunications system, Gabbiano radar system, Laser Warning Receiver (LWR) and a Missile Launch Detection System (MILDS). Alan Warnes