The Brazilian Navy has placed an order for three H135 multi-role helicopters from Airbus. The twin-engine rotorcraft will be operated by the 1º Esquadrão de Helicópteros de Emprego Geral (HU-1, 1st General-Purpose Helicopter Squadron).
The aircraft will fly a wide range of missions including special operations, transport of troops and freight, naval inspection, search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation. Two of the aircraft will be equipped with aeromedical kits. Other equipment will include a cargo hook, an emergency flotation system, a winch, as well as weather radar.
According to the manufacturer, the aircraft could also carry out missions in the frame of the Brazilian Antarctic programme in the near future.
The contract includes a comprehensive HCare support and services package, to guarantee availability for the fleet.
“We are extremely happy to sign this contract, which consolidates and extends the partnership we have had for over 40 years with the Brazilian Navy, our very first customer in the country,” said Richard Marelli, Helibras president and Airbus head of country in Brazil. “The H135’s low operating costs and excellent availability rate make it the ideal helicopter to fulfil the Navy’s challenging missions and needs.”
HU-1 is currently the oldest Brazilian Navy unit, having previously flown the Bell 47D-1, Westland Widgeon and Hiller FH-1100. Today it is equipped with six Helibras HB350B (UH-12) and seven HB355F (UH-13) Esquilo helicopters for liaison, support and rescue missions. They can be armed with a 7.62mm MAG or a 12.7mm Browning machine gun, but they have stopped using the seven-round 70mm rocket launchers. Their main mission is to support warships and provide liaison between bases.
The twin-engined Esquilos are also used for Antarctic operations each summer, when two aircraft with orange markings are deployed on the OPERANTAR missions. Each of these lasts for six months, from November to April, and 2017 saw the 25th mission. Esquilos were first used in Antarctic operations in 1987, while the first Antarctic mission was made in 1982 with Westland Wasps. Before the ocean supply ships Ary Rongel (H44) and Almirante Maximiano (H41) set sail at the beginning of November, the crews assigned to fly the helicopters receive two months of special training, conducted in the Itatiaia Mountains, north of Rio de Janeiro. The aim is to familiarise the crew with cold and severe weather conditions. When the Esquilos return to São Pedro da Aldeia after their Antarctic duty the orange paintwork is removed.
The first Brazilian Navy Esquilos were purchased in 1975 and the arrival of the H135s will begin their replacement. It was previously expected that the Esquilo would be superseded by either the Airbus Helicopters EC145 of the Bell 429.