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Knowing the AW-109 Light Utility Helicopter of the Philippine Navy and Air Force

The Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy's Naval Air Wing unit currently get a variety of military assets that are basically useful for their respective military operations, varying to their respective mission requirements.

And here comes a single military platform that are currently in active use on these two service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which is a product of planning, materialization, and procurement process made at the first few years of implementing the Revised AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 10349, in which it is serving actively at the time this article has published.

AW-109 Power, Philippine Navy, Philippine Air Force, Leonardo Helicopters
Here are the AW-109 Power helicopters serving the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The sources of the images are from AW-109 (PN), an image of the AW-109 for PAF, and the Background image.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines started its Revised Modernization Program way back seven years ago in 2013, renewing its resolve in improving military capabilities that was originally started by the 1995 AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 7898 in which it bought multiple assets which are now active in service across all three branches of the Armed Forces, with a different purpose and military objectives in mind.

With that came the procurement of different rotary assets that both the Philippine Navy and Air Force seeks for their operations, with the Philippine Army doing catching up with its Army Aviation Regiment in which it came with different assets to buy and personnel to train - with this discussion deserving its own article entry later on as development slowly unfolds in the unit.

It has already known across defense-related content about these assets which already comprises the inventory of the two branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines wherein it played a role in multiple missions since its inception, ranging from a City-wide siege in the country's southernmost island up to a maritime pursuit operation that cost the lives of dangerous bandits riding in a fast craft.

While this platform are fully active in utilization throughout its serviceable life, it is just worthy to be discussed here as it comprises the Horizon 1 procurement of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, alongside assets that have already have discussed here such as the Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels, Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PH, and weaponry-related upgrades made for the M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers.

In this topic, we will cover the developments taken that have made this procurement possible, as well as the manufacturer that made these assets and also the specifications of the platforms provided along with some concerns concerning it's after-sales support which includes some matters that involve arms restriction of the munitions on board. 

A VIP AW109 GrandNew Utility Helicopter which shares
design attributes with the likes of the Philippine Navy/
Air Force AW-109E Power Helicopters.
 Image Source.

Leonardo helicopters are a subsidiary unit of the Leonardo S.P.A. in which is an Italian-based multinational conglomerate that has specializations in providing defense, aerospace, and securities-related assets and material with its customers varying from civilian ones down to various militaries of the world that have sought their products into their respective military and defense needs.

The current structure of Leonardo as a company came because of various mergers, acquisitions, and structural changes that defines such current organizational setup, with the company's history traced back to 1948 with the foundation of Finmecannica as an Italian mechanical engineering holding company under the state-owned Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI), a public holding company that helped recovered Italy's post-war industries.

Leonardo's Helicopter Division has started long before Finmecannica the company has formed in 1948 when Giovanni Agusta in Italy build his first biplane in 1907 and Westland Aircraft in the United Kingdom started producing warplanes intended for the Royal Air Force in 1915 that the First World War has fought between European powers, Italy and Britain included. It was then that both companies went into a collaboration, forming what was then AgustaWestland helicopters before it has incorporated into Leonardo itself, knowing today as Leonardo Helicopters.

The then Westland Aircraft's Yeovil plant in Southwestern England still serves its purpose today as it produced assets such as Leonardo's AW-159 Wildcat Helicopters, of which two assets have delivered to the Philippine Navy as part of its Antisubmarine Helicopter Acquisition Project, adding up the roster of Leonardo-produced military assets within the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

To take a note, Leonardo is also providing other forms of military weaponry indirectly to the Armed Forces of the Philippines like the 76mm Oto Melara Cannons that are onboard its primary warships like the Jose Rizal-class Frigates and Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels, with the former also fitted with Leonardo's NA-25X Fire Control Radar that goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned cannon.

Agusta A-109A Hirundo N59P.
(C) pointnshoot, Flickr.

Agusta started designing the Agusta A-109A Helicopter originally as a single-engine commercial helicopter in the late 1960s, although the firm has it redesigned in 1969 into the dual-engine configuration that is currently in-place today, as this original first-production variant comes with two Allison 250C14 turboshaft engines that enabled its first maiden flight on August 4, 1971.

After its maiden flight, two more prototypes followed the first one as they conduct more test before the first production copies has produced in 1975, whereby it took Agusta four (4) more years to fully testing the design of the helicopter and eventually received the Visual Flight Rules or VFR certification from the United States Federal Aviation Administration that enable Agusta to market it, under the name "Hirundo".

