Puma Mk2 helicopter

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has deployed its newly upgraded Puma HC Mk2 helicopters to Afghanistan.

The first operational deployment of the helicopters comes more than three weeks after declaration of initial operating capability (IOC).

These helicopters will be flown by 33 and 230 Squadrons at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, UK.

They are scheduled to relieve the Chinook force in Kabul, from providing aviation support to the UK and coalition troops who remain in Afghanistan in non-combat roles assisting the Afghan Government and the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.

33 Squadron commanding officer wing commander Mark Biggadike said: "Our role will be to move troops and equipment around Kabul by air, which is more efficient than moving personnel who would otherwise be travelling by road.

"Puma 2 is ideal for operating in urban environments such as Kabul."

"Puma 2 is ideal for operating in urban environments such as Kabul, it’s small enough to land in fairly built up areas without creating too much downwash and disruption and it is relatively fast so we can move around the city quickly."

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Approximateky 24 RAF Puma helicopters are being upgraded by Eurocopter under a £260m Puma life extension programme (LEP) contract awarded in September 2009, with an aim to extend their service life until 2025.

The Puma 2 upgrade includes the integration of two Turbomeca Makila engines, new gearboxes and tail rotors, and new engine controls, as well as a digital autopilot, a flight management system, an improved defensive aids suite, and ballistic protection for helicopter crew and passengers.

Biggadike said: "The upgrades to the aircraft mean it will fly further for longer, with greater loads in more extreme environments, such as the high attitudes and hot summers we will experience in Kabul."

The Puma Mk2 is air-transportable by C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. It can carry up to 16 fully-equipped troops, and requires only four hours to be ready for deployment in support of both combat and humanitarian missions.

Image: A UK Royal Air Force’s Puma HC Mk2 helicopter in flight. Photo: courtesy of RAF / MOD Crown Copyright 2015.