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The Iran evolution...in helicopters

Posted 9 June 2017 · Add Comment

In the post nuclear-sanctions world, Iran is talking about its capabilities developed over the past three decades to maintain an aviation industry. This has led to a whole series of indigenous helicopters, as Mohammad Razazzan reports.

In 1969, following the purchase of considerable number of helicopters from Italian company Agusta, Iran made an initial step to establish a helicopter support and maintenance unit under the name Iran Helicopter Company Joint Stock.
Following this, with a substantial number of helicopters arriving from America’s Bell Textron in 1973, extensive planning to support the new fleet was started.
Thus, the Iran Helicopter Support and Renewal Company (IHSRC – or Panha in Persian) became the largest helicopter maintenance centre in the Middle East.
Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, severance of ties with the USA and the imposed war inflicted to the new regime, IHSRC experts were able to become self-sufficient in the maintenance and renewal of Iran’s helicopter fleet, with the aim of supporting Islamic combatants in the battlefront.
In the wake of these achievements, the responsibility to repair and support different models of military and civil helicopters, including the Bell 205, Bell 206, Bell 212, Bell 214, CH-54 Chinook, RH-53D, SH-3D, Bell 412 and Mil Mi-17, belonging to domestic companies and also military forces, such as the Iran Red Crescent Organization, National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), and Iran Army Aviation, was given to Panha.
Bell’s relationship with Iran is long and complex. During the 1970s, Iran’s then-leader, Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, developed a serious taste for western aircraft, including Bells, and soon built the largest fleet of military helicopters in the Middle East, including Huey-class 205 and 214s He also purchased more than 200 AH-1J Sea Cobra gunships.
But the Shah wanted to do more than buy Bells; he also wanted to build them.
While continuing to import hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Bells, the Shah’s government inked a deal with the company to pay half the development costs of a new variant of the 214A, a stretched and more powerful version labelled the 214ST, to be produced in Iran. Under the deal, Bell built a large aircraft factory in Iran.
A non-conforming prototype flew in Iran in 1977. After the Shah abdicated in 1979, Bell moved to develop the 214ST on its own.
After western sanctions following the Iranian Revolution, the official policy of the Iranian Government changed from having the best available in the world to being able to manufacture independently in order to meet domestic needs.
Since the 1990s, Iran has reverse-engineered parts, assemblies and, in some cases, whole aircraft, including the Bell 205, 206 and 214.
Iran Aircraft Manufacturing (HESA) and Panha are completing the work. The knock-offs are being marketed under the names Shahed 278, and Shabaviz 275 and 2061, and Panha 2091, a remanufactured AH-1J Cobra.
A light gunship derived from the Bell 206, the Shahed 285, was unveiled several years ago.
After signing a nuclear deal, following the removal of western sanctions, leading international manufacturers of civilian helicopters and spare parts have announced a willingness to resume cooperation with Iran and invest in Iranian projects.
Lockheed Martin, the largest US arms maker and parent of Sikorsky, has begun to study the possibility of selling commercial helicopters to Iran, but said the market may be small and the company still needed guidance from the US Government.
Lockheed, along with Boeing, is one of the first major US aerospace companies looking into selling to Iran for the first time since US sanctions were imposed.
Nathalie Previte, vice president of sales and marketing for Sikorsky, said the company had received numerous inquiries from existing customers, including leasing companies and operators, interested in possible helicopter operations in Iran.
Sikorsky’s S-76 and longer-range S-92 commercial helicopters could be options for Iran, Previte said, although she added that the country has little of the offshore drilling activity that drives helicopter demand in the oil and gas sector.
Iran had purchased four R44 helicopters from the United States to train local pilots in 2014.  

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