Agusta Helicopters then, in 1976, started production and delivery of its first production units to the customers who ordered from them, which during that time it has competed against the Bell 206 from United States’ Bell Helicopters, as the A109 marketed its greater speed, twin engine redundancy, and extra seating or basically‌, it has more capabilities than the market leader as it played a factor for its initial success with Agusta creating newer variants of the helicopter through time.

Since then, they produce a lot of different variants of the AW-109 Utility Helicopters, as well as having multiple types of helicopters that came and derived from the AW-109 helicopter design as the result of its tremendous success, known as the AW family of helicopters whereby other types like the AgustaWestland AW-119 Koala, which first flew in 1995 and entered production and service in several users of the helicopter in 2000.

From 1971 to the time we publish this article, it represented the 51 years of continuous development and operations of the AW-109 utility helicopters, showing its overall reliability with its design and capability even with the changes taking place within the organization, as both Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland merged in 2016 and eventually renamed into what we know today as the Leonardo Helicopters within the same year.

AW-109E Power, Philippine Air Force, AgustaWestland, Leonardo Helicopters
Both the Philippine Navy and Air Force has the AW-109E Power variant of the helicopter, itself having many variations and iterations of helicopter composition and design.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

Through the years, the AW-109 Helicopter's core design undertook multiple iterations and variations, as it comes with different helicopter engine configurations and specifications of differing capabilities in terms of capacity structure, making it difficult for a normal search engine checker to determine the differing details on the AW-109 specifications, unless an idea for a specific variant comes into mind.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in this case, comes with the AW-109E Power variant of the helicopter, as its design comes with multipurpose features in mind, such as for search and rescue, law enforcement, air ambulance, or as a Light Attack Helicopter for the Philippine Air Force that it played a role as a close air support platform during the 2017 Marawi conflict.

Other variants of the AW-109 Helicopter include the latest GrandNew variant, itself coming with more improved performance and capabilities like having newer onboard avionics, enabling a single-pilot IFR and a full digital avionics system architecture for the pilots to use, along with other features that are complying to next generation requirements such as having Dual GPS / SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) receivers, dual Air Data System (ADS), dual Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS), dual VOR / ILS system, radar altimeter, ADF, and DME components, along with Mode S Transponder with ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast) capabilities. 

Another variant to take note is the Agusta A-109A Helicopter variant, the first production model under the AW-109 family, a twin-engine utility helicopter whereby 80 units have produced by Agusta helicopters, forerunner to the modern-day Leonardo Helicopters, from 1976 when it has introduced to the market until upgraded variants gets introduced through the years.

Since the first flight of the Agusta A-109A Utility Helicopter comes other variants from the Agusta A-109B to Agusta A-109D, with the AW-109E Power being the first one when Agusta and Westland became single entity, with succeeding ones like the AW-109LUH and AW-109M being the militarized version of the model, with the Philippine Air Force categorize their AW-109E Power Helicopters as the AW-109AH.

AW-109E Power Philippine Air Force, AW-109E Specifications, AW-109E Philippine Navy, Leonardo Helicopters
The leading features as part of the AW 109E Power's specifications.
Image Source.

The specifications of the AW-109 Utility Helicopter by then Agusta Helicopters, now continuously in development by Leonardo Helicopters, comes with varying differences between different variations and iterations that the Italian helicopter manufacturer released through time, so it might be more appropriate to focus on a single type of variant of the helicopter, which in this case is the AW-109E Power.

From the data provided by Leonardo Helicopters (see the image above), the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the AW-109E Power utility helicopter comes at around 3,000 kilograms, which is a little heavier than the 2,400kg MTOW for the Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm Bo-105 Light Helicopter that the Philippine Navy once had and the Philippine Army’s Aviation ‘Hiraya’ Regiment currently has to–date.

The maximum takeoff weight, or MTOW, also correlates with the helicopter’s engines, which comes with either 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206C (Take-Off: 2 x 640 shaft horsepower) or 2 x Turbomeca Arrius 2K1 (Take-Off: 2 x 670 shaft horsepower), as opposed to other helicopters serving the Philippine Armed Forces like the Philippine Air Force’s new mainstay Combat Utility Helicopter the S-70i Black Hawk Helicopters that comes with two T700-GE701D turboshaft engines equipped with C controls, that has around 1,700/1,800 to 2,000 shaft horsepower, carrying the Black Hawk with a gross weight of 9,979 kilograms.

