First Deputy Minister of Defence František Šulc and Commander of the Czech Air Force Brigadier General Petr Čepelka attended the launch of the handover of the first H1 helicopter for the Czech Army at the Bell Textron factory in Amarillo, Texas. Eight multipurpose machines UH-1Y Venom and four attack aircraft AH-1Z Viper are an important step in the modernization of the Czech Air Force, especially due to the replacement of obsolete helicopters Mi 24V / 35. The delivery of the first Vipers is expected by the Náměšť helicopter base this spring, Venoms will follow.
“I am very glad that I could return here to Amarillo almost exactly after a year and see the first produced helicopter AH-1Z, which will soon be given to the Army of the Czech Republic,” said First Deputy Minister of Defense František Šulc. “This is an important step in modernizing the army.”
Every new helicopter that rolls off the production line must first be taken over by the U.S. government. Since then, the helicopters have been taken over by the Army of the Czech Republic. The first pieces will reach the Czech Republic next month at the latest.
The new helicopters are a complete system
According to Brigadier General Petr Čepelka, the American machines bring completely new capabilities and ways of deployment and represent a comprehensive system that will move the Czech helicopter air force into the 21st century. “The Czech Army will get two helicopters with similar performance that can keep up together. Vipers provide offensive air support, Venoms alone or in cooperation provide maneuvering, logistics and close fire support,” Čepelka emphasized.
In addition to the digital cockpit with large LCD panels, automatic flight control system with integrated satellite and inertial navigation, another advantage is the consistency in the design (engines, rotors, electronics and avionics) and flight areas. “Pilots are able to switch between types. Among other things, this allows the exchange of parts between the Venoms and the Vipers, which means simpler logistics,” he emphasized, adding that with the new helicopters, the Czech Army will also receive the appropriate armament: Hellfire guided air-to-surface missiles and Sidewinder missiles for air-to-air operations.
The 22nd Helicopter Air Force Base is currently armed with Mi-24V/35 attack helicopters and Mi-171S multipurpose helicopters. Both types officially began to be used many years ago, so in 2019 the then Minister of Defense Lubomír Metnar and his American counterpart Mark Esper signed an intergovernmental agreement for the purchase of 12 new H1 helicopters.
Another eight older, but fully operational machines (2x UH-1Y Venom and 6x AH-1Z Viper) will be awarded to the Czech Republic from the USA free of charge as an award for helping Ukraine. Thanks to the agreement between Defense Secretary Jana Černochová and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the total number of helicopters will increase to 10 UH-1Y and 10 AH-1Z.
The initial training in the USA took place, a simulator recently arrived in the Czech Republic
Pilots and technicians from the helicopter base in Náměšť nad Oslavou have been retraining for the new helicopters at the US Marine Corps base Pendleton since last July. Interestingly, the flying personnel received helmets that were tailor-made for them in the USA. The demanding seven-month basic training, in which all Czechs succeeded, included, among other things, flying by instruments, in a group, at ground level, transport of cargo in the outboard and cranery. The culmination was flights with cannon and unguided rockets shooting at ground targets and night flying. In total, each pilot spent approximately 80 hours in the air.
Other courses will now continue in the Czech Republic under the guidance of the American Mobile Training Team (MTT) for two years until pilots and technicians fully master the system of operation and maintenance of the machines.
In March, the first of two training simulators, which LOM Praha will operate from the summer, arrived in the Czech Republic in the recently completed simulation center directly at the base in Náměšť nad Oslavou. The building designated H1 will have classrooms, a mission planning room and the necessary facilities for training ground and air personnel. The simulator offers all the controls and weapon systems as in a real helicopter. The software is linked to the planning system, in which pilots prepare for flight tasks. In addition to simulation training for personnel, LOM Praha will provide support for the life cycle of helicopters, including higher levels of repairs. Therefore, its specialists are now in the USA training on technical maintenance of H1 helicopters.
The Army has also received the first deliveries of spare parts and components for the Venom and Viper. Control and measuring equipment to evaluate the condition of helicopters, galleries needed for repairs, an electric starter trolley as a ground source of electricity and other equipment also arrived from the USA. This material will be gradually delivered to the Czech Republic in a total of 80 large 40-foot shipping containers.