On November 8th, 2021 MAR visited the Cyprus Air Force Open Days at Paphos which takes place every year in celebration of Archangel Michael, Protector of the Air Force. Apart from the Open Days, on November 10th MAR members were also accepted to visit the 55th Combat Group at Andreas Papandreou Air Base.
This year the Open Days were held for only one day unlike the usual two days due to the current COVID-19 situation. Gates opened to the public from 13:00 till 16:00 and a SafePass was necessary to present upon entry. The static display offered every type of aircraft the Air Force operates and a number of Anti-Aircraft and Air Defence Systems.
Aircraft present were 3x Mi-35P Hinds, 1x SA342L1 Gazelle, 1x AW-139, 1x Aerostar Tactical UAS and 1x B206L3 which was already towed out of the static display to be prepared for the afternoon flypast over the base. Luckily, after asking nicely, crew and security kindly escorted us to the other side of the apron to be able to photograph the Long Ranger in better light conditions.
At around 14:00, 2x Mi-35P, 2x SA342L, 2x AW139 and 2x B206L3 took off from the adjacent apron for an island tour performing a flypast over Nicosia, Ayia Napa, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos.
After purchasing a number of patches and merchandise whilst also having a good chat with locals and crew, we made our way out of the base to the approach to be able to photograph the returning formation of helicopters. The formations which are also not so common to see in Cyprus returned back to base in gorgeous golden hour light, closing off the day in style.
On November 10th, 2 of our members were invited for an on-base visit at Andreas Papandreou Air Base. We were welcomed at the entrance gate by Flt Lt Anthimou Giorgos who took great care of us throughout our visit. We then made our way to the 55th Combat Group main building to be greeted by the Commander Lt Colonel Michalis Michael, a role he has taken up since 3rd March, 2021.
Lt Colonel Michalis Michael was born in Pafos town. He joined the Hellenic Air Force Academy in 1987, graduated in 1991 and awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant Air-Force Pilot. He is a graduate of the Hellenic Air Force Staff Collage and of several Air-Force specialization schools.
He served as a Commander of the 450 Helicopter Squadron, as a Director of Operations & Training and as a Deputy Commander of 55th Combat Group. Lt Colonel Michalis Michael has been trained in 5 types of airplanes, 2 types of helicopters and is an active pilot with 3000 flight hours.
We then introduced ourselves to Operations Officer of 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron, Flt Major Pafitis Kyriakos. After a short chat and a brief round of introductions, we proceeded to the Squadron’s recreational area, where every morning after a briefing, pilots and crew would have some breakfast, snacks and a well needed coffee before heading out on local sorties. Flt Lt Anthimou Giorgos kindly made us a fantastic Iced Frappuccino to kick start our early morning whilst we indulged in some snacks. Don’t worry we left some for the pilots!
After the lovely coffee, we were escorted to the flight apron to photograph a SA342L1 Gazelle and a Mi-35P which were being prepared for a local training mission. We were also given a tour of the adjacent hangar where maintenance crews ensure that the helicopters are kept in tip-top condition, safeguarding the wellbeing of pilots and crew. In the hangars were another 2x Mi-35P and 2x SA342L helicopters undergoing scheduled maintenance.
This was followed by an exchange of gifts with Flt Major Pafitis Kyriakos, as we presented a plaque thanking the 55th Combat Group for having us at the base. We were gifted each a hat of the 450 Squadron decorated with the ‘Scorpion’ and ‘Panther’ symbolizing the Gazelle and Hind respectively and also a 20 Year Commemorative Coin of the 450 Squadron.
We then went on to visit the 460 Search and Rescue Squadron where we were welcomed by Flt Lt Xatzigeorgiou Fanis who gave us a brief description on the 460 Squadron and the work they carry out. After answering all our questions and queries, we proceeded to the main apron to photograph an AW139 returning from a local mission simultaneously followed by the departure of a Bell 206L-3 LongRanger III.
The Mi-35P which took off in the morning was returning back to base for an engine-running crew change, with Flt Major Pafitis Kyriakos now taking the helm of the Hind. Flt Major Pafitis delighted us with a ‘mini display’ by performing some manoeuvres and 360-turns for us to photograph. After a tactical departure to proceed with his training mission, we were allowed to photograph another seven Mi-35P and an additional SA342L sheltered in the hangars.