Another helicopter to check for reference, as opposed to the AW-109 Helicopters, is the Philippine Air Force’s Sikorsky’s AUH-76 Helicopters, which is the armed utility transport version of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopters now serving as an air ambulance to the air service branch. The gross weight of the S-76 helicopter comes at around 5,306 kilograms while having an empty weight of 3,177 kilograms, powered by 2x Turbomeca Arriel 2S2 turboshaft with 922 shaft horsepower. 

Other specifications of the AW-109E Power helicopters are that its range at a maximum comes at 932 kilometers, while having at least four (4) hours and forty-five (45) minutes maximum endurance, noted that the metrics comes with only 221 US gallons of fuel, no reserves, and at the altitude of 5,000 feet. In comparison, the Sikorsky S-76 helicopters come with a maximum range of 761 kilometers, with its fuel capacity in its main tanks being at 281 US gallons. 

So this means that while the S-76 helicopters have a more powerful engine and heavier weight, the AW-109 helicopters have an edge in terms of its maximum range upon basing it on just main fuel tanks of the helicopters mentioned. Take note that the AUH-76 Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force served as its mainstay attack helicopter with rockets and machine guns installed onboard, long before AW-109 helicopters and eventually the dedicated ones such as the T-129 ATAK Helicopters and AH-1 helicopters arrived.

PAF AW-109E Power, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, PN AW-109E Power, BRP Davao Del Sur, Tarlac-class Landing Platform Dock
Philippine Air Force’s AW-109E Power Light Attack Helicopter lands on the landing pad of the BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602).
Image Source.

At the turn of the decade through the 2010s, the Armed Forces of the Philippines saw an opportunity to Modernize under the Revised AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 10349, in which it considers as a continuation of the processes made under the original R.A. 7898 or the AFP Modernization Act of 1995. One of those opportunities is for both the Philippine Navy and Air Force to buy these brand-new AW-109E Power for their use.

For the Philippine Navy, this is the case of providing the Naval Air Group (now Naval Air Wing) the rotary aviation capabilities that are far more from what its Bo-105 Helicopters have during that time, plus the trend within the naval branch regarding the ever-increasing number of warships that have dedicated hangar and landing pad onboard, such as the Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels and the Tarlac-class Landing Platform Docks.

The Philippine Air Force, in this case, sees the AW-109E Power Helicopters as a light attack helicopter platform, whereby it may consider as a spiritual successor to the Sikorsky AUH-76 Helicopters that has the same role as these platforms before getting its current configuration as air ambulances, while comes as an interim platform for what will be more sophisticated and fully designed and dedicated attack helicopters that the air service branch now have in its inventory, such as the AH-1S helicopters from Jordan and the Turkish-made T-129 ‘ATAK’ Helicopters.

With more aviation platforms coming on its way into the hands of the units and branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the AW-109E Power will be something that recognizes as one of the primary Horizon 1 acquisitions that help propel the modernization efforts further into what it is today, as aside from the mentioned dedicated attack helicopters that the Philippine Air Force now has, the Philippine Navy also have at least a pair of AW-159 Anti-submarine helicopters in its inventory.

As more and more air assets are in-need by both the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy in their operations, especially regarding helicopters, it remains to be seen whether the leadership of both service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines needs to add more AW-109 Helicopters, although the existing ones are clearly doing its functions as intended with its mission requirements, with the prospects that it will serve more actively within the service for many years to come.

(c) 2023 PDA.

Discussing the Japanese J/FPS-3ME Radar of the Philippine Air Force

Through the years, the Philippine Air Force strives to improve its capabilities, especially in regarding about the step-by-step implementation of the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ, which itself comes with intricate systems of fighter jet deployment, along with other essential units like ground-based air defense system batteries and air search radars.

In this discussion, we will talk about one of those essential units that gives a 360-degree airspace coverage that covers a significant portion of the Philippine Air Space, in which with sufficient numbers will help the air service branch attain its aim of getting the PADIZ into Area Readiness 1.

Personnel belonging to the Philippine Air Force observe a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force radar station.
Image Source.

Last October 2022, a report released that an announcement has disclosed from Mitsubishi Electric regarding the completion of the first of its four (4) radar components intended to the Philippine Air Force. Apparently, these radars serve as Japan's first export of defense hardware since they relax their restrictions in relation to the provisions on arms export.

