First Deputy Minister of Defence František Šulc and Czech Air Force Commander Brigadier General Petr Cepelka participated at the ceremony marking the handover of the first H1 helicopter to the Czech Armed Forces in the Bell Textron factory in Amarillo, Texas. Eight UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters and four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters represent an important step towards the modernization of the Czech Air Force, as they shall replace the obsolete Mi 24V/35 helicopters. The first Vipers are slated for delivery in the spring of this year to the Námešt Air Base, the Venoms shall follow. Every new helicopter manufactured must be first taken over by the U. S. Government and only then can the Czech Armed Forces accept them. The first units will arrive the Czech Republic next month.
The 22nd Helicopter Air Force Base is currently equipped with Mi-24V/35 attack helicopters and Mi-171Sh multipurpose helicopters. Both types became obsolescent many years ago, which is why the then Minister Lubomír Metnar and his counterpart Secretary Mark Esper signed a G2G agreement on the acquisition of 12 new H1 helicopters in 2019. The Czech Republic shall receive additional eight, used but fully serviceable, machines (2x UH-1Y Venom and 6x AH-1Z Viper) from the U.S. free of charge to backfill the Czech support provided to Ukraine. Thanks to the agreement between the Minister of Defence Jana Cernochová and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, the total number of helicopters received shall increase to 10 UH-1Y and 10 AH-1Z.
The pilots and mechanics from the Helicopter Air Base in Námešt nad Oslavou were retrained for the operation of new helicopters at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton starting last July. The flight personnel even received helmets tailored to their measurement in the United States. The demanding seven-month basic training included IFR flying, formation and low level flying, sling load and hoist training. The highlights of the training were the flights with life fire at ground targets with cannon and unguided rockets and night flights. Each pilot spent approximately 80 hours airborne. The following courses shall continue in the Czech Republic under the command of the U. S. Mobile Training Team (MTT) for the next two years, until the pilots and mechanics learn the full extent of the operation and maintenance of the aircraft.
In March, the first of two training simulators arrived to the Czech Republic. LOM Praha shall operate them in the simulation center at the Námešt nad Oslavou Air Base. The building designated H1 shall provide the trainees with lecture rooms, mission planning offices and facilities necessary for the ground and flight personnel. The simulator offers all controls and weapon systems of a real helicopter. The software is connected to the planning system, which the pilots use to prepare for missions. LOM Praha shall also provide life cycle support including higher levels of maintenance. Local specialists are currently being trained for the maintenance of H1 helicopters. The Czech Air Force already received the initial sets of spares for the Venom and Viper, as well as ground support equipment to check the helicopters, aircraft maintenance stands, electrical start cart and other equipment. This materiel shall be delivered to the Czech Republic in phases in a total of eighty 40ft shipping containers.