Army in moves to buy 35-year-old chopper

The authorities are in the process of acquiring another helicopter to complement the army’s fleet, but aviation sources are questioning the move since the craft being sourced is close to 10 years older than the Bell 412 helicopter which the authorities are still trying to sell, one year later.

The GDF Bell 206 helicopter in its earlier days as a crop-duster

Stabroek News was reliably informed that the army is actively pursuing the acquisition of a Bell 212 helicopter, also known as the Twin Two-Twelve helicopter. The model is a two-bladed, twin-engine, medium helicopter which first flew in 1968.

Sources at the GDF Air Corps told Stabroek News recently that the particular helicopter being sourced has been in existence for more than 35 years, much older than the Bell 412, registered 8R-GFP here, which has been serving the GDF since 1984. The army once owned three Bell 212 helicopters between 1976 and 1994; the shells of those aircraft are currently next to the army base at Air Corps, Timehri.

The Bell 212 is usually marketed to civilian operators and has a 15-seat configuration, with one pilot and fourteen passengers. The army’s Bell 412 helicopter is a further development of the Bell 212 which is being sourced; the difference between them being the 412’s composite four-blade main rotor.

According to an aviation source, the Guyanese public should question the reasoning behind the deal, as taxpayers should get their money’s worth.

Meanwhile, the GDF is still sourcing a buyer for the Bell 412 helicopter one year after it was put up for sale and a consultant is reportedly handling the sale of the chopper.

Some in the industry told this newspaper that poor maintenance and “second thinking” to buy “original” spares had been plaguing the maintenance of the Bell 412 helicopter. The chopper had been on the ground for month-long periods within recent times; the craft spent more than a year on the ground at the army base at Tacama in the Berbice River and it returned to Timehri in April 2008 after a new engine was fitted into it. The chopper was recently certified airworthy by the Guyana Civil Aviation authority (GCAA).

As a recent search and rescue exercise was underway recently, the helicopter was flying around the Air Corps base at Timehri, a source there related and according to him, it should have been utilized in the rescue operation.

‘Phenomenal and fantastic’

Captain Gerry Gouveia, a professional pilot, during an interview with this newspaper recently, stated that the army should not sell the Bell 412 helicopter. He described the helicopter as a ‘phenomenal and fantastic’ machine and reiterated, “they should not get rid of it.”

Gouveia said the two Bell 206 helicopters which the authorities bought recently – GDF One and GDF Two – have some 10,000 hours flying time while the Bell 412 has just about 4,000-5,000 hours and it is useful in any search and rescue (SAR) activity. He said that it could navigate any terrain.

“What they are doing with it [the Bell 412 helicopter] is that they are not maintaining it, and it is a machine that needs complex maintenance.”  The helicopter needs to be fixed and used for national emergency and security purposes only, he added.

Gouveia said the army has limited pilots as well as limited planning capacity, and, according to him, when there are national problems that are serious in nature and require the use of a helicopter, “they have to resort to the private sector.” He said if the Bell 412 is sold, it cannot be replaced. The helicopter has two engines and it has the capacity for rapid response and he noted that “it could fly fast and definitely in SAR operations.”

GDF One and GDF Two cannot fly at night Gouveia said, referring to the army’s Bell 206 single-engine helicopters. According to him, if they do, they will put the occupants at risk. “They are two junks, both of them,” Gouveia stated.

Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon during a media briefing in February 2008 had said, “These helicopters would be used as needed 24 hours a day. We are going to be procuring equipment, the flare… the searchlights I understand, could illuminate more than half of a football field. These are going to be versatile helicopters to be used by the joint services. That is why two of them had to be procured [for] crime fighting, search and rescue and such like.”

President Bharrat Jagdeo had also defended the purchase of the two helicopters.

Mega fault

Captain Gouveia told Stabroek News that during a recent search and rescue operation by the authorities, in which a Surinamese helicopter went missing in the Cuyuni area, the army participated in the SAR operation using one of the Bell 206 helicopters.

During the operation the helicopter, GDF One, was forced to make an emergency landing at Bartica because of a hydraulic failure. Gouveia described the incident as a “mega” fault and according to him, “the one they have on the ground is on the ground for the longest while.”

When the two helicopters were acquired by the authorities in 2008, many questioned the reasoning behind the purchase. The two helicopters were acquired at a cost of US$1.5 million to assist in crime fighting and other national response activities. Each aircraft has the capacity to accommodate 5 persons.

One of the helicopters, GDF Two, was previously registered N364M, and was built in 1982; it was bought by the military here from a dealer in Texas known as Green Helicopters and was previously a police helicopter used mainly for reconnaissance operations. It was repainted blue after it arrived here and renamed, GDF Two. It was on sale for US$575,000 at the time the army bought it and the machine was acquired following the acquisition of the other   Bell 206 helicopter, the GDF One.

The GDF One, a Bell 206 B111 chopper, was sourced from a dealer in Costa Rica, and was previously registered in the United States as N2464X.It was also registered in Japan as JA6186. Sale of that helicopter was negotiated between the military and one Art Dawley, who represented the company, Costa Rica Helicorp based in San Jose, the capital of that country. The machine was one of three Bell 206 helicopters the company had on sale at the time.

The helicopter was built in 1980 and was on the market for some US$575,000 when it was acquired by the GDF. Prior to its acquisition by the GDF, the helicopter was equipped with nozzles to spray chemicals in rice fields in Japan, which it did for more than 10 years.

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