The move will help the Philippine Air Force improve its air defense capabilities, especially on threat detection within the country's airspace, as this augments the three (3) existing ELTA ELM-2288ER AD-STAR air search radar coming from Israel. This comes on top of another layer of radar coverage provided by the air service branch's SPYDER-MR Ground-Based Air Defense Systems of RAFAEL Advanced Systems Ltd., also from Israel.

These radar components are a product of the Philippine Air Force's Air Surveillance System Acquisition Project, whereby they provide at least three (3) J/FPS-3ME and a mobile, truck-mounted J/TPS-P14ME air surveillance radar, a break from the logistical issues that may come with having at least two types of air search radar systems. Despite the issue mentioned, expectations are high that several Philippine Air Force radar stations across the country may get more functional with these capabilities coming at hand, or at the point that more radar sites get erected along the way.

The air search radars provided by Japan under an acquisition deal comes as the bilateral relations between both maritime countries of East Asia get warmer than ever, as the former provides other tools for the Philippine government to use and enforce its maritime rights, such as both the Parola-class Multirole Response Vessels and the larger Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Take note that both Japan and the Philippines have a commonality, especially in dealing with China, with the communist regional superpower claims both the Senkaku island chains of Japan and the Kalayaan Island Group plus Panatag Shoal of the Philippines as its own, while the geographic nature of both maritime nations, along with Taiwan, forms the first island chain that contains China from accessing the Pacific Ocean in an event of war.

Mitsubishi Electric's main website.
Link here.

The J/FPS-3 air surveillance radar that the Philippine Air Force purchased from Japan is a product of a Japanese technology firm, Mitsubishi Electric, whereby it has its own line-up of defense systems. Take note that the product of this Japanese firm, aside from its other defense system lineup, purposely aims for the requirements set by the Japan Self-Defense Force, until they became the first Japanese company to export defense equipment to an overseas customer, which in this case is the Philippine Air Force.

As a primary defense manufacturer in Japan, Mitsubishi Electric provides military equipment to the Japanese Ministry of Defense and they support the country's desire for enhancing its overall deterrence, especially during this time when tensions are getting hotter in the Indo-Pacific region. The company itself has established as a spinoff of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the one responsible for overseeing Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co., who produces the Teresa Magbanua-class Multirole Response Vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard.

Its origins came from the same original Nagasaki Shipyard and Machinery Works where Mitsubishi started as the Mitsubishi Shipping Co. that became Mitsubishi Heavy Industries later on in the 1870s, with the company's name changed to Mitsubishi Shokai during that time. It was in 1921 when Mitsubishi Electric became an entity of its own under Mitsubishi Group, when a factory in Kobe, Japan has established primarily focusing on producing electric motors for ocean vessels and eventually, electronics as they grow through time.

Mitsubishi Electric, at its current iteration, comes with multiple products and solutions it can offer, ranging from its national defense clients like the government with its air surveillance radar offer that the Philippine Air Force currently receives, to consumer goods like air conditioning systems for both residential and commercial uses, to escalators and elevators for high commercial establishments like malls and highrise office and residential buildings.

With its continuous pursuance in innovation and also being the leading research and development firm within Japan and globally, Mitsubishi Electric's products comes with its sophistication and reliability, especially that the air surveillance radars that the Philippine Air Force receives are also the ones that provide air defense coverage for the Japanese Air Defense Identification Zone

J/FPS-3 JASDF, J/FPS-3 PAF, Japan Air Self Defense Force, Philippine Air Force, PADIZ
As described by Japan Ministry of Defense.
Check PDF File here.

According to this information provided in the Mitsubishi Electric website for the J/FPS-3 air surveillance radar, that these sophisticated units made by a Japanese electronics company has long served Japan's Air Self Defense Force since 1989 and since then continuously being in operation for 30 years covering Japan's airspace, even with more sophisticated versions coming in mind like the newer J/FPS-5 radars.

It all started when the Japan Air Self-Defense Force upgraded its radar stations, starting in Kyoto prefecture near Cape Kyogamisaki where the American-made AN/FPS-20B and AN/FPS-6 radars are situated, when their leadership opts to upgrade the facility with the J/FPS-3 radar, until the station has commissioned in 1992. Japanese airspace during that time has monitored by the older J/FPS-2 air surveillance radars.

The J/FPS-3 is the third iteration of the Japanese indigenously developed air surveillance radars, in which it can trace back to the J/FPS-1, when the first operations for such radar technology took place in the early 1970s. While the Japanese have researched and work for the development of the J/FPS-1, its operation is not without problems as there are maintenance problems with the system and retrofits have apparently got radar stations upgraded to the newer J/FPS-2 radars during that time.

