Located just over six miles (10km) southeast of its namesake city, Paphos International Airport in Cyprus has the distinction of not only being the country’s second largest airport, but the home to the entire flying element of the Cypriot Air Command. Located on the site’s northside, the military facility is called Andreas Papandreou Air Base.
Commanded by Col Marios Florides, the Cypriot Air Force is the armed air wing of the Cypriot National Guard (Ethnikí Frourá). Made up of two squadrons; 450 Moira Elikopteron (M.E/P) and 460 Moira Erevnas Diasosis (MED), an attack helicopter and search/rescue squadron respectively.
With 20 helicopters on strength, the Cyprus Air Command currently operate four rotary wing types from the base; the Mil Mi-35P Hind-F, Aérospatiale SA-342L1 Gazelle, Bell 206L LongRanger and the Agusta Westland AW139.
Graduating from the Hellenic Air Force academy in 1988, Col Florides has amassed more than 2,600 hours on a variety of types including the now retired Pilatus PC-9 and Britten-Norman Islander. He has also flown the Gazelle, Mi-35 and AW-139. Having previously led 450 Squadron, he later went on to become 460’s first Commanding Officer before taking over at Andreas Papandreou.
Established at the base on October 15, 2001 to operate the countries 12 Mi-35Ps, 450 M.E/P falls under the 55th Combat Group and is split into a pair of platoons operating two vastly different helicopters. The 1st Platoon, nicknamed ‘Scorpion’ fly the Gazelle, while the 2nd Platoon (under the moniker ‘Panther’) utilise the Mi-35P. Cyprus uses the export version of the Mi-24, the Mi-35P, to provide direct air support with its side-mounted 30mm GSh-30-2K twin-barrel autocannon. The ‘P’ denoting the Russian word ‘Pushka’ which translates to cannon. One of the main discernable differences from the original Hind is that the Cypriot Mi-35Ps are fitted with fixed undercarriage.
Delivery of this potent weapon systems began in August 2001 with initial training from both flight and ground personnel being undertaken in Russia. Given sequential serials – 811-822 – the service has lost one airframe, 822 crashing on July 5, 2006 killing the Russian instructor and Cypriot student on board. Since then, the remaining 11 aircraft have been rotated back through their country of origin for major servicing and upgrades. Airframes rotating through Russia from late 2014 also had their original dark-grey colour finish replaced with the current sand camouflage scheme, which is extremely effective over the Cypriot terrain. During AeroResource’s visit, Hind 814, 817, 819 and 821 were observed in use.
The Mi-35P can operate with up to 16 9M120 Ataka supersonic anti-tank missiles capable of penetrating steel when launched over 3.5 miles (5.8km) from the target. Also up to 80 non-guided S-8KOM rockets, with a range of 3,500m, carried in four pods for use against light armoured vehicles and personnel. However, depending on the mission a mixed load of 40 S-8KOM and eight 9M120 can be used.
With a range of 3,000m, a larger warhead and fragmentation radius of around 600m, the non-guided S-24B rocket is by far the most potent option available. However Cypriot Hinds are limited to carrying two examples at a time.
The aforementioned GSh-30-2K has a range of 2,000m, while the aircraft has capacity for 250 rounds. If that wasn’t enough, a further four 23mm machine guns fitted in pairs under the type’s stub wings can be fitted, transforming it into a formidable six-barreled gunship.
To quote one Mi-35P pilot:
“[The Hind] It is a flying tank which can carry an impressive arsenal of weaponry which in various mixed loads making it a hugely potent and versatile weapons platform. It also carries a vast array of defensive aids such as RWR, heat shields, flare dispensers and armour protection of the cockpit up to 37mm rounds. Even the rotor blades have protection against rounds up to 12.7mm.”