Our last squadron to visit was the 470 UAV Squadron which is a relatively new squadron formed in May 2019. The crew of 470 towed out an example of the Aerostar Tactical UAS for us to photograph. The Commander of 470 Squadron, Flt Major Kameris Theodoros, welcomed us and explained the role and mission of the squadron and the importance of the peculiar Aerostar UAV. We were also gifted a patch each of the squadron, which was still missing from our collection!
Finally, we headed back to the 55th Combat Group Commander Lt Colonel Michalis Michael who ensured we got what we needed from our visit in order to write up our article. This brought to an end an intriguing and well-planned visit which gave us a far better understanding of the crucial work the Cyprus Air Force carries out to safeguard the nation.
55th Combat Group
The 55th Combat Group is located at the Andreas Papandreou Air Base, approximately 10km distance from the city of Paphos, on the North side of Paphos International Airport.
The 55th CG was formed in September 1995 and initially included the 420 Air Defence Squadron and 4 independent Companies. In 2001, the 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron was formed and set under the Group and in 2010 the 4 Companies merged to form the Combat Support Squadron.
In the same year, the 460 Search and Rescue Squadron was also formed and set under the Group’s Command. The latest addition in the Group is the 470 UAV squadron which was formed in May 2019.
The 55th Combat Group is an independent, operational Group, under the Cyprus Air force Command. Its organization resembles a typical NATO Group.
There are 5 Squadrons under the Commander’s control, the 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron, the 460 Search and Rescue Squadron, the 457 Air Defence Squadron, the 470 UAV Squadron and the Combat Service Support Squadron. The staff of the Group is divided in three directorates, the Operations, the Support Directorate and the Personnel Department.
The mission of the 55CG is to maintain a high level of readiness and effectiveness, in order to conduct successful air operations whenever needed in accordance with current plans. It is achieved by the appropriate organization, training of personnel and maintenance of the available means and systems.
The role of the Airbase has been upgraded in recent years with an increased demand for participation in Bilateral and Multinational Exercises involving Civil-Military Cooperation as well as in Bilateral Search and Rescue Exercises.
The 55th Combat Group is constantly and actively participating in small and large-scale exercises with other countries such as Greece, Israel, USA, France, Italy, Egypt, Germany and UK. Such examples include Exercises “INIOCHOS”, “NEMESIS” and “MEDUSA”.
Moreover, it participates in Search-and-Rescue Exercises within the Exclusive Economic Zone demonstrating the readiness of the country for undertaking SAR missions.
The 450 Attack Helicopter Squadron was founded on October 15, 2001 with the induction of 12 Mi-35P attack helicopters in the National Guard Air Force. Its personnel were trained in Russia and were operationally ready to join the National Guard’s plans in 2002.
During the establishment of the Squadron, two types of aircraft were also introduced. The Pilatus PC-9 and the BN-2B Islander, which until then, belonged to the Helicopter / Aircraft Squadron. In 2010, these aircraft were transferred to the newly established 460 Search and Rescue Squadron.
In 2010, with the suspension of the 449th Air Operations Squadron based at Lakatamia AFB Nicosia, the four anti-tank SA-342L1 Gazelle helicopters were incorporated in the 450 SQN, upgrading the Squadron’s operational efficiency through their flexibility and ability to hide in the environment of Cyprus.
The Squadron is split into two platoons, nicknamed ‘Scorpion’ and ‘Panther’ flying the SA342L1 Gazelle and Mi-35P helicopters respectively. Their mission is to provide Close Air Support to National Guard ground units and to execute antitank missions.
The Mi-35P is a Russian built helicopter, a newer variant of the very well-known Hind. The ‘P’ denotes the Russian word ‘Pushka’ which translates to cannon and the main difference from the original Hind is that the Cypriot Mi-35Ps are fitted with fixed undercarriage. It may carry a combination of weapons including Anti-tank Missiles, Anti-Armor unguided Rockets, a 30mm calibre fixed position cannon and 23mm calibre cannons.