Regarding the J/FPS-3 air surveillance radar, its overall capability and operability test has taken place in the 1980s when Mitsubishi Electric has selected for the design and manufacturing of the air surveillance system, with more evaluations and trial operations continue until 1995 in Cape Kyogamisaki, until the total number of orders specified has completed by the Japanese firm in 1999.

Since then, the J/FPS-3 air surveillance radar became one of the mainstay radar platforms that oversee and monitor the Japanese airspace, and its reliability and continuous development made by Mitsubishi Electric is now trickling down to the Philippine Air Force, being the first export user of these radars, as its capabilities being the next sub-topic of this overall discussion.

Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone, PADIZ Area Readiness 3, PADIZ Area Readiness 1, ELM-2288ER radar, J/FPS-3 radar
This is a map with radar coverage of both J/FPS-3ME and Israel's ELM-2288ER air surveillance radars.
(c) CI Geography, with edits from Pitz Defense Analysis for reference.

The map above shows the coverage of all prospective radar stations that the Philippine Air Force operates, should all the radars coming from Japan have deployed over the country over the existing Israeli-made ELM-2288ER air surveillance radars deployed in the country's western part facing the West Philippine Sea, with the expected coverage of at least 100% of the current Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ under Area Readiness 3 and at least 80-90% of the slated 2028 PADIZ under Area Readiness 1.

One thing to highlight regarding its capability is that this type of radar is what we consider as Active Electronically Scanned Array or AESA radars, a type of radar detection system where it is a sophisticated system capable of detecting enemy aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles at long distances, while it is far more resistant from any radar-related electronic jamming attempts made by any intruders who wants to inflict harm upon entering a designated airspace at the event of war.

Speaking of capabilities, there is basically no difference between the J/FPS-3ME and the ELM-2288 ER air surveillance radars in terms of target altitude range which is at least 30,000 feet, basically the lower stratosphere where the cruising altitude for most passenger aircraft lies on. While there are similarities between the two different air surveillance radars for this manner, the J/FPS-3ME actually has the larger horizontal range of around 460 kilometers or 285 nautical miles or at least 30 kilometers or 15 nautical miles more than the Israel-made air surveillance radars deployed.

Another thing to check on is the areas where the J/FPS-3 are possibly getting deployed, although it is not final yet as the locations can still change, at the discretion of the leadership within the Philippine Air Force. The locations provided on the map, aside from the coverage given within the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone, also cover areas outside of the said designated Philippine airspace, such as portions of the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise), Celebes Seas and waters within Indonesian territorial waters, and the entirety of Sabah and portions of Brunei Darussalam.

With the overlapping radar coverage, especially with the deployment of J/FPS-3ME air surveillance radar over the Israeli ELM-2288 ER radars already deployed in key Philippine air stations across the country’s western portion facing the West Philippine Sea, the air service branch has now gotten the almost 100% monitoring of the Philippine airspace against intruders, with other components of the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone like adding more ground-based air defense and multirole fighter jets for interdiction needing more materialization.

Mitsubishi Electric, Radar Systems, J/FPS-3 Philippines, Philippine Air Force, JASDF
Mitsubishi Electric produces different radar variants for all applications.
Screenshot from the Mitsubishi Electric website.

Having fully functional radar stations deployed across the country that have a maximum coverage of at least 400 kilometers is a significant gain for the likes of the Philippine Air Force, as it now goes further beyond its current Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ under Area Readiness 3 and is now about to achieve its 2028 aims of getting the 100% radar coverage under Area Readiness 1 of the expanded PADIZ.

This comes as both Japan and the Philippines sought to attain warm bilateral relations in an essence that the cooperation goes further to the field of defense, as the former slowly allows itself to export military hardware to other nations, a feat that has considered as outright impossible one or two decades ago, given Japan’s arms export bans during that time until it has revised into the current arrangement that have made the J/FPS-3 deal possible.

Given this trend, it may not be that surprising if Japan’s arms export prospects continue to increase, as well as the trend of ever-growing relations this country has with the Philippines, especially with the reports coming around with the possibility of providing the Philippine Army’s Aviation ‘Hiraya’ Regiment of UH-1J Huey Combat Utility Helicopters and possibly, the AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopters as the Japanese defense doctrine changes for a more technologically based approach of using unmanned aerial systems.

