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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: Macedonia Buys Russian Helicopters

By Igor Bozinovski

PUBLIC SERVICE/GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

More details have become available regarding recent purchase of two Mi-171 and two Mi-17V-5 helicopters by the Republic of Macedonia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Despite Ministry officials describing them as brand-new aircraft, the helicopters have not been procured directly from the OEMs—Russian helicopter production plants Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant (UUAZ) and Kazan Helicopter Plant (KVZ). Instead, they have been purchased on the European market in order to answer urgent needs for helicopters that could perform a wide range of demanding low-enforcement, disaster relief and civil affairs operations falling under the Ministry’s scope of responsibility.

A KVZ-produced Mi-17V-5 in service with the Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
According to a May 28 speech given by Jani Makraduli, a member of the Macedonian Parliament, the helicopters were purchased separately in late 2008—the first two on Nov. 27, 2008, with Lithuanian, Kaunas-based Aviabaltika Aviation. The contract, worth $20.4 million, called for purchase of two UUAZ-produced Mi-171 helicopters. According to Makraduli, the second purchase agreement was signed on Dec. 23, 2008 with a Finland-registered company under a deal that called for two KVZ-produced Mi-17V-5s at a total price of $21.7 million.

All four helicopters are now operational within the Ministry’s Helicopter “Hawks” unit (Helikopterska Edinica “Jastrebi”). The Mi-171s wear serials 710 (tail number 806) and 711 (tail number 807), while Mi-17V-5s wear serials 712 and 714. All four display the Macedonian national flag, Macedonian Police emblem, Cyrillic inscription “Policija” as well as its worldwide recognizable English translation “Police.”

Macedonian Mi-171 helicopters are recognizable by the fact that they have an unmistakable Iraqi Air Force color scheme that may suggest that those two helicopters are part of a group that the Iraqi Ministry of Defence refused to take from the Polish company Bumar a few years ago.

On the other hand, the Mi-17V-5s are recognizable by their eye-catching military-like overall olive-green color. The Macedonian Ministry’s Hips are now constantly based at Petrovec, near the capital Skopje, where construction on a new police aviation base is well underway.

The remaining three Ministry helicopters—a 1973-produced Agusta-Bell 206B JetRanger II, a 1978 Agusta-Bell AB212 and a 2000 Bell 412EP—are still based at nearby Idrizovo police base, though this may change in the near future due to Ministry plans to concentrate all its aerial assets at Petrovec.

The Hawks unit was formed in 1969 and for 40 years has been flying only Bell-designed helicopters. The recent change to Russian types has come as a surprise to many in both Macedonia and worldwide, especially considering the excellent experience that Ministry is having with its small western-made fleet and at the same time, the huge logistical problems that the Macedonian Air Force is having with its Soviet-era Mi-8MT, Mi-17 and Mi-24V helicopters on a daily basis. However, although being in-country for some time, the four Russian-made helicopters have not seen any use in the roles for which they have been reportedly procured. Instead, they still remain a closely guarded secret of the Ministry, leaving the small Bell-designed fleet to continue its dominance and legacy on the Macedonian sky in the year of the 40th anniversary of the Hawks.

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