France has deployed its NHIndustries NH90 Caiman helicopters on operations for the first time, with two helicopters arriving in Gao on 3 November to take part in France’s Operation ‘Barkhane’ in Mali.
The helicopters are from the 1er Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat, based in Phalsbourg, with the deployment coming less than a year after their entry into service within the Alat (French army light aviation).
The two helicopters arrived in Gao on 3 November after a four day ferry flight. The helicopters made 10 stops and clocked a total of 32 flying hours in the process. The longest branch was from Bamako to Gao, 4 flying hours, most of it being flown close to the deck in a tactical fashion as Mali is considered a war zone by the French authorities.
The NH90s were fitted with three extra fuel tanks (450 kg each) in the cabin for the journey, bringing the total fuel on board at slightly more than three tons. The NH90s were flying at their max gross weight (11 tons), with four crew members and some freight. At an average speed of 130 kt, this configuration gives the NH90 an endurance of five hours.
Coming from Dakar, the two helicopters entered Mali through the border town of Kayes where an Armée de l’Air C-160 Transall transport aircraft, flying out of Niamey, Niger, refuelled them on the ground, providing them each with 1.3 tons of fuel.
Entering Mali, the crew were flying with their flak jacket, guns and ammo. However the FN Mag 58 machine guns, which are due to equip the NH90 in Mali were not mounted on the helicopters yet. After a 24 hrs rest, the NH90 were back in the air to provide the crew with a first taste of the Malian theatre and some training on dusty landing zone in day and night conditions. They are now assigned to the Sous Groupement Aeromobile Hombori VIII, which includes a dozen helicopters (Gazelles, Tigers, Pumas, Cougars and now the NH90).
The NH90 has previously been deployed on operations in Afghanistan by both Germany and Italy.
Read More:France deploys NH90 to Mali – IHS Jane’s 360.