With the radar coverage for the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone almost complete, all that remains is the Philippine Air Force’s push for having more fighter aircraft to intercept intruders as part of implementation of its airspace, as the air service branch’s Multirole Fighter Jet Acquisition Project almost coming to a near conclusion whereby a platform between SAAB’s JAS-39 Gripen and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Viper might find its way in serving the squadrons within the organization.

It is a welcoming development for both the Philippines and Japan in getting the deal on the J/FPS-3 air surveillance radar deal possible, as both countries see defense cooperation as a much-needed diplomacy as both countries shares common issues in dealing with a regional superpower such as China, who pushes its national interest in claiming Kalayaan Island Group and Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, and the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea as theirs.

For the Philippines, this is just part of the ever-growing prospect and interest regarding the importance of national defense in its entirety, especially now that the current administration shows support for its current modernization efforts, such as this development in pushing Philippine Air Force’s modernization even further as the tensions in the West Philippine Sea intensify.

(c) 2023 PDA.

Knowing the Philippine Army's BO-105 Helicopters

The Philippine Army is currently in its process of improving its overall capabilities, specifically with its Aviation 'Hiraya' Regiment, where they currently seek military hardware from multiple sources as part of its effort of increasing its fleet of air assets to operate on, decreasing their reliance to the Philippine Air Force counterparts.

Currently, they are relying on this rotary aircraft workhorse for them to conduct their mission requirements, primarily dealing with transporting the injured from the combat front lines to the makeshift hospitals that provide them medical attention.

BO-105, Philippine Army, Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm, Aviation "Hiraya" Regiment
Here is the Philippine Army's BO-105 helicopter, currently serving as an air ambulance.
Image Source.

Philippine Army's Aviation 'Hiraya' Regiment in the early 2020s barely have any assets like helicopters in its fleet, and that all changed when a donation took place in the year 2021, as the known Philippine business Tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation foundation handed over this single helicopter to the newly formed unit of the Philippine Army, founded on July 5, 2019.

The leadership within the Philippine Army has thanked the business tycoon for its donation, saying that having the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters in its fleet helps the Aviation 'Hiraya' Regiment in developing its capabilities to get into rotary aviation or getting to know how to operate helicopters basically, and it paves the way for them to have more of such assets later on.

Take note that this service branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines fully relies on the airlift capabilities of their counterparts in the Philippine Air Force, and having these helicopters, the organization sees it as a stepping stone of its effort of improving its capabilities further, as it seeks military hardware from other countries ranging from UH-1J Combat Utility Helicopters from Japan Ground Self Defense Force or JGSDF, to others like when the United States offered their second-hand UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopters through an Excess Defense Articles or EDA program.

Just a year later, another donation took place when Dornier Technology donated a second BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter to the Philippine Army on October 26, 2022, adding the overall number of the said helicopter that the Aviation 'Hiraya' Regiment operates to at least two (2) units, significantly increase the number of rotary aviation capabilities of the service branch by at least 50%.

As this serves as the current mainstay helicopter for the Philippine Army's air logistics operations, in this article we will discuss the company behind the production of these known helicopters, along with other relevant information such as the service of this type in other military service branch like the Philippine Navy and agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard, and also regarding its specifications as compared to other type of helicopters within the Philippine Armed Forces service.

X-31 Vector, Experimental Aircraft, Rockwell, MBB, Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm
This is a Rockwell-MBB X-31 Vector Experimental Aircraft, designed to study thrust vectoring among fighter jets.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm, abbreviated as MBB, is an important German Aerospace Company that provides aviation-related service in West Germany, itself resulting from mergers that took place during that time, with its main component being the Messerschmitt AG of Dr. Willy Messerschmitt, a company that primarily produces military aircraft during the Second World War for Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe.

The company saw its origin in Augsburg's Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, abbreviated as BFW, when it has founded in 1926 as a successor to the Udet Flugzeugbau, a Munich-based aerospace company that has founded in the early 1920s, just three years from the end of the First World War that have led to the country's defeat. This Munich-based aviations company is short-lived though, with only around half a decade in existence.

German aircraft designer and engineer Dr. Willy Messerschmitt, himself being an Augsburg local, joined Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in the same year the company has founded, when he designs gliders and sailplanes at his earlier interest, until eventually the company has itself reorganized into Messerschmitt AG, itself focused in producing massive amounts of BF-109 fighter planes and the BF-110 twin-engine fighter planes as part of the German war effort when it conquered most of Europe.