With twelve stars (representing the 12 Hinds) over a black panther, 450’s emblem symbolises both strength and power. Also portrayed is the blue and white roundel of the Cypriot Air Force. Its mission statement is stated as follows:
“To destroy/neutralize massed, moving/not moving armoured/not armoured targets and special targets and to conduct offensive, defensive and special operations near the enemy’s line”
During July 2010 four Gazelles (352-355) were transferred to 450 M.E/P from 449 Helicopter Squadron then based at Nicosia Airport following its closure. The SA-342L is the military version of the SA-342J – L1 denoting the export version, fitted with the more powerful Turboméca Astazou XIV powerplant.
Primarily used in the anti-tank role, Cypriot examples can be armed with up to four HOT-3 missiles. With a range of just over 2.5 miles (4km) it is capable of penetrating 1,300mm thick steel. The Gazelle is also utilized for airborne observation and currency training within 450 M.E/P.
The second squadron at Paphos, 460 MED, was established on the May 25, 2010 following a decision by the Cypriot government to exclusively undertake search and rescue (SAR) missions. Depicting the mythical God Triton over Cyprus, 460 MED’s unit badge emphases its connection to the sea. Emblazoned with air arms blue and white roundels, it is said these protect both Triton and the island of Cyprus; the unit uses the callsign ‘Triton’.
Having flown the service’s Islander until it was retired in 2012, 460 Squadron currently fly a pair of LongRanger (serial 110 and 111) and three AW139s (701-703). The 206Ls were originally operated from Lakatamia Air Base in Nicosia until its closure. A third Bell 206, serial 112, was written off in an accident in 2002 during a night flying exercise.
The LongRangers are powered by the Allison 250-C20B turboshaft engine and flown by a crew of two. Fitted out with a ‘VIP’ cabin, the type can carry five passengers – three facing forward, two facing rear. Other uses include liaison duties, as well as crew currency and training. (Airframe 111, flown by Capts Andreas Kourlellis and Andreas Compos using the callsign ‘Paris’, was used as the cameraship for the air-to-air sortie with two Mi-35Ps [callsign ‘Panther’] – the resultant images of which illustrate this feature)
The 460 MED also operate the AgustaWestland AW139 – three of which were delivered to the Ethniki Froura between December 2010 and July 2011. As well as providing SAR cover 24/7, 365 days a year they are also used in a multitude of other roles including para dropping, medevac taskings, aerial photography, supporting tactical operations and aerial firefighting duties.
NATO ships from various nations interact with 460 MED when sailing past Cyprus, using them to transfer personnel and stores, as well as conducting winching operations, which provides the squadron with valuable training opportunities. The addition of the AW139 has made a huge difference to the National Guard, the squadron and its abilities, making it a highly appreciated asset.
There have been rumours circulating that the Cypriot Air Command may be considering relinquishing their Mi-35Ps for another type, due to the type’s incredibly low operational availability. The problem resulted in the aircraft being grounded due to a lack of spare parts throughout the majority of the last quarter of 2018.
The US Senate relations committee hinted in both April and June of this year, that it may relax its arms sales ban to Cyprus, which has been in force since 1987. The Senate noted that the country has looked elsewhere, including Russia, for its defence equipment in the past. Could this potentially be the first steps of the Bell AH-1Z Viper and/or UH-1Y Venom being supplied to the Cyprus Air Force like the Czech Air Force’s recent acquisition? Another type mooted as a possible replacement is the Franco-German Tiger multirole-attack helicopter from Airbus Helicopters.
When asked about the future of the Mi-35, Col Florides would only say:
“…that it was a decision for the Cypriot Air Command what equipment they receive, and that they will gratefully operate what they are provided with.”
In the meantime, they will continue to operate their venerable yet more than capable Hind.
There was a warm welcome received throughout the visit by the author from Col Florides, both squadron commanders, and the pilots – all of whom were eager to discuss their roles and their aircraft. The aviators flying each type have huge affection for their mounts, with plenty of banter banded about between them. The professionalism, ability and dedication of the Cypriot Air Command personnel cannot be underestimated.
The author would like to thank the Cypriot Air Command and Colonel Florides for hosting AeroResource at Andreas Papandreou Airbase.
Further information on the Cyprus National Guard can be found on the Cypriot Ministry of Defence website
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