MANILA – The S-70i “Black Hawk” helicopters acquired by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) are now being utilized in the government’s ongoing vaccination drive for medical front-liners amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
“The acquisition of S-70i ‘Black Hawk’ as part of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Modernization Program is timely indeed. The helicopter is faster, can carry more payload, has longer range, and has a host of other advanced capabilities than the Vietnam War era UH-1H ‘Hueys’ that it intends to eventually replace,” PAF spokesperson Lt. Col. Maynard Mariano said in a statement late Monday night.
On Monday, two Black Hawk helicopters transported some 2,400 vials of Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac vaccines to Quezon Province, Camarines Sur, and Albay from Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Of the load, 1,200 vials were transported to Southern Luzon Command headquarters in Lucena City, Quezon; 600 vials to 9th Infantry Division headquarters in Pili, Camarines Sur; and, 600 vials to the Naval Station Southern Luzon in Legazpi City, Albay.
The Black Hawk, designated as a medium transport helicopter, is capable of flying at a speed of 224 miles per hour(mph/361 kilometers per hour (kph) and has a range of 290 miles/460 kilometers.
Aside from transporting medical supplies and other cargo, the Black Hawks can also perform search-and-rescue, disaster relief, and other mercy missions, Mariano said.
The PAF received six modern S-70i Black Hawks late last year, which is part of the 16 units ordered from Polish company Polskie Zaklady Lotnicze Sp.z.o.o. and manufactured under license from Sikorsky USA.
The entire order is worth USD241 million or about PHP11.5 billion. The remaining 10 S-70is are expected to be delivered by the first quarter of 2021.
The Black Hawk helicopters were procured through a government-to-government transaction with Poland.
The negotiations were completed in 2019. The acquisition of the S-70i combat utility helicopters is as part of Horizon 2 of the AFP Modernization Program.
“The PAF is actually fielding available transport aircraft based on the schedule of deliveries to other parts of the country. The transport of the vaccines is the current priority of the PAF when it comes to the utilization of its transport aircraft, be it via a utility helicopter like the Black Hawk (helicopters) and other fixed wing assets like the C-295 and the C-212 and of the C-130. I hope this information will help us keep the Filipino people informed,” Mariano added. Priam Nepomuceno / PNA – northboundasia.com