The said fighter aircraft that Messerschmitt AG produced for Nazi Germany, especially the BF-109 fighter plane, proved to be exceptional enough that it formed a bulk of the Luftwaffe's fighter aircraft force, itself being the mainstay aircraft that took part in multiple campaigns during the war like the Spanish Civil War, the campaigns in North Africa, the 1941 Battle of Britain, and in areas that the German forces are forcing themselves in, on both Eastern and Western fronts of the conflict.

After the Second World War, which resulted in the devastating loss to Germany upon its downfall in May 1945, the victorious Allied powers issued a ten-year moratorium to the German aviation industry, inflicting further losses to companies like the Messerschmitt AG, whereby in 1957 when the moratorium expired, these companies fully recovered much and prompted the West German government to merge these companies and having an upright aerospace industry.

In the year 1968, the company merged and named as Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm, when Messerschmitt AG merged with the Bolkow company, founded in 1948 by Dr. Ludwig Bolkow that produces sport and civilian aircraft, sailplanes, electronics and small space vehicles. Within the same year, another merger happened, this time with Hamburger Flugzeugbau GmbH of Blohm and Voss Shipbuilding, hence the name of three companies merged, abbreviated as MBB.

It is in the newly merged entity of Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm that they produce the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters, along with others like participating in the commercial aircraft market as the manufacturer of fuselage for Airbus aircraft like the A300, A310, and A320 series. It took them decades before being merged into EADS or the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company in 2000, and eventually renamed as Airbus Group in 2014.

BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter, Philippine Navy, PADC, Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation
One of the Philippine Navy's six (6) originally assembled BO-105 Helicopters from PADC.
(c) Michael D. Kennedy, USMC (Via Wikimedia Commons).

While the Philippine Army getting its newest capability through the donations of BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters that help boost its Aviation 'Hiraya' Regiment, the service that this type of helicopter provides isn't entirely new to other Philippine government entities, as they have operated this type of rotary aviation platform even before the Philippine Army does, at the time that the AFP Modernization Program isn't in its full swing.

One of those other government entities is in fact the Philippine Navy itself (see image above), whereby the naval service branch received at least six units of such type of helicopter through the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation or PADC, whereby they are the ones who assemble the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters coming alongside the locally assembled Britten-Norman BN Islander fixed-wing aircraft, also came with six units for the Philippine Navy personnel to use.

The Helicopters, going alongside the BN Islander aircraft that the Philippine Navy received, serves as the Naval Air Group (Now Naval Air Wing)'s mainstay aviation platforms for the unit to conduct its operations since 1974 when it first entered service, and since then provides the airlifting capabilities that the naval service branch needs until it gets replaced with the newer AW-109 Power Helicopters that are assigned to any of the Navy's large combat and support vessels that has a helipad and a hangar onboard.

Speaking of the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation or PADC, they have assembled at least 44 units of the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters since their establishment in 1973, as this licensing agreement they have with Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm of West Germany helped them not only to supply Philippine Navy's Naval Air Group of helicopters, but also with other agencies that have operated such type of helicopters for their maritime law enforcement operations like the Philippine Coast Guard.

Like the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard's Air Group or CGAG received a BN Islander from the Philippine National Oil Company - Energy Development Corporation or PNOC-EDC and a BO-105 CB Helicopter from the Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation as its first fixed-wing and rotary aviation platforms respectively, with the latter eventually having at least two (2) units in its inventory.

Again, like in the Philippine Navy, the BO-105 Helicopters served as the mainstay rotary aviation platform for the Philippine Coast Guard to use in its at-sea rescue operations and maritime patrol operations that augment its white hulled ships, which until it eventually gets augmented with a newer rotary aviation platform that the agency received, coming as the H-145 Helicopter that is a product of Airbus Helicopters, a firm subsidiary to the Airbus SE that succeeded EADS and MBB before it.

This goes to show that both the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard experienced having the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter as their respective mainstay rotary aviations platform, effective in carrying out duties and responsibilities in-line to the mission requirements that both government military and uniformed organizations hold throughout its serviceable life, until it gets replaced eventually by more modern ones, a result of an ongoing Modernization program.

BO-105 Helicopter, Specifications, Philippine Army, Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm
Here are the technical details of a BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter.
Image Source.

