Morale: Czechs Do The Right Thing


December 23,2008: In response to a lot of very angry helicopter pilots, the Czech Republic arranged a two week pilot training program in Israel. There, the Czech pilots were shown how to handle flying in hot and dusty conditions (common in the south Afghanistan areas they would soon operate in). The two week course follows a similar one conducted in France, where pilots trained to deal with mountain flying.

The need for special pilot training developed earlier this year, when the Czech Republic, after agreeing to send five badly needed transport helicopters to serve with NATO troops in Afghanistan, found themselves with a pilot mutiny on their hands. The seventy Czech Air Force helicopter pilots were angry because the Mi-171s appeared unlikely to get needed upgrades to their electronics (NATO grade stuff) and protection (lightweight armor to protect from ground fire). Four of the pilots refused to sign up for possible duty abroad. Three of those four pilots had already served in the Balkans, and are mainly concerned, like all the other pilots, with the ability of their relatively new Mi-171 helicopters to handle the severe conditions they know they will encounter in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.

The Czechs have 16 Mi-171s, a new model, which was introduced ten years ago. The Czech's received theirs two years ago, and have been donating their older models (Mi-17s) to Afghanistan (six Mi-17s and six gunship versions, the Mi-24).

The Mi-171 helicopter is nicknamed "The Terminator. " It is based on the 1975 Mi-17 design, and is the export version of similar Mi-8, but configured as a gunship and transport. Weighing about 12 tons, and carrying a four ton load, the Mi-171 has a range of 590 kilometers at a cruising speed of 250 kilometers per hour. There is a crew of three, and as many passengers as can be squeezed in (about 40 people, but usually just 20 or so.) A sling underneath can also carry up to four tons. The crew areas are protected (against bullets and shell fragments) by armor. The Terminator normally carries machine-gun, rockets and bombs, and is also wired for using eight 9M114 (Spiral) air to surface missiles, or air-to-air missiles. There is a targeting radar up front. Avionics are often Western, which makes it an easier sell to foreign nations. This is what the Czech pilots want on their helicopters, and the government is spending about seven million to upgrade each of the Mi-171s. Russia has already exported several hundred have been. The helicopter is rugged, inexpensive ($4-5 million each for the bare bones model.)





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