End of an Era
It was the end of an era at the end of December when the Puma HC1 flew its last sortie at RAF Benson.
The Puma first entered Service with the Royal Air Force in 1971 and since then has been the stalwart of operations across the globe. From providing humanitarian aid for flood victims in Mozambique, to supporting the Army in Rhodesia, Northern Ireland, Belize, Zaire, the Balkans and Iraq, the Puma has deployed on almost every UK operation since it entered service.
Operated most recently by 33 and 230 Sqns, the Puma HC1 has maintained its commitment to providing support to Land Forces through numerous UK and overseas exercises, most recently the rolling commitment to the British Army Training Unit Kenya that provides pre-deployment training for battle groups. The Puma HC1 also provided UK Defence with a low and slow air-to-air intercept capability during the London 2012 Olympics; a first for UK Defence that demonstrates the niche role and versatility of the Puma Force, and indeed the RAF Support Helicopter Force.
In October 2009, the first of 24 Puma HC1 aircraft entered a life extension programme; upgrading the aircraft to deal with the operational environments of today and extending its life until at least 2025. The first Puma HC2 was returned to the UK in September 2012 and the first fully upgraded aircraft is due to be handed over to the Sqns during 2013.
Wg Cdr Hamish Cormack, OC 230 Sqn, commented, “the Puma HC1 has given sterling service over 4 decades, operating in all environments from the extremes of the Norwegian arctic winter to the steamy jungle of Belize. The Puma Force is now looking forward to receiving the Puma HC2 with its significantly enhanced capability, which when married to its rapid deployability suggests that it will be the support helicopter of choice for many operations in the future.”