The BO-105, as considered by The Flying Bulls on their website where the technical specifications (seen in the image above) originate, sees the helicopter platform as a one of the first light helicopters in the world suited for performing the same maneuvers as conventional fixed-wing planes, as the specifications it has played the factor for their skills to showcase in doing stunts with this platform.

Its engines, or power plant in this case,  comes with 2x Rolls-Royce 250-C20B engine that produces 420 horsepower per engine, itself being known formerly as the Allison 250-C20B that powers other rotary aviation platforms like the Bell Model 206A JetRanger, although this type of engine counts as just one of many Model 250 engine variants that Allison, and eventually Rolls-Royce, still produces today.

For basis, let us take note that the engines comprising the AW-109 Helicopters that the Philippine Navy currently uses after having the BO-105 Helicopters as its mainstay platform, comes with 2x Pratt and Whitney Canada PW207C, a version of the PW200 series that has a shaft horsepower of 572, whereas the Airbus H-145 Helicopters comes with 2x Safran Helicopter Engines Arriel 2E as its primary engine configuration, with 828-894 shaft horsepower.

Another metric to consider is the capacity of each helicopters to carry the people onboard, as comparing the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter to the H-145 Helicopter from Airbus Helicopters (a spiritual MBB successor) that the Philippine Coast Guard has currently in its rotary aviations fleet, the latter has the greater capacity especially in carrying up the crew and passengers, as the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter only comes with a 5 people onboard as opposed to the H-145 Helicopter's ten (10) to twelve (12) people capacity.

The Leonardo AW-109 Helicopters that both the Philippine Navy and Air Force have in their fleet also come with a better capacity regarding the number of people is allowable onboard the aircraft, as it comes with the capacity of carrying one (1) to two (2) crews along with the maximum of six (6) passengers, as opposed to the BO-105 seats being limited to only one (1) pilot and four (4) passengers.

Other relevant information that can scoop up between the three helicopters mentioned is that the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the BO105 Helicopter comes at around 2,400 kilograms, comparing to the Airbus H-145 helicopter's 3,800 kilograms and Leonardo AW-109 helicopter's 3,200 kilogram external load, really making the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter the lightest rotary aviation platform there is, as mentioned by The Flying Bulls on their website.

It goes to show that the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters comes with its versatility, all thanks to its lightweight composition of its fuselage, although it comes at the cost of losing the overall capacity of carrying additional passengers onboard, just as the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard sees benefit in replacing their BO-105 Helicopters into these better rotary aviation platforms like the AW-109E Power and the Airbus H-145 Helicopters, respectively.

BO-105 Helicopter, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Army
Philippine Coast Guard BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopter.
(c) PCG Air Group, via Defense Studies Website.

The Philippine Army is currently laying the groundworks of what will be a capable sub-unit in the organization that oversees operation for both of its rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, in an essence that it may eventually rely less from its counterparts in the Philippine Air Force and improving its logistical capabilities along the way, with the donated BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters it currently have serves as a first step of what’s coming.

Speaking of donations, let us not forget that the Philippine Army also received a fixed-wing aircraft, which comes as a donated SD3-30 (C-23) Sherpa Cargo Aircraft, which like the BO-105 rotary aviation helicopters, serves as a significant boost on the overall airlifting capabilities of this service branch, as this can also transport troops and equipment in areas across the country as part of its aims of the regiment’s continuous growth.

Having the BO-105 Helicopters as the mainstay platform of the Philippine Army’s Aviation Regiment is not surprising as other agencies like the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard also undertook this approach, although one can say that this is also a crucial one for the regiment, as this allows the Army personnel to familiarize the platform and gaining the experience on repairing, maintaining, and operating the helicopter, until they eventually get sufficient skills to get into more modernized aviation platforms later on.

This approach is helpful for the Philippine Army, as they are aspiring to have other platforms like the UH-1J Helicopters from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force that the Japanese government may donate later on as part of their ever-improving relations with the Philippines, along with other platforms like another ‘possible’ offer from Japan with their licensed copies of AH-1S Cobra Attack Helicopters as they have plants to have those platforms decommissioned from service, eventually.

As the BO-105 Multipurpose Helicopters now serving the mission requirements of the Philippine Army, its purpose may eventually help the organization in further improving its aviation capabilities, especially with the Army Aviation ‘Hiraya’ Regiment’s expertise in this field, as this may enable the organization to handle more air assets eventually, with their counterparts in the Philippine Air Force focusing more on assets designed to implement the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone or PADIZ.

(c) 2023 PDA.




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