On the other hand, the SA-342L1 Gazelle is a French design and production helicopter, which can also be used in the anti-tank role. It may carry four HOT-3 anti-tank missiles, capable of penetrating 1,300mm thick steel from a range up to 4 kilometres. The L1 denotes the export version, fitted with a more powerful Turboméca Astazou XIV engine. The type is also used for airborne observation missions and to train aircrews to convert onto the Mi-35P.
The emblem of the Squadron depicts a Black Panther, which with the skill shown through how it attacks, symbolizes the determination and the offensive power of 450 SQN. The blue and purple colour in the background of the emblem, symbolize the Squadron’s ability to operate in day and night respectively. The 12 gold stars symbolize the 12 Mi-35P helicopters received from 450 SQN with its establishment. The emblem of the Squadron is completed with the concentric circles of blue and white, a representation of the Cyprus Airforce Command. The numerical name of the Squadron recalls the year that Kimon, an Athenian statesman and general in mid-5th century BC, departed from Greece heading to Cyprus with only one purpose, to fight against Persians and protect the island.
The squadron’s mission is to maintain a high degree of efficiency and readiness to undertake and execute air operations, whenever necessary and in accordance with current operational plans. This is achieved through proper management, personnel training and maintenance of equipment and systems of the Squadron. Moreover, by strengthening interdisciplinary between the Commands / Units of the National Guard through its participation in operational exercises of the National Guard General Staff.
During operations period and in case of war, the squadron’s primary mission is the conduct offensive, defensive and special operations for the destruction of armoured – motorized and unmotorized enemy forces, providing Close Combat Attack and Close Air Support to the ground units of the National Guard.
The 460 Search & Rescue Squadron was established on the 25th of May 2010 after the Republic of Cyprus took the exclusive responsibility for Search and Rescue missions in its region.
The squadron is equipped with 3 Italian made multi-role Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters delivered between December 2010 and July 2011 and 2 Bell-206 Long Ranger III utility helicopters. The BN-2B Islander and the PC-9 Pilatus fixed wing aircraft, which were initially received from 450 Sqn, have now been withdrawn from service and are currently in storage.
The Squadron’s primary mission is to provide Search & Rescue and MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) along with helicopter basic training with the B-206. Moreover, squadron aircrew are trained in the secondary missions of the squadron which are parachute dropping, aerial photography, aerial firefighting, personnel transport and tactical operations. The emblem of the squadron is the mythological sea god Triton, selected to symbolize the affiliation of the squadron with the sea. On the emblem, the figure of Triton is dominantly displayed over Cyprus, surrounded and protected by the blue and white circles of the Air Force and the control region of Nicosia’ s FIR. In the background, the watchful eyes of the imperious eagle, symbolize the continuous vigilance and the capability of the squadron for Search and Rescue over the entire flight control region of Nicosia. The squadron use the callsign ‘Triton’ for the AW139 and ‘Paris’ for the Bell 206L3.
The 470 UAV Squadron is the newest squadron of the Air Force Command in Cyprus. It was formed in May 2019 and is equipped with 4 Aerostar Tactical UAS and 2 Ground Control Stations. The 230 kg (MTOW) Aerostar can stay airborne for 12 hours, operate at a range of 250 km, and carry 50 kg of payloads. The squadron’s mission is to provide a high level of readiness and effectiveness, in order to conduct intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, in day and night, whenever needed.
The 470 UAV Squadron emblem, consists of an abstracted black silhouette bird with staring eyes, indicating the UAV’s ability to fly undetected – day and night – and always watchful. It is overlooking to the east Mediterranean region to stress its flight range and sensor capabilities, to patrol the whole of Cyprus’ FIR.
MAR would like to thank the Cyprus Air Force and the 55th Combat Group for having us at Andreas Papandreou Air Base. Special thanks go to Lt Colonel Michalis Michael, Flt Major Pafitis Kyriakos, Flt Lt Anthimou Giorgos, Flt Lt Xatzigeorgiou Fanis, Flt Lt Marinou Panagiotis, Flt Major Kameris Theodoros, Lt Colonel Sotirios Neofotistos and all crew members for their much-appreciated help and fantastic hospitality!