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Vrtulníkove Letecké Krídlo; Prešov, June 8, 2010

Part 2: The Slovakian Helicopter Wing; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

My first major visit to an airfield in Slovakia was on the program on Tuesday, June 8, 2010. In the morning I was invited to Prešov for a base visit. This airbase is home to all Slovakian Air Force helicopters. The following types can be found here: the Mil Mi-2 Hoplite, the Mil Mi-17 Hip and the Mil Mi-24 Hind.

The third wing of the Slovakian Air Force is based at Prešov airbase. The name of this wing is Vrtulníkove Letecké Krídlo "generálplukovníka Jana Ambruša" which means “Helicopter Wing” in Slovakian language. The unit is nicknamed after the name of "Lieutenant-General John Ambrus. Prešov airbase received this name in 2003 and the name was awarded by the commander of the Slovakian Air Force Rudolf Schuster. Jana Ambruša (John Ambrus) lived from 1899-1994 and he was the first commander of the 312th Czechoslovakian Fighter Wing during the Second World War. This was the first unit of the Slovakian Air Force which deserted against the Germans at the end of the Second World War. He immigrated to Chicago in the United States in 1948 to escape from the upcoming communism. He died in 1994 and his remains were moved to the Slavica valley in Bratislava. Prešov was formerly a standby airbase with only one school for ground personnel. Prešov is located in the eastern part of Slovakia and is currently the only helicopter base in the country. Initially, it was the home base of the no 4 Vrtulníkový Pluk (no 4 Helicopter Regiment) of the Czechoslovakian Air Force. During the separation of the Czech Republic and the Slovakian Republic, the regiment was renamed to no 34 Helicopter Regiment. In 2001, the NATO model of Wings and squadrons was introduced in the country and the regiment was renamed to the current no 3 Vrtulníkove Letecké Krídlo.

The Third Helicopter Wing at Prešov consists out of three squadrons, namely: the no 1 Bitevná Vrtul'nikova Letka (no 1 Attack Helicopter Squadron), the no 2 Dopravná Vrtul'nikova Letka (no 2 Transport Helicopter Squadron) and the no 3 Vycvíkový Vrtul'nikova Letka (no 3 Helicopter Training Squadron). The no 1 Attack Helicopter Squadron flies the Mil Mi-24D Hind. There are five helicopters in service of this type. Next to the Mil-Mi-24D they have four helicopters operational of the type Mil Mi-24V Hind attack helicopter. The Mi-24V is an improved version of the Mi-24D. It is better

equipped because it can carry the AT-6 Spiral antitank rocket, rather than the radio-controlled AT-2 Swatter. The no 2 Transport Helicopter Squadron is equipped with the Mil Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter. These helicopters are used for the medium and heavy transport task. This consists of transporting ground troops and carrying external sling loads underneath the helicopter. Besides this, the Mi-17 can be equipped with rocket pods. In this configuration it can be used for CSAR duties. The no 3 Vycvíkový Vrtul'nikova Letka (no 3 Helicopter Training Squadron) is equipped with the Mil Mi-2 Hoplite which is suitable for training of new helicopter pilots. The Mi-2 will be withdrawn from the arsenal of the helicopter wing because it is outdated. Currently there are a number of former Swedish Air Force Hughes 269 helicopters purchased with a civil registration. They will take over the training task of the Mi-2 Hoplite. There are at this moment four Hoplites active at Prešov.

It was very hot in the morning when I arrived at Prešov. The temperature was about 35 degrees. The sky was clear and blue, so it promised to be a beautiful day. We could enter this helicopter base with our guide after I had reported myself at the main gate of the base. First we would like to visit the platform where the helicopters were parked on the operational flightline. On the left side there was a line with M-17 helicopters and on the right side was the line with the Mi-24 helicopters. Our guide walked with us to all the helicopters and it was no problem to capture them on photo. Shortly after our arrival one of the Mi-17's was started and prepared for flight. This would be the only helicopter that we saw flying during our visit. Unfortunately the sun was on the wrong side; it was shining right in my face. We were not allowed to stand on the grass strip where the helicopter would take off for our safety. The Mi-17 taxied to the short runway of Prešov after ten minutes of warming up. From here the Mi-17 began to fly circuits around the base. The helicopter stayed away for thirty minutes before it came back. In the meanwhile I had the opportunity to photograph the rest of the operational helicopters. Despite the backlight I was able to make some pretty pictures of the returning Mi-17. This was possible because of the stray light which was reflected by the grass on the dark side of the helicopter.

After the Mi-17 has landed, we walked towards the maintenance hangar. During our walk, we walked past the stand-by SAR Mi-17. This helicopter can be identified by its yellow stripes and squares. I took a few pictures of this helicopter. Once at the hangar, we saw that there was another SAR helicopter within the building. This helicopter was in a good position for photography. The machine was free from disturbing objects around it. The next hangar was closed, but we were allowed to take a look inside. We found an old Mi-8 in this hangar. According to our guide the helicopter was being prepared to be a gate guard at the entrance of the base. There was not much else to see in these hangars. We therefore walked back to the flightline for some operational photographs. One of the last operational Mi-2 helicopters in Slovakia was prepared for us. A few ground crew members removed all the covers of this helicopter for us and we were able to take a few decent pictures of this machine. After we had taken photos of all helicopters in the entire operational area, we had a small tour at the storage line. All helicopters which are stored at Prešov are parked outside in the dispersals next to the flightline. These helicopters are all wrapped in white covers. In this way the vital parts of the helicopters are protected against the elements. There were at least as much helicopters on the storage line as on the operational flightlines. My visit at Prešov was over at the end of the morning after an extensive visit to the operational part and the storage area. On our way back to the exit we saw some gate guards. Of course it was possible to take some photos of these aircraft. The visit at Prešov was a little bit a poor visit, but with a good feeling I continued my journey through Slovakia.




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