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The Italian Air Force Bids Farewell To The AB-212 Helicopter

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AB-212
The HH-212 MM81160/9-60 with the special markings to celebrate the last flight (Image credit: Alessandro Pandolfi/@Pando_spotter)

The AB-212 (HH-212) Twin Huey helicopter made its last flight today ending a 40-year career in the Italian Air Force.

The last HH-212 (as the AB-212 is designated in accordance with the Italian MOD Mission Design Series) of the Aeronautica Militare, made its final flight from its homebase at Grazzanise, Italy, on Feb. 22, 2024, during a phase out ceremony that celebrated the 40 years of activity and more than 180,000 flight hours of the iconic helicopter.

The “2-12” was inducted into active service in the early 1980s. Since then, the Twin Huey has contributed to the rescue of hundreds of people in Italy and abroad.

The HH-212 MM81160/9-60 under the water cannon at Grazzanise on Feb. 22, 2024. (Image credit: Italian Air Force)

A medium helicopter with a two-bladed rotor powered by two 1,342 kW Pratt & Whitney PT6T turbines, the AB-212 is a type of helicopter derived from the 205 model from which it differs due to its elongated fuselage. The Air Force purchased the first three examples of AB-212 in 1979 for the Decimomannu range (Cagliari), where they were operated by the 670th Squadron of the RSSTA (Reparto Standardizzazione e Sperimentazione Tiro Aereo – Italian for Aerial Shooting Standardization and Testing Unit).

In 1984, 32 helicopters were ordered, to be operated by the new rescue sections of the 603rd (Villafranca), 604th (Grosseto), 609th (Grazzanise), 632nd (Brindisi), 651st (Istrana), 653rd (Linate), 660th (Amendola) Squadriglie (Liaison Flights).

At the end of 2005, the AB-212 undertook a significant upgrade as part of the ICO (Implementation of Operational Capability) program.

The modified AB-212ICO was very different from its predecessor as it was equipped with two manually activated Flares dispensers for self-protection, provisions for two MG 42/59 caliber 7.62 mm NATO machine guns on both sides of the fuselage; an armored cockpit and fuselage to protect the 2 pilots and 2 gunners from small arms.

On Mar. 23, 2006, the 21° Gruppo (Squadron) “Tiger” was reactivated (with personnel from the 609th Squadriglia) at Grazzanise, with the aim to create a deployable flying unit able to perform a large variety of combat duties: MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) and CASEVAC (CASualties EVACuation) missions, CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue), Special Operations support, short range transportation and surveillance, in “out of the area” scenarios.

In the first two years after its reactivation, the 21° Gruppo flew most of its mission in support of ISAF in Afghanistan, totalling +2,0000 flight hours in over 1,8000 missions between 2006 and 2007.

The last two airworthy HH-212s, MM81160 and MM81159 flew during the ceremony at Grazzanise along with three HH-101s. The airframe MM81160/9-60 was given a special livery and markings, including the emblems of all the Italian Air Force units that operated the helicopter before the curent one, the 21° Gruppo.

All the emblems of the units that operated the AB-212 before the last one, the 21° Gruppo (Image credit: Alessandro Pandolfi/@Pando_spotter)

Ahead of the last flight, we had a chance to take part in an air-to-air photo shooting mission aboard an HH-101 Caesar to take some images of one of the two last flying HH-212s. In the gallery here below you can find a selection of the images shot by our contributor Alessandro Borsetti on Feb. 15, 2024.

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Today’s “phase-out” ceremony marked also a symbolic handover between the HH-212A and the new HH-101A Caesar, which will continue to provide support to the Italian special operations.

David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.





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