SHAH ALAM: ALMOST 18 months after it was first announced, a Hawk squadron is finally operational in Sabah. In March, the No 6 Skn – which flies the Mk 108 and Mk 208 Hawks – completed its move to Labuan airbase.
The decision to have a Hawk squadron at Labuan was first announced shortly after the Lahad Datu incursion in 2013. However as upgrades were needed at the airbase to cater for a full squadron, Hawks from both the 6 and 15 squadrons were stationed there on a rotational basis.
It is likely No 6 Skn moved to Labuan after its new facilities at the airbase were completed.
With the transfer of the No 6 Skn to Labuan, the Kuantan airbase currently hosts three squadrons – No 10 Skn which flies the Airbus Helicopters EC725/H225M; No 17 Skn (Mig-29N/NUB Fulcrums) and Pulatibang 3 which flies the Aermacchi MB-339CMs in the LIFT role.
As widely reported on Wednesday, a single MB-339CM from Pulatibang 3 – M34-20 – was lost in a crash near Pekan, Pahang on Tuesday (May 17, 2016). The pilots, Major Nazrul Hafiz Zaimi and Lieutenant Mohd Hakimi Khairi, ejected from the aircraft at 12.54 pm after it suffered engine failure. Mohd Hakimi reportedly suffered a broken leg.
The crash left Pulatibang 3 fleet with seven aircraft from the eight which was originally procured back in 2006 to replace the earlier variant of the trainer, the MB-339AM.
This was believed to be the first incident involving the CM fleet since the introduction in 2009. At least six AMs were lost in accidents – both the pilot and co-pilot died in a crash in 1985 – from the 13 acquired back in 1983.
It is likely that the RMAF is regretting the decision back in 2006 to reuse the Rolls Royce Viper Mk 632 turbojet engines of the AMs in the CMs. This was the solution to reduce the cost of buying the new aircraft. As the engine is no longer in production, RMAF is having difficulties in supporting them.
Following the crash of the tail number 20, RMAF may well have to replace the Mk 632 turbojets in the CMs if it is found that it was no longer feasible to maintain them in the long run.
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters on Thursday that an independent audit of RMAF aircraft would be conducted to “ensure the assets are in the best condition.
The AMs were mostly retired in 2005/2006 when their engines were sent to Italy for over-haul in anticipation of putting them in the CMs.
Meanwhile, the Fulcrums of the No 17 Skn will continue flying for sometime despite rumours that it will be retired on June 1. The rumours were sparked after the aviation community found out that a renowned photographer would conduct an air-to-air photography session with the Fulcrums “as part of the aircraft retirement celebration”.
Indeed it will be the last air-to-air photography session for the Fulcrums but it will not be the last hurrah for the aircraft.
During a visit to Kuantan airbase on Monday, one Fulcrum conducted a demonstration flight while another five were seen at the dispersal shed. The squadron is expected to take part in Cope Taufan 2016 expected to be held in mid-July.
Apart from the Fulcrums in the dispersal sheds, several more including the famous 03 were seen inside a hangar though unfortunately no pictures were allowed to be taken.
The 03 was undergoing maintenance and will probably feature prominently when the air-to-air photography session is conducted.
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