Royal Air Force, March 18, 2015 - The RAF’s latest Puma helicopter literally stepped into the spotlight as it deployed for the first time on operations in support of the NATO mission providing training and assistance to Afghan forces.
On a dark winter’s night, illuminated by runway lights, the first Puma HC Mark2 aircraft was loaded on to a single C17 transport aircraft at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire for the 3,608 mile journey to Kabul.
Its departure came just days before the MOD announced that the new Puma, and the RAF’s latest version of the Chinook, the Mark 6, were both ready for operational use.
The news came at an event at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, the home of Puma units 33 Squadron and 230 Squadron which will rotate through tours of duty in Afghanistan.
One man with aircrew experience on Merlin helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan Master Aircrew Gareth Attridge said that while the Puma Mk 2 might look the same from the outside, its new engines represented a step change in the helicopter’s capability.
He said: “The Puma Mk2 airframe is essentially the same as its predecessor, the main difference of the new version is that it has new Makila engines that enable it to fly much greater distances, operate better in hot and high conditions, and carry a larger amount of freight or troops. It also has improved fuel tanks that give the aircraft much longer range and endurance so we can go further, carry more, and work in more austere conditions.”
He said that another key feature of the improved version was a new digital glass cockpit, enhanced secure communications suite, and improved ballistic protection all of which made it safer for its crew and passengers.