Philippine Air Force grounds new Black Hawk helicopters following training loss

A newly delivered Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk multirole helicopter, operated by the Philippine Air Force’s (PAF’s) 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing, had been lost during a night training flight a few kilometres from Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base in Capas, Tarlac on 23 June.

The incident prompted the PAF to cease operations of its new helicopters until investigations have been completed, the service said in a 24 June statement, although it did not specify if the Polish-made helicopter crashed or if it remains missing.

“So far, no survivors have been found,” the PAF stated, noting that the helicopter was earlier reported to be late from the estimated time of return to its station at Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

“Night flight proficiency trainings are part of the capabilities of the pilots and crew, in this case the Blackhawk S70i, prior to their full deployment to assist our frontline units in their missions,” the service added. “Although with inherent risks, this competency is vital and necessary for the transport and logistics requirements of Unified Commands.”

Manila ordered 16 new multirole Black Hawk S-70i helicopters worth around US$240 million, manufactured in Poland by Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky subsidiary PZL Mielec, to meet the PAF’s combat utility helicopter (CUH) requirement under Horizon 2 of the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program (RAFPMP)

The latest batch of five helicopters arrived at Clark Air Base on 7 June aboard an Antonov An-124 strategic airlifter, following an earlier delivery of six helicopters in December 2020.

The remaining five helicopters are expected to be delivered by the end of the year. Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana said 9 June that the final delivery is scheduled to occur in September.

In February, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved the acquisition of at least 15 more Black Hawks for the PAF to enable the decommissioning of the service’s ageing Bell UH-1 Huey utility helicopters following a spate of fatal accidents, including one on 16 January which resulted in seven deaths.

It is not yet announced which Black Hawk variant is to be acquired for the PAF, but it is expected that Manila will seek a follow-on order for more S-70is.

by Jr Ng