The military transport flying regiment 918 under the Vietnam Air Force is stationed at Tan Son Nhat Airport and usually extends its service nationwide.
“Today we have only Antonov An-26 and Antonov An-2 freighter aircraft here. The squadron’s M-28 is assigned to operations in the South. And we are preparing to receive and operate the state-of-the-art multi-role Casa-212 surveillance planes,” said senior lieutenant colonel Le Kiem Toan -- chief of the 918 Regiment.
Long, heroic history
Squadron An-2 was established in 1958, with the mission of providing military transport supplies to battlefields.
Thanks to its excellent low speed and low altitude maneuverability for surveillance missions, the Antonov An-2 transport aircraft -- originally manufactured and supplied by the USSR -- has been put into use nowadays for training, surveillance, rescue and other civilian purposes as forestry and agriculture, according to captain Do Van Lanh – vice chief of An-2 squadron.
Since 2009 the An-2 squadron has been assigned for mapping tasks, as well as missions aimed at gathering information about planning and climate change by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Meanwhile, the An-26 is the main force for medium-range training, climatic change, patrol and rescue. During the historic floods of 2009, the An-26 played a key role in setting up an air bridge to supply necessities to affected areas in Hue, Da Nang and Chu Lai in the central region.
The squadron’s other plane, the M-28, landed in the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago for the first time in 2005 and it has played great role in connecting the mainland with remote islands in the East Sea, said senior lieutenant colonel Nguyen Ba Sam of the 918 Regiment.
The M-28 is fitted with a radar system able to scan in a diameter of 160km while tracking 30 targets on the ground or at sea. The twin-engine, high-wing strutted plane has short take-off and landing capability, particularly on unprepared runways where hot or high altitude conditions may exist.
The modern Casa-212
Colonel Nguyen Quang Lam, deputy political commissar, said “Vietnam expects to receive the first of its order of the modern Casa-212, made by Spain, in early May.”
Casa 212 squadron chief Nguyen Hoai Thuy added that, “We sent three delegations of pilots and technicians to Europe to train with the new aircraft. The second team completed their tasks and returned home in late March.”
Though the squadron was only established in February this year, the Vietnam Air Force organized comprehensive recruitments two years ago. Selected pilots and technicians were given English language training before attending a six-month course at the Institute of Air Defense.
A Casa-212 aircraft of the Vietnam Marine Police (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Manufactured by Airbus, the turboprop-powered medium transport aircraft can patrol for seven hours, and also has short take-off and landing capability.
With the ability to perform low-speed, low-altitude flight, the Casa-212 is suitable for maritime and coastal surveillance and patrol operations. It is also optimized for dissuasion operations at high altitude and high temperature conditions.
The maritime patrol aircraft is fitted with satellite data transmission, a photographic camera with position and time recorder and automatic flight navigation with pre-recorded search patterns. An electro-optical turret with forward looking infrared and television camera provides day and night capability.
It has a cruising speed of 300kph and a cruising altitude of 3,300m.
Contracts ruled that each Vietnamese pilot had only 20 days to study theory and ten training sessions with the Casa-212 in Spain. “On average, we had to master a 2-3 cm thick book every day. We had to stay up until midnight to learn,” senior lieutenant colonel Thuy said.
An experienced trainer in Spain complimented a Vietnamese pilot who assured his trainer by confidently saying “Don’t worry” before flying a Casa-212 alone for the first time after training.
The 918 Regiment was established in 1975 after national liberation and was since stationed at Tan Son Nhat Airport. In military conflicts along the northern border and in the Truong Sa archipelago in the East Sea, the transport flying regiment used planes the US left in Vietnam to cover military and civil missions such as army ordnance supply, transport of munitions and food and drugs and injured troops.
An An-26 aircraft flying at low altitude in Gia Lam, Hanoi
Transport plane M-28